Pre-Arsenal settlements: The middle Tennessee River valley, now occupied by Redstone Arsenal, was originally inhabited by Native American tribes including the Creek, Cherokee and Chickasaw. By the early 1800s, Anglo-American farmers had settled along the Tennessee River basin where more than 550 families, mostly tenants and sharecroppers, lived in small communities. Ultimately, the U.S. War Department purchased the farmland to build what is now Redstone Arsenal.
1940s: What became Redstone Arsenal began as three separate entities in 1941 and 1942 as part of the War Department’s ramp-up for World War II. Huntsville Arsenal manufactured chemicals, Redstone Ordnance Plant (later Redstone Arsenal) manufactured munitions and the Huntsville Chemical Warfare Depot (later Gulf Chemical Warfare Depot) stored the conventional and chemical-filled munitions before they were shipped out.
When World War II ended, the focus shifted from production to demilitarization and salvaging munitions along with deactivating the arsenal’s huge manufacturing facilities. Some empty buildings were even leased to private enterprise. Designated the home of Army missiles in 1948, Redstone dropped from a peak-World War II employment of more than 19,000 to a little-used post of a few hundred workers.
By 1949, the Army Corps of Engineers tried to sell part of the arsenal, but the sale effort was halted by the Army’s decision to consolidate its rocket and guided missile missions at Redstone in 1948 and 1949.
1950s: With the arrival of aerospace engineer von Braun and his rocket team from Fort Bliss in 1950, the arsenal became the center of Army missilery and rocketry. During this decade, Redstone’s scientists, engineers and technicians transformed numerous weapon systems such as the Redstone, Jupiter, Hawk, Pershing, Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules from ideas into realities. During this time the von Braun team also made significant contributions to the nation’s space effort while working for the Army. Most notable was the Army’s launching of America’s first satellite, Explorer I, into space in January 1958. This and other Army achievements helped lay the foundation for U.S. space exploration.
1960s: To support the newly formed NASA, a large number of Army employees, land and facilities supporting space and rocket programs were transferred to the program, and the Marshall Space Flight Center was created. Army work continued to focus on developing and sustaining ground and air defense missile systems with a focus on the Cold War and maintaining a technological edge over Soviet systems. Meanwhile, MSFC concentrated on putting a man on the moon. Rocket-motor test stands roared as MSFC worked around the clock to achieve manned space flight. The Saturn V rocket that eventually carried the three American astronauts to the moon in 1969 was based on work performed at Redstone Arsenal.
1970s and 1980s: As the Cold War continued, Redstone Arsenal pursued development of advanced weapon systems and training service members on maintenance and repair. These systems included the Pershing II, Chaparral, Multiple Launch Rocket System, Patriot and Avenger.
After retiring the Apollo space missions, MSFC continued to focus on propulsion systems, space station operations and other programs including the Skylab space station, Space Shuttle development for routine space access and Spacelab 1.
In 1988, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission transferred the Test, Measurement and Diagnostics Equipment Center from Lexington, Kentucky, to Redstone and sparked a renewed era of growth.
1990s: The Space Shuttle program throughout the 1990s was NASA’s workhorse and included delivery of the Hubble Space Telescope, which was developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center. BRAC 1991 brought materiel and logistics readiness activities from Lexington and San Francisco’s Presidio, which merged and became Army Materiel Command’s Logistics Support Activity. Initially, the Armament, Munitions and Materiel Command also was to relocate to Redstone, but this decision was reversed in BRAC’s 1993 round. Subsequent BRAC changes in 1995 realigned multiple Army aviation activities and commands from St. Louis, merging them with Redstone Arsenal’s Missile Command and other missile-centric centers.
2000s: Redstone Arsenal — and the local community — saw tremendous growth as the largest BRAC changes to date took hold. BRAC 2005 brought the Army Materiel Command’s four-star headquarters, Space and Missile Defense Command’s three-star headquarters, the majority of DOD’s Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command’s two-star headquarters from Northern Virginia. The Aviation Technical Test Center moved from Fort Rucker, Alabama, and merged with the Redstone Technical Test Center to become Redstone Test Center. The Second Recruiting Brigade and 2nd Medical Recruiting Battalion were also moved from Fort Gillem, Georgia, to Redstone.
Significant growth also occurred apart from the BRAC process. The newly activated Army Contracting Command and Expeditionary Contracting Command, realignment of Justice Department’s explosives research and analytical centers for the FBI and ATF, and new programs within existing organizations also brought growth and added to the diverse and dynamic missions found only at Redstone Arsenal.