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Paul Rigby and Robert Benner display the book: Shell Loading at Amatol, N.J.  

Paul Rigby and Robert Benner display the book: Shell Loading at Amatol, N.J.  


Amatol: A  former World War I munitions factory,  located   in Mullica Township, NJ

The Book

Shell Loading at Amatol, N.J.  (150 scanned pages) is a rare, oversize book that documented the building of a bomb making facility at the tail end of World War I.  Amatol was an extensive and attractive "company town" to support the ordnance facility. That town of 10,000 disappeared very quickly.  However, unlike so many New Jersey "ghost towns", this one was fully documented by the company that built it.  For anyone familiar with the site Amatol, and later, the wood board Atlantic City Speedway occupied, it is a shock to learn that there had been a large ammunition plant and a supporting town on land that is now covered by mature forest.  The only remaining building on the site is the former barracks for the New Jersey State Police located on the White Horse Pike.  The people who developed the facility, the factories and storage plants and the town itself comes to life through beautiful photographs in the book and on post-cards capturing a forgotten time.  Even though it was a well-produced book, the enthusiasm of readers who have discovered the book has taken their toll on the book.  It is the intention of this project to give new life to this wonderful document. 

Amatol Comes to Life

The United States had entered the seemingly endless European war (later called the First World War) on April 6, 1917. In June of 1917 American troops began landing in France. The United States was also increasing its support of materiel for the war effort; one important category was ordnance.  In December of 1917 a group of nationally prominent businessmen  incorporated the Atlantic Loading Company under the laws of the State of Maine.  The effect on local residents is best described in an article from a local newspaper of the time.  The March 9, 1918 issue of the South Jersey Republican gives this account of the activity at the site:  "Never in history was Hammonton so stirred up as on Sunday and Monday, when announcement was made that the Government had taken land four miles below here and proposed employing twenty thousand hands to erect buildings and load shells for war purposes.  The papers were signed Saturday noon, and Sunday nearly a half hundred army trucks, loaded with tools, lumber and supplies, passed through town to the scene, at East Hammonton, this side of Elwood."


Construction on the plant began March 4, 1918.  Two miles away from the plant site , the town that would house the workers, was also constructed. This distance would ensure the safety of the residents from any accidental explosions at the munition plant.  This circumstance was dramatically demonstrated in the terrible accident at the Naval Ammunition Depot, Lake Denmark, New Jersey in 1926.  Both Amatol and Town-site were complete within nine months time.  The plant was designed for safety and redundancy. The plant was laid out so that an explosion in one building should not damage any other buildings.  This was accomplished by designing the buildings in such a way that an explosion would move upward rather than outward.  Additional protection, in some cases, was provided with soil filled barricades.  Hazardous operations were carried out in duplicate buildings so that if one were destroyed in an explosion the entire operation would not be jeopardized.

The Plant

Amatol was designed to load a whole series of shells. These ranged from 75 mm projectiles to hand grenades. The steel components were brought in by rail and distributed to a series of facilities designated to the loading of specific ordnance. In the book there is a photographic description of each one of these plants. There are also plans for the various buildings and for each plant which indicate the rail and conveyor connections among the buildings of the plant. These are the 75-mm plant, 4.7 inch plant, 6 inch plants, 8 inch plant, hand grenade plant, booster plant, and rifle grenade plant. Amatol was a great example of the newly emerging discipline of industrial organization. Though no direct attribution in given in the book to specific theorists of efficient industrial production a great emphasis is placed on the "perfect organization, methods and equipment" required to achieve the record production accomplished at Amatol. 

Plant Operation

The operation of the loading process is excellently described in the book Shell Loading at Amatol, N.J. :  " Whether the shell be large or small, it is placed lengthwise on the conveyor belt and moves along at a constant speed to the next process.  When it reaches the proper point a workman stationed there simply rolls it off the belt on the bench.  In the case of large, heavy shell this method not only saves time, but a vast amount of physical exertion...While the pressure of war needs was on it was necessary to load amatol rather than straight T.N.T.... The mix has as high explosive power as T.N.T., the one disadvantage of using it being that ammonium nitrate absorbs moisture rapidly, and in time deteriorates.  The life of the shell loaded with straight T.N.T. is indefinite--certainly 25 years--while the condition of shell loaded with amatol would be uncertain after perhaps five years."

Plant Safety

"In the matter of protection, the plant has been covered in many respects beyond the usual means of care to lessen risk.  The operating buildings are practically all steel-frame with composite lath and cement construction or corrugated metal sides.  Hydrants are placed inside and outside the building in such position that all parts can be covered with water.  One hundred feet of hose is provided for each outside hydrant.  Hose racks are placed in the buildings at short intervals and fire buckets 20 feet apart.  A water line patrol is constantly at work to detect defects in the system or accidents, such as broken mains..."   " Buildings where T.N.T. is poured undergo constant cleaning and are flushed out with steam daily.  Exhaust air systems are installed to carry away the fumes and dust.  A safety patrol looks to the cleaning up of T.N.T. dust and the clearing away of waste.  Personal cleanliness among operatives is insisted upon as the best safeguard against possible dangerous effects from working in T.N.T...."

The Town

The references to the planning that went into the development of the Plant echo the focus on planning evident in the building of the town.  This is no accident, the early part of the twentieth century saw the dawning of planned communities.  Architects like Andrew J. Thomas, Henry Wright, Robert D. Kohn, Clarence S. Stein, Frederick L. Ackerman and Thomas Adams were actively involved in the design of towns that incorporated the elements of English Garden Cities.  The planned town of Yorkship Village near Camden, New Jersey was also built during World War. They attempted to combine the best features of the town and the country.  Comparison with similar installations suggests the designers of Amatol were familiar with the principles of town planning used by the major architects of the time.  Great pains were taken to build a town that workers would find attractive and stimulating.  

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Sponsored by: William J. Spangler Library

 at Atlantic Cape Community College, Mays Landing, N. J.   

Last modified June 2011