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Aberdeen Proving Ground born in WWI

The day that changed everything

By Erika Quesenbery Sturgill
via the (Maryland) web site

ABERDEEN, MD — It was exactly a century ago that everything changed in Harford County and, to an extent, Cecil County.

It was on Oct. 20, 1917, that the Federal Government took official possession of the land that would forevermore become Aberdeen Proving Ground. Allowing no moss to grow, work began the very same day, before the ink on the deed was dry.

Edgewood laboratory 600Scientists work in a chemistry lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground's Edgewood Arsenal near the end of World War 1. Edgewood became home to the nation’s Chemical Warfare Service where it conducted the U.S.’s defensive and retaliatory chemical weapons program. The U.S. Army’s oldest active proving ground, APG was established just six months after America entered World War I. It was to be a facility to design and test ordnance materiel, with excellent industrial and shipping center access, and a successor to the smaller Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey. As technology changed, Sandy Hook proved too small for some of the larger weapons that needed testing.

Work progressed so rapidly at APG that by Dec. 31, 1917, a railroad track was in place with several temporary buildings standing in response to the war effort.

Although a great deal of the munitions for WWI, then called The Great War, were to be created by civilian contractors, the U.S. government built federally-owned plants on APG to manufacture toxic gas being used during that war. These poison gas facilities eventually came to be known as the Edgewood Arsenal, where there were also facilities to fill artillery shells with the chemicals produced there. Production began in 1918 and reached 2,756 tons per month, totaling 10,817 tons manufactured there before the Nov. 18 armistice.

APG earned its nickname as the “Home of Ordnance” as a test, evaluation, research, development, engineering and training installation that is one of the Army’s finest in the world. From the days of proof-testing field artillery, ammunition, trench mortars, air defense guns and railway artillery, APG expanded into an ordnance training school and developmental testing of small arms. Now, mechanical maintenance training is conducted on the site.

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