TwHP Lessons

Minuteman Missile National
Historic Site: Protecting a Legacy of the Cold War

[Photo] Minuteman Missile at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota.
(National Park Service)


he Minuteman was one of the most significant strategic weapons in U.S. history. With the turn of a key, the missile could deliver its nuclear weapon to a Soviet target in 30 minutes or less. It was a weapon for which there was virtually no defense -- for a war no one could win. For nearly three decades Ellsworth's 44th Missile Wing stood on alert. Then in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.¹

Dispersed across the rolling high plains of western South Dakota during the Cold War were 150 Minuteman Missiles. These missiles held warheads that could have been used in a devastating counter strike against the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear war. The industrial might and mechanistic strength held within the underground silos were in stark contrast to the above-ground fields of golden wheat and pastoral grazing lands.

For three decades -- 1963-1993 -- thousands of people passed through this seemingly peaceful area unaware of the destructive force hidden beneath the landscape. The Minuteman system transformed the prairie into a military and technological frontier. As the first solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ever deployed by the United States, the Minuteman enhanced America's military capabilities. It was a key component of America's Cold War policy of deterrence and by extension helped facilitate a peaceful end to the Cold War. Designated in 1999, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site protects and preserves two significant sites on this former Cold War missile field in rural South Dakota.

¹ Testimony of Tim J. Pavek, Minuteman II Deactivation Program Manager, U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Hearings before the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands House Committee on Resources, 106th Congress, September 14, 1999.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Minuteman Missile fields in the United States
 2. 44th Missile Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Cold War Escalates
 2. Development of Intercontinental Ballistic
 Missiles and Deployment of Minuteman

 3. Silent Soldiers: Missileer Duty

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Sputnik
 2. President Kennedy with SAC Commander
 Thomas S. Power at Vandenberg Air Force

 3. Construction of Launch Control Center
 4. Missileer in the Launch Control Center
 5. Launch Control Facility Delta-01
 5. Launch Facility Delta-09

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. The Minuteman: Part of our future or a relic
 of the past?

 2. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles: America's
 Cold War Deterrent

 3. Nuclear and Cold War: A Shadow over
 the World

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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

The lesson is based on the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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