KCNSC Celebrates 75 Years
This year, Honeywell celebrates its 75th anniversary in managing and operating the Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC) for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Honeywell is the only contractor to solely manage and operate an NNSA site since the agency’s inception — originally the Atomic Energy Commission, established in 1946.
As we reflect on the KCNSC’s journey, you’ll see that while our name may have changed, our culture, dedication and mission are steadfast. To kick off 2024, let’s look back at where it all started.
For most of Kansas City’s 75 years of nuclear security operations, employees worked at the Bannister Federal Complex, which was commissioned in the early 1940s. In the late 1800s – decades before the groundbreaking of the Bannister Federal Complex and the Civil War – the land was part of a 34,000-acre Native American reservation. As the area grew, the countryside where Indian Creek joins Blue River slowly evolved into farms and grazing lands. By the early 1920s, Kansas City had begun to expand southward, and the wilderness was within reach of the city.
In 1922, the Kansas City Speedway Association acquired the plot to construct a 1 ¼-mile oval track out of wooden two-by-fours laid side by side. The race cars reached top speeds of 110 MPH with the speedway hosting up to 50,000 visitors at a time. However, just two years after it was built, dampness from the Blue River dislodged some of the untreated boards creating a treacherous condition that caused several severe accidents and led to its closing.
A New Spirit
In the spring of 1942, a small plane flew over the southern outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri. Representatives from the U.S. Navy, the War Production Board, the United Aircraft Corporation manufacturing company and its subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Aircraft were in tow. Below them was a long-abandoned racetrack in a small valley flanked by a community of farms east of the intersection of 95th Street and Holmes Road.
The then Missouri Senator Harry Truman was working with the Navy to build a defense plant to house production of the R-2800 Double Wasp engines eventually destined to power the squadrons of Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and Navy Corsair. Kansas City, Chicago, and St. Paul, Minnesota, were each proposed as possible site locations.
After a thorough study, the Kansas City site was selected based on availability of electricity, water supply and transportation, as well as its geographic location, which minimized the danger of enemy air attack. The land for the facility was acquired from 30 landowners for approximately $150,000, and a ground-breaking ceremony for the Pratt & Whitney Plant took place on July 4, 1942, with Sen. Truman as the keynote speaker.
“Today we initiate the construction of this great airplane engine plant,” said Sen. Truman. “We are determined that the American fighting man shall have more equipment and better equipment than any other fighting force of the world. To take the offensive, and we must take the offensive because wars are not won on the defensive, vast amounts of all instruments of war must be produced so that we and our allies may carry the battle to our enemies wherever they may be found.”
Two days later, excavation began. By May 1943, the first aircraft engines were in production, and the plant was declared officially complete in October 1943. The facility cost $85 million, which included about $40 million for the facility itself and the remainder for equipment.
Following the end of World War II – only two years after the Kansas City Plant was completed – there was no longer a need for the 2,000 horsepower engines the plant manufactured, and the nation rapidly powered down its war-time operations. Without ongoing production requirements, the building quickly became one of the most troublesome facilities in the country from a size and usage standpoint, and it was declared surplus on Sept. 24, 1945. For three years, the building suffered a somewhat inglorious state. Much of what had been the scene of feverish activity only a few years prior became caverns of silence, and the gigantic factory areas were stripped.
Then, on Nov. 29, 1948, during Truman’s presidency, the Atomic Energy Commission announced it had selected Kansas City as the site for a new factory to be operated by the Bendix Corporation under a prime contract. On Feb. 14, 1949, James C. Stowers was selected as the Area Manager over the AEC Kansas City Field Office (KCFO), and KCFO officially opened. The prime contract was signed on Feb. 28, and the announcement stated that the Bendix Corporation would occupy and operate the old Pratt & Whitney facility.
The first employees were hired in March and tasked with preparing the plant for its new role, including removing many tons of sugar and tires occupying the facility. By April 19, three machines were wired and ready for operation.
On April 21, the first part – an ordinary machined bushing – was produced. That simple part was the forerunner to the highly sophisticated and complex components to be built in the years that followed.
Willard B. Paine and J. C. Stowers led the start of our history. Paine, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and long-time Bendix employee, was appointed the first Bendix General Manager of the Kansas City Division.
"We consider our association with the Atomic Energy Commission as an honor, and our entrance into the atomic field a challenge,” said Paine.
Congratulations to the KCNSC on 75 years of service. We will continue to bring you stories throughout the year focused on our past, present and future accomplishments.
For more anniversary content, join the conversation online. We’ll be sharing weekly posts and photos on our LinkedIn, Facebook and X pages.