December 16, 1966: Announcement of Weston, IL Site Selection

Fifty years ago today, on December 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 forty-six states before the deadline. Some of these proposals came from centers of high-energy physics research like 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 eighty-five and passed it to the NAS Site Evaluation Committee, publicly announcing the reduced list on September 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 December 7, 1966 and issued a press release announcing the selection of the site on December 16, 1966.

You can read more about Weston, Illinois on the Fermilab History Website here and here. A print copy of the Illinois site proposal is available in the Fermilab Archives.

Aerial view of Weston, Illinois in 1968, shortly after NAL employees began working on the site. (National Accelerator Laboratory photograph 68-0125-01) (1 of 4)
A developer's ambitious plan for Weston, Illinois. The only portion that was actually constructed was part of the peach-colored section next to the pond labeled Swan Lake. Click on the image for a much higher resolution version. (2 of 4)
April 8, 1966 site inspection of Weston, Illinois. Left to right: AEC Chairman Glenn Seaborg, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Village President Arthur Theriault, and Illinois Senator Paul H. Douglas. (Courtesy Fermilab Visual Media Services) (3 of 4)
Sign posted at Weston, Illinois in 1966, after the site proposal. (National Accelerator Laboratory photograph 68-254-18A) (4 of 4)