A Little Black Box

The Black Box
The Black Box is occasionally on display in the Administration Building.


A Little Black Box

This ISN'T a black box you would find inside an airplane. So what is it?

On December 13, 1968 in El Paso, Texas, President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz met on the Santa Fe Bridge for the Inaugural Ceremony of the new concrete-lined channel named in honor of President Adolfo López Mateos, who had initiated the settlement of the Chamizal dispute five years before.

So why the black box?

A temporary dirt dam to hold back the water had been built upstream and the plan was to have both presidents turn the key to arm the box. A light would come on and then they would simultaneously push the red buttons to detonate an explosive charge to blow up the dam and have a gush of water flow through the channel.

As it turns out, the Secret Service did not allow for all that wiring to be near the presidents. Instead an engineer was on standby and when he saw that the presidents had pushed the red buttons, he radioed down to another engineer who was supposed to detonate the charges. Well, when the charge was detonated, nothing happened! All that was seen was a puff of smoke! In haste, engineers bulldozed the dam so the river could flow through, for two nations and two presidents were anxiously awaiting the gush of water from the Rio Grande to flow through the new channel.

Presidents LBJ and Díaz Ordaz with the black box
US President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz on the Santa Fe Bridge in downtown El Paso, Texas.
December 13, 1968

Last updated: December 12, 2018

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