Site created by Michael Epperson, Ph.D.
University of Chicago, Class of '03
Updated 12/21/06
Documentary Films: click here

(Army Air Defense Command)

Nike Missile Site C-41
Promontory Point
Jackson Park, Chicago
1955 - 1971

A nuclear capable Nike Hercules missile and its crew in action at U.S. Army Air Defense Command missile site C-03 on Montrose Beach (now the Lincoln Park Yacht Club) during a readiness drill. (1959) An identical site (C-41) existed in Jackson Park until 1971. The IFC (Integrated Fire Control) radar tower area was located at Promontory Point, with the Launcher area in a meadow across from the 63rd St. Beach.   The same site, C-03, three years earlier when it was equipped with the older Nike Ajax, shown here being elevated to the 'firing position.' Site C-03 was later converted to Nike Hercules (left). This photo was taken in January, 1956 by PFC Roger B. Gregory - Signal Services Headquarters - Fifth Army.

"Chicago has become the best defended city in the Middle West against enemy air-to-ground attacks."
--Chicago Sun Times

"… Nike probably would shoot down not only enemy bombers but any bomb armed rockets the bombers might drop."
--Milwaukee Journal

"The structures contrast grimly with the pastoral scenery extending toward the horizon… It is a contrast of grim necessity - the grimmest of our civilization."
--Chicago Daily Tribune

  "Chicago is loaded for bear - even the Russian bear if the Reds should ever dare send their bombers to attack the city." "A ring of sword-like guided missiles called the Nike - revealed for the first time today - stands ready to send sudden death belting into the sky to meet any enemy head on." "They are inescapable by any air maneuver now known to aviation…" "The thing you ought to remember is that the Nike's presence hereabouts should enable you to sleep a lot more soundly." "They make nice neighbors."
--Chicago American


Nike missile sites were constructed in rings surrounding major urban and industrial areas and key Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases and other sensitive installations. Though they were built on government-owned property where available (such as military bases and former artillery bases), much real estate was acquired specifically for missile-base construction, including two portions of Chicago's Burnham and Jackson Parks. Approximately 250 sites were constructed in the U.S. between 1953 and 1958.

Two Nike missile bases had formerly been located in the parks along Lake Shore Drive--one south of McCormick Place East (designated C-40) and the other adjacent to the East Lagoon in Jackson Park (designated C-41). The site in Jackson Park was built on a former artillery range. Large underground voids for missile storage at these former missile bases were distant from the project and considered to be of no concern to the highway. However, numerous underground storage tanks had been installed to store fuel for space heating and for fueling of both missiles and vehicles. Not all were removed prior to closing of the missile bases (Chicago Park District, 1962; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1995; IT corporation, 1998).

--Excerpt from Illinois State Geological Survey Report OFS 2004-14: “From Missile Bases to Public Spaces: Conducting Environmental Assessments of City Parks” – C. Brian Trask (2004)

In 1953, the U.S. Army leased land from the Park District for a Nike missile base on a Jackson Park meadow. Soon afterward, it took part of Promontory Point for a radar site.

The radar towers stood south of the fieldhouse on a large tract surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. One of the towers reached 150 feet in height, and all of them dwarfed the turret of the fieldhouse. Many neighborhood residents resented the radar towers and their placement on the Point, but protests became vocal only in the Vietnam era. After the radar towers finally came down in 1971, there was a victory rally with the slogan, "We've won our Point."

--Excerpt from "Promontory Point: Lake Michigan at 55th Street, Chicago,
1937-1987" by John McDermott, Jr.

  • Click here for more information on the history of the Nike missile battery based in Jackson Park.
  • You can read the U.S. Government booklet Last Line of Defense: Nike Missile Sites in Illinois by clicking here. Hard copies can be obtained from: Mr. Keith Ryder, Archaeologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 111 N. Canal St. Chicago, IL 60606-7206 (312) 353-6400 x2020

IFC Radar Towers at Promontory Point, 55th St & South Shore Drive

Same IFC Towers at The Point, with Lake Michigan in the foreground

Promontory Point as it exists today, as seen from my window in Shoreland Hall (formerly the Shoreland Hotel) at The University of Chicago

Click on yellow areas for photos and information.

