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November 17: Millions in Minot for Contracting Construction at Minot AFB

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In 1955, plans for an Air Force base were being drawn up for a site just off route 83, north of Minot. The base would house 1200 airmen and civilians as well as a squadron of F102A jet interceptors.

The scale of the project was massive, and the deadline was aggressive. The United States military wanted the base operational by the end of 1956. This meant roads, hangers, housing, utilities, a mess hall, and security systems all had to be quickly constructed. Thus, the US government had to find someone willing to build the base, and they needed it done for a relatively small price. To solve this problem, the government sought bids from private construction firms with the intention of awarding contracts to the lowest bidders. Each project for the base was separate, allowing many construction firms to get involved. This process ensured a lower price, and quicker work.

The bidding took place in September, October, and November. Some contracts, worth over 1 million dollars, were decided by a mere 1-thousand-dollar difference.

On this date in 1955, a contract just under 1.3 million ($1,294,700) was awarded to a firm out of Saint Paul called Charles Harris Co. for the construction of a central heating plant. The contract beat out the previous low bid, which came from a Chicago firm. The Chicago bid called for a heating plant that worked on water instead of steam. If they had won, it would have been the first of its kind between Chicago and Idaho. That method would have pumped water under the floor and through the walls. It was considered a futuristic idea and had been used with some success in Chicago. It was, however, ultimately too expensive. With the Charles Harris contract, the Minot Air Force Base project had signed 8 contracts and was well on its way to a timely end date ahead of the aggressive deadline.

The base opened almost on schedule in February 1957, providing fighter interceptors to protect the United States' northern border from the threat of Soviet bombers crossing the arctic. It wasn’t until 1988 that the air defense mission was eliminated.

Dakota Datebook by Colby Aderhold


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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