Note: This is a two-part series on the efforts to bring the National Bureau of Standards Central Radio Propagation Laboratory to Boulder.
In the late 1940s jobs were a concern in Boulder. Many of Boulder’s young people had to leave town to find decent employment. Two of Boulder’s largest businesses, Western States Cutlery and Crockett Bit and Spur, combined to employ less than 200 people in a city of almost 20,000 residents.
The Boulder Chamber of Commerce recognized the need and rose to the challenge. Chamber manager Francis “Franny” Reich was a go-getter, earning the nickname “Mr. Chamber of Commerce” in Boulder and beyond. Under Reich’s leadership, the Chamber created a “Progress Campaign” to move Boulder forward with new jobs, as well as improved transportation.
The Chamber had taken the lead on several city improvements through the Progress Campaign, such as finishing the road through Boulder Canyon.
A trio of high-profile projects in the Progress Campaign were set to take Boulder to a new level.
First was Esquire magazine. In late 1948, Reich read a small news brief about Esquire magazine of Chicago looking to relocate their subscription offices to Colorado. Although Boulder wasn’t on their radar, Reich convinced their scouting team to come to Boulder to have a look.
Reich secured the Esquire project by selling them on a pilot program. Boulder would get investors to buy land and construct a building. If it went well, Esquire would stay in Boulder and return the investors’ money. The plan worked. Reich and the investment group raised $75,000 in just a few months with 175 businesses and individuals contributing funds. Esquire’s offices opened in July of 1949 and gradually added 180 jobs to Boulder.
A second project in the Progress Campaign was the Denver-Boulder Turnpike. Reich campaigned hard for legislation to make the toll road a reality – a project that cut seven miles off of the trip between the two cities.
A third opportunity added to the Progress Campaign would change the character of Boulder. In 1949, the National Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C. was searching for a new location for their Central Radio Propagation Laboratory. As the Cold War set in, government officials believed was it imperative to decentralize key research labs to guard against nuclear attack. Officials were searching for a small city with a mild climate, an adequate university and access to areas with little radio noise.
Reich recognized this as an incredible possibility for Boulder.
Initially, a list of dozens of cities, including Boulder, were considered for the new lab.
By the Fall of 1949, the list of cities for the new NBS Central Radio Propagation Laboratory was down to three: Boulder, Charlottesville, Virginia — the home of the University of Virginia — and Palo Alto, California, the home of Stanford University.
Walter Orr Roberts, of the Harvard/CU High Altitude Observatory in Climax, Colo., had moved down to Boulder and he heartily endorsed the idea of bringing the new laboratory here, as did Colorado Sen. “Big Ed” Johnson and Gov. Dan Thornton. They all worked their connections in bipartisan support of the idea.
But it was no secret that the University of Colorado was considered to be inferior to the two other cities universities. CU was not yet the science powerhouse we know today.
At the Chamber, the consensus was that no stone should be left unturned to bring this new research lab to Boulder.
“Boulder is on the threshold of the greatest opportunity it could ever hope for,” Reich said in a past newspaper article.
In the Fall of 1949, Reich flew to the District of Columbia to inform officials that Boulder could provide a site for the new lab. Before he left for D.C., the Chamber of Commerce had taken out an option to buy farmland south of Boulder. Reich showed photographs and films of Boulder and CU and answered questions about Boulder for a roomful of NBS officials and employees.
The trip went well. Boulder was announced as the choice for the new lab on December 15, 1949.
Now that Reich and the Chamber promised the U.S. government a site for the lab, how would they pay for it?
Next month: Carol Taylor will follow up with Big Science comes to Boulder Part 2: The Chamber sells Boulder residents on “prosperity insurance.” The story will run in the Oct. 6 edition of the Daily Camera.