For a larger map of the Jackson Park area, click here.

Jackson Park

Click on C-41 IFC Radar Area and C-41 Launcher Area in the satellite photo below for magnified satellite photos of each area. For an enlarged version of the photo below, click here.

Sat Wide


Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1974 - An Introductory History and Site Guide
US Strategic and Defensive Missile Systems 1950-2004
Ballistic Missile Defense and the Future of American Security: Agendas, Perceptions, Technology, and Policy

Nike Ajax missiles in launch position. This is a U.S. Army photo of Boston Site B-15 (15 July 60), but site C-41 in Jackson Park would have looked identical.

Click here for more photos and information about the launcher area.

Click here for more photos and information about the IFC radar tower area.


In 1954, the U.S. Army deployed the world’s first operational, guided, surface-to-air missile system. This system, the Nike Ajax, was conceived near the end of World War II and developed during the early years of the Cold War. With an increasing perception of a direct Soviet bomber threat to the American mainland, the Army rushed Nike Ajax into production and deployed the missile system around major urban locations including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

Nike "Ajax," consisted of a two-stage guided missile powered by a solid-fueled booster engine and a liquid-fueled sustainer engine. The sustainer engine was fueled by JP-4 jet petroleum with an inhibited red fuming nitric acid oxidizer and a catalyst consisting of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine. This missile had a range of 48 km (30 mi) and carried a conventional warhead. The first Ajax base was operational by 1954 at Fort George C. Meade, MD, and several antiaircraft artillery bases in the Chicago area had been converted to Nike missile bases by 1957. A total of 24 bases were constructed in the ring surrounding Chicago and Gary, IN.

Click here to view a video compilation of several Nike Ajax launches.



This photo shows the newer, nuclear capable Nike Hercules in the foreground and its smaller predecessor, Nike Ajax. in the background.

Site C-41 in Jackson Park and Promontory Point was converted to Nike Hercules missiles and equipment in April 1959.

Whereas the Nike Ajax, with its conventional Composition B warhead was designed to destroy individual aircraft, Nike Hercules with its W-31 nuclear warhead (with switchable 2 or 40 kiloton yields) was designed to destroy entire squadrons of supersonic aircraft at altitudes in excess of 150,000 feet at a range of over 87 miles. In addition to the W-31 nuclear warhead, the Nike Hercules could also carry a 1000 pould T-45 conventional high explosive warhead. Even today, the government will not disclose which domestic Nike Hercules sites were equipped with the W-31 nuclear warheads.

Here's an email I received from a former Command Sergeant Major who worked with the Nike program in Chicago:

As a former member of 1st Bn, 60th ADA, I can tell you that "D" Battery, was part of the Battalion prior to the Democratic Convention of 1968. I can also tell you that the Chicago police (and military - operation Garden Plot) response to the SDS and others rioting during the convention was very much as the result of the nuclear capability (very few people would know for sure one way or the other, although at the time we believed we had nukes on the birds) of Battalion.

In addition to my normal occupational activities, I was tasked with riot control chemical defense and was on orders as a selected marksman to defend the missiles and warheads. Although not a member of D battery, I was tasked with supporting it prior to the convention and riots. When I left the Bn in July 1969, I signed an obligation for a twenty-five year period of silence with respect to all activities within the Battalion and the Nike system. Since that period is long past, I can tell you that at the time, (spring '68) government intelligence believed that the Students for a Democratic Society would attempt to occupy one of the Bn sites (most likely Jackson Park) and hold Chicago as ransom, during the convention. I know this story sounds like something from a novel, but it is history I participated in.

