The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site documents the role of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) during the Cold War. The Minuteman Missile, a critical element of U.S. defense strategy in the postwar period, was first developed in the 1950s. These missiles were a part of the arsenal of nuclear weapons that were maintained at a constant state of readiness throughout the Cold War. The Minuteman I, and later the Minuteman II and III missiles, could travel over the North Pole from this site in South Dakota and arrive at a target in 30 minutes. The warhead was the explosive equivalent of over a million tons of dynamite.
The site is located just off I-90 between Wall and Kadoka. The South Dakota facilities were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1961 and 1963 in association with the missile wing headquartered at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The historic site includes two primary complexes of buildings and structures: the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and the Delta-09 Launch Facility.
The Delta-01 Launch Control Facility (LCF) was the building from which members of the missile combat crew, a.k.a. the Missileers, monitored and controlled a network of ten missiles in underground silos (known as Launch Facilities or LFs). It consists of two main structures: the aboveground support and security center (a one-story, wood-framed building that included sleeping, dining, and recreational spaces) and the underground reinforced concrete capsule with the missile launch controls (where two Missileers were stationed at all times). The facility also had several communications antennae and a system of underground cables connected to the LFs. Delta-01 was one of five missile flights (a unit consisting of the LCF and the ten missiles it controlled) assigned to the missile wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
The Delta-09 Launch Facility, located approximately ten miles from the LCF, is a missile silo that houses a Minuteman Missile II (no longer armed or connected to a LCF). The concrete blast doors have been retracted and replaced with glass so that visitors can view the missile in its silo.
Because of the need to protect the LCFs and missile silos, most of the complex was underground. Only the aboveground portion of the LCF and various communication antennae were visible at the site. The LFs themselves were identifiable by the security fencing surrounding the perimeter but only small communication antennae and concrete blast doors over the silos were visible to anyone close enough to see them.
The missile sites in South Dakota remained on active duty for nearly three decades. They were deactivated in 1991 and the silos were imploded following the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Active Minuteman missile sites still exist in North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site was established in 1999. The new Visitors’ Center, which opened in 2015, is located at Exit 131 off I-90, approximately 70 miles east of Rapid City. Access to the LCF requires tickets available at the Visitors’ Center but visitors can view the LF site without a ticket.
National Park Service. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Brochure. Washington, D.C.: US Department of the Interior, 2009.
Mead and Hunt, Inc., “Minuteman ICBM Launch Control Facility Delta-01 and Launch Facility Delta-09, Ellsworth Air Force Base,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2003. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Engle, Dr. Jeffrey A. The Missile Plains: Frontier of America’s Cold War. Historic Resource Study for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 2003.