A Brief History
On November 7, 2000, the US DEA made a drug bust of one of the largest illegal LSD labs in the United States. What made this bust significant was that it was located in a retired ICBM missile silo in Kansas.
During the 1960’s the US, Russia, and eventually other countries constructed mass numbers of underground missile launch facilities to protect their nuclear armed ICBM’s (InterContinental Ballistic Missile) from enemy nuclear weapons in order to insure the ability to conduct a counter strike if the enemy struck first. Such was the nature of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and their allies vs. the United States and their allies.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the end of the Cold War, along with various arms limitation treaties made many of these ICBM silos obsolete. Other factors such as improved submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and cruise missiles that could be launched from ships and planes outside the enemy territory also made ICBM’s less important.
The US thus had a bunch of unused and unwanted missile silo facilities for sale, and enterprising Americans bought them up. Some created nifty underground homes, well protected against burglars, tornadoes, nuclear war and other catastrophes. Some turned their silo into a “safe room,” their own personal bunker to flee to in time of apocalyptic disaster. A Titan missile silo outside of Tucson Arizona is maintained as a museum. Ads for silos tout their suitability for storage, indoor farming, and other uses. (Hopefully not manufacturing illegal drugs!) Real estate and construction companies specifically for the purpose of renovating and selling used silos can easily be found on the Internet.
One article I read (2014) as research for this article told of a silo along with 25 acres of land and water rights to 200 acres outside of Roswell, New Mexico, for only $295,000. Century 21 Real Estate earns their name with this listing! In 1987 the New York Times warned potential buyers of certain burdens they would take on if they buy an old silo. Issues such as debris and garbage needing clean up, stuck missile doors weighing many tons, and expensive renovations made these early Atlas missile silos a questionable buy. The later silos from Titan and Minuteman missiles may not have quite as many problems.
Whether you turn your silo and its property into a home, a bunker, a resort, an ice rink, a machine shop, a farm, a source of scrap metal or whatever, you will own something at least somewhat out of the ordinary, probably the main attraction of these properties. Generators, plumbing, wells, security fencing, and doors a punk cannot kick in all wait for you.
The US once had well over a thousand of these silos (perhaps half that now), and not all are out west in remote deserts. Eastern states such a New York have some sites, so there may be one closer than you think.
Questions for students: Do you have the sense of adventure for buying and renovating a missile silo? Do you think the government should sell these at all? Give us your thoughts on this subject, including what you would like to do with your own silo.
(See silohome.com for nifty pictures of luxury silo home.)
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For more information, please see…
U.S. Government. On Alert: An Operational History of the United States Air Force Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Program, 1945-2011 – Atlas, Titan, Minuteman, Peacekeeper MX, Minuteman III, Nuclear Warhead. Progressive Management, 2014.
Heefner, Gretchen. The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland. Harvard University Press, 2012.
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