This article from the New Mexico Business Weekly earlier this year gives an overview of how the economy and society of modern New Mexico was shaped by the military colonization of the state. The nuclear and high tech research brought money and people to the state. It will take even more efforts to demilitarize the state. – El Lobo Rojo
Big military science project shaped modern New Mexico
by Dennis Domrzalski, NMBW Staff
Friday, February 3, 2012
Modern New Mexico was born at 5:29:45 a.m. on July 16, 1945, when the world’s first atomic bomb was exploded in the desert 35 miles southeast of Socorro.
The Trinity blast at the White Sands Proving Ground marked the beginning of the atomic age, and in the U.S., New Mexico was the epicenter of that age.
From that point forward, the state’s economy was built around nuclear weapons and high-tech research.
Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories were formed and became the backbone of the nation’s nuclear weapons programs. Researchers and scientists poured into the state, and a service economy grew up around them and the nuclear weapons program.
Population statistics tell the story. In 1940, before the U.S. was involved in World War II, Albuquerque’s population was 35,499. Ten years later, it had more than doubled to 96,815, and by 1960, it had doubled again to 201,189.
Those growth trends track the employment increase at Sandia, which started as an offshoot of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In 1949, Sandia employed 1,700, said Rebecca Ullrich, historian for Sandia Corp. and the lab. By 1959, as the Cold War was getting into full swing, more than 7,000 people worked at the lab. Today, the lab employs 9,948,
Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was developed, experienced similar employment growth, Ullrich added.
While many of those Sandia employees were housed on lab grounds on Kirtland Air Force Base, they had to move out into the city in the 1950s because the U.S. Air Force needed the on-base housing, Ullrich said.
That promoted a housing boom like Albuquerque had never seen. Ullrich recalled that a magazine article at the time said that in Albuquerque, one could go to lunch, walk out of the restaurant afterward and see that another new housing development had been built.
“You see this massive construction going on in the residential areas near the base. It was a period of expansion, and developers were announcing 1,000-dwelling projects,” Ullrich said.
New Mexico’s population grew dramatically as the two national laboratories, the state’s Air Force bases and White Sands Missile Range geared up for the Cold War. In 1940, the state’s population was 531,818. By 1960 it had nearly doubled to 951,203. In 1960, Albuquerque boasted it had more Ph.D.s per capita than any other U.S. city.
Homes had to be built for all those people, as did the businesses to support them: car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants, auto repair shops and department stores.
New Mexico, because of its remote location and lack of population, missed the Industrial Revolution of the late 1900s. But with the labs and the military, a manufacturing sector grew to support the nuclear weapons and defense industries.
“The only manufacturing that has ever really existed in New Mexico, other than Intel now, has been to support some type of military mission, and that’s still true today,” said Sherman McCorkle, chairman and CEO of the Sandia Science and Technology Park Development Corp. “If you wanted to live in New Mexico and wanted to have a national standard of living, you were connected to the labs or the military or the federal government.
“The rest of what we have is the result of the nuclear weapons program and research. All of the directed energy research and of the space research is the result of the nuclear weapons research. That brought in all the Ph.D.s and their families, and the mathematicians. There is no question that the economy has been driven by nuclear weapons, from Sandia to Los Alamos to White Sands.”
That Albuquerque has the sprawling Kirtland Air Force Base is the result of hard work and determination by city leaders in the late 1930s, says Oscar Mahlon Love Jr., a retired Albuquerque banker.
“Just before the war,  the U.S. Army Air Corps was looking for a place to refuel their multiengine experimental planes, and they were leaning toward Alamogordo,” Love recalled. “But Albuquerque leaders saw the wisdom of it being here. We had just built our airport and two runways, and those leaders talked with [Henry] Hap Arnold [then head of the Army Air Corps] and tried to persuade him to put the refueling station in Albuquerque.
“Eventually, Hap Arnold said that if Albuquerque would foot the bill to build the barracks to house the personnel, he’d put it here.”
That happened, and Albuquerque got the refueling station. Then World War II broke out, and the Air Corps needed a place to train pilots to fly those multiengine planes.
“You could see a ring of planes landing and taking off as far as you could see, from Jemez to Socorro,” Love added. “Then they decided to train bombardiers, navigators and radio operators here. So there came the base in all its different forms.”