CSM(r) G.L.Huber

30-minute public affairs film produced by the Army
Click to stream via Real Player
Click to view in Windows Media Player
Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1974 - An Introductory History and Site Guide

by Mark L. Morgan & Mark A. Berhow

ISBN: 0615120121

US Strategic and Defensive Missile Systems 1950-2004 

by Mark Berhow & Chris Taylor (illustrator)

ISBN: 1841768383

Nike Missile System and Test Equipment -- Instructional Manual and Operations Guide

Click here for a complete PDF download of this document. For a chapter-by-chapter download, click here. (Courtesy Ed Thelen)

Video of a Nike Hercules interception.

Click to view in Windows Media Player
Length: 21 feet (34.8 feet w/booster) 41 feet
Diameter: 12 inches 31.5 inches
Weight: 1,000 pounds (2,455 w/booster) 10,710 pounds
Range: 25 to 30 miles Over 87miles
Speed: Mach 2.3 (1,679 mph) Mach 3.65 (2,707 mph)
Altitude: Up to 70,000 feet Up to 150,000 feet
Warhead: Conventional: Comp B high explosive

Nuclear: W-31 (2 or 40 kiloton)
Conventional: T-45 high explosive

Click here for more information.


C Battery, 485th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion (Missile),
45th Air Defense Artillery Brigade

1955 - 57

C Battery, 485th Missile Battalion,
45th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
1957 - 58
C Battery, 2nd Missile Battalion (Nike Hercules),
57th Air Defense Artillery
1958 - 65
B Battery, 6th Missile Battalion,
3rd Air Defense Artillery
1965 - ?
D Battery, 1st Missile Battalion,
60th Air Defense Artillery
? - 1971


What's left of these sites? Not much, if anything--at least upon first glance. Nike Site C-41 in Jackson Park is, it seems, listed on the Department of Defense's "Defense Environmental Restoration Program Formerly Used Defense Sites (DERP-FUDS)" list, both in 1999 and 2001.


According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District:

Nike C-41 is a Defense Environmental Restoration Program - Formerly Used Defense Site (DERP-FUDS). It is located in Chicago on the edge of Lake Michigan across from the end of 55th Street at the south end of Burnham Park and operated from 1951 to 1971.

According to an Inventory Project Report (INPR), written by the Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District in 1993, three containerized underground storage tanks were identified for removal. In 1998, a subsequent geophysical report indicated 13 possible tanks (2 in the Control Area, 5 in the Launch Area, and 6 in the Housing Area). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the executing agent responsible for cleaning up properties that were once operated or owned by the Department of Defense.

This project has been recently transferred to the Louisville District. The Louisville District plans to determine how many, if any, tanks were removed by the Corps of Engineers, Chicago District and to document their removal with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Plans include revising the INPR and removing, if necessary, any underground storage tanks on this property.

Here are some examples of other 'structural hazards' listed on the DERP-FUDS website. According to the site, 'hazards' are described as follows:

"Projects at a FUDS fall within one or more of the following categories:

Hazardous, Toxic, and Radioactive Waste:

Cleanup and removal of hazardous substances. Projects in this category include removal of underground and aboveground storage tanks, drums, and electrical transformers. These projects are called containerized hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste projects. Other projects in this category Include removal of soil or groundwater contaminated with hazardous substances. Also included are projects for removal of other hazardous substances or wastes. In addition, this category includes projects for cleanup of environmental problems associated with contaminated landfills.

Building Demolition and/or Debris Removal: Demolition and removal of structurally unsafe buildings or towers and removal of unsafe debris.

Ordnance and Explosive Waste: Identification and removal of abandoned ordnance and explosive waste such as bombs, bullets, and rockets. Also included are projects for removal or remediation of explosive-contaminated soil and chemical warfare material."

If you'd like to see a current state-by-state list of Formerly Used Defense Sites and their status, click here.

Some history on the Nike missile site at Promontory Point and Jackson Park:
An excerpt from...

"45th Air Defense Artillery Brigade History"
Chapter V - NIKE AJAX (Part 1)
1 January 1955 - 31 December 1959


(The complete article can be read here, in "THE NPG NEWS The Newsletter of the Nike Preservation Group" Vol 4, No.2, June 2001)

The missile era officially arrived in the Chicago area when B Battery, 86th AAA Missile Battalion moved into the first permanent NIKE - AJAX site on 24 January 1955. The unit departed C30T at 1230 and arrived at Skokie, Illinois (C93) at 1605... C Battery occupied C41, Jackson Park. The administrative Area was located on the old location of the gun site 42. This move and construction rekindled the civilian anger against the military because of the obviously permanent occupation of the lakefront parks.

