After Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States into World War II, production increased dramatically at home to aid the war effort overseas. In short order, munitions factories popped up throughout the nation. The town of McGregor was chosen as the site of one such munitions factory, known as the Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant. One of only four plants in the U.S. to produce bombs for the war, Bluebonnet became the first so called bomb factory to begin production.
In February of 1942, the government contracted the National Gypsum Company to build and manage an ordnance facility with assistance from the Army Ordnance Department. Officials selected 18,000 acres for the project, and construction began immediately. By October, the first bombs were coming off the production lines. The Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant was officially up and running.
Bluebonnet manufactured three different types of bombs: Semi-armor Piercing, General Purpose, and Fragmentation bombs. The largest bombs weighed up to 2,000 pounds, while the smaller Fragmentation bombs, also known as Parachute bombs, weighed only 23 pounds. For a time, the plant produced its own ammonium nitrate explosives for the bombs, as well.
Bomb bodies and casings arrived at Bluebonnet via the railroad. After unloading, the bomb casings came first to the paint station. An automatic spray-paint machine, invented at Bluebonnet, made this process much easier. Next came the Nose-Pour Building. Workers on the bomb lines placed explosives and padding into the nose of each bomb. The Screening Building was next on the line. Personnel used large screens to sift through explosive materials, getting rid of any impurities or lumps. After this came the Melt-Pour Building where TNT, Ammonium Nitrate and filler were melted and poured into the main body of the bomb, before going to a separate building for cooling. Bombs then traveled to the Tail-Pour building where more explosives could be loaded into the tail before attachment to the main body. Finally, finished bombs were carefully packed up, loaded back onto boxcars, and shipped out of McGregor via the railroad.
At its height, the plant employed over 5,000 personnel, and an employment office opened in Waco to assist with hiring. McGregor’s population, at about 2,000 people before the war, skyrocketed with this influx of workers. Bluebonnet became a thriving town within a town, providing living quarters, stores, a running bus system, a hospital, and fire and police protections. The plant even published its own newspaper, and offered several recreational activities for employees.
When the war drew to a close, the ordnance plant shut its doors and the space was converted to peace time pursuits. Part of the Bluebonnet site remained a factory, producing household items such as furniture and stoves. A large portion of the land was given to Texas A&M for the creation of an experimental research farm. In the 1950s, the U.S. Air Force began building and testing rockets in the area.
Today, Texas A&M still runs an experimental farm, known as the McGregor Research Center. The rest of the acreage is shared between private farmers and Space X, a commercial company, which uses McGregor as a rocket testing site. Though the end of the war meant the end of Bluebonnet, the memory of the place and the contributions of the people who gave it life still survive. Bluebonnet’s legacy of research, innovation, and development continues on the site where it once stood.