Ogden’s Bustling Base: Hill Air Force Base

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.

Images

1940 Groundbreaking Ceremony for Hill Field
1940 Groundbreaking Ceremony for Hill Field Although construction began almost immediately after President Roosevelt’s authorization in 1938, Hill Field’s groundbreaking ceremony did not occur until 1940. In the same year Hill welcomed its first commander and official operation of some parts of the base began, even though construction would not be completed for another two years. Source: Courtesy of 75th Air Base Wing History Office, Hill Air Force Base http://www.hill.af.mil/Portals/58/documents/AFD-131104-188.pdf?ver=2016-06-26-183945-860
Aerial view of Hill Field in 1945
Aerial view of Hill Field in 1945 An aerial view of Hill Field’s four runways in 1945. The grading and laying of the runways was the first project completed by the WPA for the new depot. Construction at Hill Field lasted from 1938 to 1942. Source: Courtesy of 75th Air Base Wing History Office, Hill Air Force Base http://www.hill.af.mil/Portals/58/documents/AFD-131104-188.pdf?ver=2016-06-26-183945-860
Hill AFB becomes the Logistics Center for the Minuteman Missile Program
Hill AFB becomes the Logistics Center for the Minuteman Missile Program With the dawn of the nuclear age Hill AFB became the Logistics Center for the Minuteman Missile Project in 1959. Hill’s work with missiles would open numerous business opportunities for private aerospace industries to partner as the manufacturers and suppliers of missile parts. Utah-based aerospace companies Thiokol in Brigham City and Hercules Inc. in Magna would work closely with Hill and greatly benefit from the partnership. Source: Courtesy of 75th Air Base Wing History Office, Hill Air Force Base http://www.hill.af.mil/Portals/58/documents/AFD-131104-188.pdf?ver=2016-06-26-183945-860
The F-35 on Display
The F-35 on Display A picture taken in 2015 by AFROTC cadets from BYU while on a tour of Hill Air Force Base. The image features one of Hill’s first F-35 Lightning II, on display. The announcement of Hill as the first base to receive the Air Force’s newest fighter was met with excitement as Utah politicians expected the aircraft would likely protect Hill AFB from future base realignments and closures. Source: Used and Cropped with Permission from AFROTC Detachment 855 BYU/UVU https://www.facebook.com/pg/afrotcdet855/photos/?ref=page_internal.
Warriors over the Wasatch, Open House and Air Show
Warriors over the Wasatch, Open House and Air Show This is a flyer for the Warriors over the Wasatch open house and air show that was held at Hill AFB in June of 2016. The event is held by the base once every two years and consists of static and aerial displays. As the event is open to the public it provides a rare opportunity for the locals to see what it is like behind Hill’s gates. It serves as a chance for the Utahan’s to learn about the mission of the Air Force, as well as the significance of Hill Air Force Base to that mission. Source: Courtesy of U.S. Air Force, graphic by David Perry http://www.hill.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001526307/. Creator: David Perry

Location

7981 Georgia Street, Hill AFB, UT 84056 | While the base itself if not open to the public, The Hill Aerospace Museum located outside Hill’s Roy Gate at 7961 Wardleigh Rd, Hill AFB, UT is typically open Monday-Saturday from 9:00am-4:30pm. The museum is free to the public and invites patrons to come learn about the heritage and legacy of Hill AFB and the United State Air Force.

Metadata

Sarah L. Woolley, Brigham Young University, “Ogden’s Bustling Base: Hill Air Force Base,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/43.