The biggest occurrence in Chicago between the military and the civilian populace took place over the entire year... This issue was the adverse publicity toward the Army, more specifically, the ARAACOM sites, gun and missile, along the lakefront, mainly the Burnham-Jackson Park area:

"Choice park lands have been ceded to the Army 12 NIKE and radar installation… public lands are used whenever possible to save money. Whose money is being saved? Not Chicagoans', since we pay doubly for these installations--in federal income tax and in city taxes apportioned to the Park District… Is there no better way to provide for our defense than by usurping park lands, which this city desperately needs… In Belmont Harbor… eight acres… In Jackson, not only has the original acreage been taken but… 200 trees are being cut down… We urge again the consideration of building offshore installations…"

--E. W. Donohue, Chairman, Board of Directors, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

"Southtown and the entire Southside has lost the lake front for recreational purposes between Jackson and Grant Parks… Built approximately a quarter of a century ago from sand sucked from the bottom of the lake,… named… (for) Daniel Burnham whose plan for beautifying Chicago drew the admiration of civic leaders throughout the world… When current projects are completed, they(drivers) will see… the ugly looking buildings and equipment taking form… These shanties (corrugated steel barracks) have transformed the shore line at 44th St. from an attractive park area to one that resembles a slum."

--Southtown Economist 29 February 1956

"Ald. Leon M. Despres has fired a blast at the Army's NIKE anti-aircraft installations on the lake front .... Despres complained that the bases are shutting off large stretches of Lake Michigan to Chicagoans. He also charged that the NIKE guided missile defense against potential bombers is obsolete ...."

--Chicago Tribune 7 March 1956

"Sweeping stretches of Chicago's once-dazzling front yard are going to pot. The Army is one of the responsible villains. It's a bum rap. Neglect--but not by the military--has left the lakefront… looking… like a partly cleared slum…"

--Chicago American 7 March 1956

"LTC Williain H. Arnold, 5th Army Commander, told a special park board meeting Monday that the Army has let contracts for landscaping all lake front Nike sites."

--Chicago Daily News 20 March 1956

So went the beginning of 1956. Alderman Despres (5th Ward) and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference for the South end and Alderman Jack I. Sperling (50th Ward) for the North led the public effort into attempting to oust the Army along the lake front. However, the real fight started in August. In 1951 the Army leased the first four sites, Lincoln Park, Loyola Park, Calumet Park, and Belmont Harbor, for $1 per year apiece. The term of the agreement was to run out on 27 August. The park board extended the time for an additional 30 days. This was more than just a squabble for the military occupation of a few acres on the Chicago lakefront. It was a test of a national law--that the government has the power to condemn land whenever necessary under its right of eminent domain. But to try to appease the public resentment, public hearings were conducted in which the Army, Chicago Park Commissioners and interested persons were encouraged to participate.

On 7 August the Chicago Park District, headed by James P. Gately, refused to automatically renew the 5 year leases. A public hearing was set for 10 A.M. 24 August at the Park District Administration Building. The Park District admitted that the Army could initiate condemnation proceedings and probably retain the land for $1. Therefore a new approach was advanced, The Army should leave but if they would not move, they should at least pay for the occupation of the land.

(The complete article can be read here, in "THE NPG NEWS The Newsletter of the Nike Preservation Group" Vol 4, No.2, June 2001)

Ah, the Cold War...

Nike Ajax Model Kit Nike Hercules Model Kit
Nike Modelkit Nike Modelkit

Visitors to this site might be interested in these World War II and Korean War documentary films I have written and co-produced:

The 11th Day is now available on DVD. Outpost Harry is currently in production. Click here for more information.

For more information on Nike missiles and their deployment around major U.S. cities during the Cold War, check out the following sites:

Contact information: