This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Eric Leonard and Christina Bird
One of the most significant strategic weapons in history, the Minuteman was America’s first push-button—literally turn-key—nuclear missile. This marriage of rocketry and nuclear capacity created a weapon for which there was virtually no defense. Once the launch command was given and the keys were turned, a Minuteman missile could deliver its thermonuclear warhead to a Soviet target within a half hour. Solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) such as the Minuteman and Peacekeeper formed the land-based portion of America’s Nuclear Triad throughout much of the Cold War.
ICBM facilities were built in the 1960s and operated by the US Air Force for thirty years. During the nearly ten years the Minuteman system was under construction, the designs of control centers evolved to take advantage of technology and policy changes. This included a second generation solid fuel ICBM, known as the Peacekeeper, which entered service in the 1980s.
The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty allowed for the United States and the Soviet Union to preserve “static displays” of once active ICBM facilities for educational purposes. This allowance created a unique preservation path that has resulted in the development of a small number of former Minuteman Missile facilities being converted to static display as museums and national parks.
The first of these was the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, authorized by Congress in 1999, and established in 2002. The two preserved Delta were considered the best preserved examples of the initial operational character of the Minuteman system. Built as part of the fifth missile field in 1962 and converted to serve the Peacekeeper missile in 1986, the Quebec-01 missile alert facility was decommissioned in 2005. In the summer of 2019 the State of Wyoming will open the Quebec-01 Historic Site.
Designed to execute a nuclear war, these sites present common preservation challenges. This presentation will explore these common challenges and the often unique solutions these have found to address them. These two places have much in common as well as important design and operational differences. Likewise, as preserved museum facilities, the two places share significant similarities and operational differences. As Quebec-01 was been developed, Wyoming State parks staff have worked closely with the staff of the national park to learn from its developmental experience.
Eric Leonard has worked for the National Park Service since 1995 at nine parks in seven states. A practicing public historian, Eric has served as Superintendent of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site since February 2015.
Christina Bird has spent over twenty years in the museum field and has been with Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails since 2010. She currently serves as District Manager, overseeing day to day operations at Quebec 01, the Wyoming Historic Governors’ Mansion as well as overseeing staffing at Wyoming Territorial Prison and Curt Gowdy State Park.