Considered one of Utah’s largest employers, Hill AFB has had a significant role in shaping the economy and development of Ogden and surrounding municipalities. The base has also served as a means of fostering greater cooperation between Utahans and the US military.
Prominently located a mere 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, Hill Air Force Base has become a remarkable feature of Utah’s landscape. Even before its gates opened in 1940, its construction as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project provided economic grown and prosperity to the region. The base also served as a symbol of changing relationships between Utah locals, the federal government, and the United States military.
The local and military relationship that existed throughout Utah’s early history can only be described as contentious. Conflicts between Army commanders seeking to increase the military and therefore federal influence in Utah Territory frequently butted heads with the Mormon majority that dominated territorial government and law. Though tensions would decrease, allowing for Utah’s admission as a state, the isolationist and self-sufficient attitudes that were uniquely Mormon would persisted into the 20th century.
Utah’s limited economic diversity and general reliance on agriculture left much of the state’s population vulnerable to the effects of the Great Depression. In the mid-1930s, the Army Air Corps began expressing interest in building an Air Depot in the Intermountain West, believing an inland position would keep it safe from coastal attacks. Excitement spread throughout Utah as the prospect of the base promised further economic relief and, more importantly, growth. Cities throughout Utah expressed interest in hosting the new Air Base, but none with as much enthusiasm and determination as the local leaders of Ogden, without whom the base might never have been built.
The promise of full cooperation by Ogden’s leaders and donation of land near the already established Ogden Arsenal brought wavering federal attention for the project back to Utah. A combination of Works Progress Administration and defense funds totaling $30 million were allocated to the construction of the base, and by the end of 1943, Hill Field had become the largest civilian employer in the state. What little opposition that did arise with the base’s construction was limited to criticism of its location in Ogden as opposed to spots in the Salt Lake and Utah Counties.
During World War II, Hill’s responsibilities consisted of aircraft supply and maintenance, and expanded to include missiles in 1959, when the base received the assignment to manage the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Just as the base’s responsibilities were expanding, so too were the communities surrounding the base. Housing and transportation shortages prompted rapid growth and development in Ogden and surrounding municipalities.
Today Hill Air Force Base continues to be one of the largest employers in Utah and a necessary supporting fixture to many businesses in Ogden. While the massive base closures in 1995 brought uncertainty for the base’s future, many have taken comfort in Hill’s assignment as the depot for the Navy, Marine, and Air Force variants of the F-35. It is anticipated that the F-35 will maintain Hill’s significance with the Air Force as whole, keeping the base a permanent fixture in Utah.