Redstone Historian gives an inside look on the history of the Arsenal

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Recently, Redstone Arsenal celebrated it’s 75th birthday.  This week, Redstone Arsenal Historian Mike Baker dropped by WHNT News 19 to talk about the Arsenal’s beginnings and influences.

Redstone Arsenal ended up in North Alabama, but it could have gone anywhere in the country.  “The decision had come down to two places, either what is now Redstone Arsenal or an area outside Memphis Tennessee.”  says Baker.  “Thanks to Senator Lister Hill, who is an often forgotten figure, a guy named William Porter, who wanted to become chief of the chemical corps, and Representative Sparkman.  Rep. Sparkman sent a note to Senator Hill and he said, hey we’ve got this chemical operation we’re looking at the Huntsville area for, do you think you can help?  Then Porter went to Senator Hill and said, hey I’d like your help to be confirmed the Chief of the Chemical Corps, and Senator Hill said let me talk to you about the area around Huntsville.  So Porter came down and he liked what he saw, and the rest is history.”

Surprisingly, the Arsenal used to be a lot bigger than it currently is.  “It was around 40-thousand acres.” says Baker.  “The southern border was at the Tennessee River, and it went all the way to Bob Wallace Avenue.  The Army gave away the land that became the Space and Rocket Center, and Morris Elementary school and so forth.”

The Arsenal had its beginnings as a wartime Chemical munitions factory, and from there they moved on to the making of rockets.  The next “big thing” for the Arsenal was “The launch of Explorer 1, on January 31st in 1958.”  says Baker. “You have to remember that the US prestige was on the line.  The Russians had already launched two satellites.  We were embarrassed for the lack of a better word.  NASA had not been created yet. It was created in October of 1958, and so the Army was given the mission of trying to launch America’s first satellite.  Our pride was at stake and the Army had answered a challenge.”

Watch our entire conversation with Redstone Historian Mike Baker here in three parts: