Fifty years ago today, on Dec. 16, 1966, the Atomic Energy Commission announced the selection of Weston, Illinois, as the site for Fermilab, then called the National Accelerator Laboratory.
While the planned 200-GeV accelerator was still being designed, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Academy of Sciences agreed on a plan for selecting a site for the new lab. An AEC press release on April 28, 1965, announced the agreement and requested that site proposals be submitted by June 15, 1965. The AEC received 126 proposals recommending about 200 sites in 46 states before the deadline. Some of these proposals came from centers of high-energy physics research such as Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, but many others came from groups unconnected to physics who believed the accelerator would benefit their community. The Illinois proposal was prepared by IIT Research Institute and Corplan Associates on behalf of the State of Illinois Board of Economic Development, the Chicago Area Research and Development Council, and the Mayor’s Committee for the Economic and Cultural Development of Chicago. The proposal recommended five primary sites: Wauconda, South Barrington, Argonne National Laboratory, the Joliet Arsenal and Weston.
Proposed sites had to meet minimum requirements set by AEC and NAS, including at least 3,000 acres of land, a minimum level of power capability, and easy access to residential communities, highways, and airports. Remaining sites were ranked based on other qualities, such as local construction costs and the presence of nearby graduate programs in the physical sciences. AEC narrowed the list down to 85 and passed it to the NAS Site Evaluation Committee, publicly announcing the reduced list on Sept. 15, 1965. The NAS in turn narrowed the list down to seven in March 1966: Sierra Nevada, California; Denver, Colorado; South Barrington, Illinois; Weston, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Brookhaven, New York; and Madison, Wisconsin. Illinois had to withdraw its South Barrington site from consideration on April 5, 1966, due to pressure and petitions from South Barrington residents, who feared the lab would bring heavy traffic and disrupt life in the community. AEC staff visited and evaluated each remaining site. AEC chairman Glenn Seaborg and others visited Weston, Illinois, on April 8, 1966. The Weston site had many strengths, particularly its accessibility to users from all areas of the country given its Midwestern location and proximity to O’Hare airport. The AEC selected Weston on Dec. 7, 1966, and issued a press release announcing the selection of the site on Dec. 16, 1966.
The series “This Day in Fermilab History” features milestone events from Fermilab’s past in this series of occasional articles. View the article on the laboratory history website.
Valerie Higgins is the Fermilab historian and archivist.