The United States Army Ordnance Corps had the foresight to develop plans for munition production starting in 1937 despite having little budget, little manpower, and little public support. They knew it would take an inordinate amount of explosives, powder, steel, and brass to meet demands once the U.S. officially entered World War II. Fast forward to September 14, 1940–President Roosevelt gave final approval to build the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant (KOP) in La Porte County.
La Porte County was chosen for a myriad of reasons including access to railways, highways, and water. It was a remote area of flat terrain that, if a major accidental explosion occurred, U.S. infrastructure wouldn’t be compromised. The inland location offered relatively quick access to both coasts while deterring enemy attack. In the end, KOP covered 13,454 acres of farmland. Ordnance bought out farmers, moved a cemetery, auctioned off crops, and relocated the town of Tracy to its current location of New Tracy.
The Ordnance Corps enlisted the help of Todd & Brown, Inc., the company that managed and directed the building of the Rockefeller Center in NYC in 1938, to build and run the KOP. After a chaotic year of planning and building, KOP built its first round, a 60mm trench mortar shell, on October 13, 1941. A typical day of production included (500,000) rounds of 20mm ammunition, (180,000) point detonating fuzes, (46,671) 40mm high explosive shells for MK 11s, and over 20 other items. Once the war ended in August 1945, KOP began the process of shutting down to stand-by status. It briefly operated again for the Korean Conflict before being decommissioned.
At its peak, the plant employed 20,785 people which was 45% women by the end of the war. This created a bit of an employment and housing crisis since La Porte’s population was 16,000 at the time construction began. As a result of the employee shortage, people were recruited from surrounding towns and as far away as Colorado, New York, and Arkansas. Jamaicans were also recruited to help with the seasonal work of harvesting crops. Buses ran from Gary, South Bend, and Plymouth, as well as car-pools from Valparaiso and Walkerton.
As a result of the housing shortage, La Porteans were asked to open their homes and let KOP workers rent a room. Kingsford Heights was a town planned by the War Department for those who worked at KOP. There were dormitories for single workers along with homes for families. Maple Terrace subdivision in southwest La Porte was built in response to the housing need of plant workers.
Once KOP was shut down, part of it was made into the Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area. Other chunks have been purchased by private businesses that include a fireworks plant, a shipping hub, a meat processing facility, a greenhouse, and a welding shop. Private citizens purchased the homes of former officers and live in them today.