In April 1957, when the new, small nuclear plant at the Army’s Fort Belvoir, Virginia site first started up, it seemed as if the plant’s vendor, ALCO Products, had carried off something of a coup.  Winning this important early contract had come about three years earlier for this small but well-equipped company that was looking to diversify and it seemed as if a bright future lay ahead for it.  However, by mid-1962 the company had sold the bulk of its nuclear business to Allis-Chalmers (with some vessel contracts going to Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton.)  What happened? We’ll take a brief look as we walk through a photo montage.
According to reporting in NUCLEONICS in May 1959, ALCO (known as the American Locomotive Company until 1955 when it officially became ALCO Products) spent and probably lost a great amount of money trying to set itself up to become a full-fledged reactor vendor.  When it got the contract for the Army Package Power Reactor, it did so, it was reported, by seriously underbidding everyone else.  This was one way companies with some extra cash got in – it’s how Stone & Webster became engineers on Shippingport, for example.  However, ALCO reportedly lost over $2.5 million on the APPR (later, SM-1) project.  The APPR / SM-1 plant is shown at the top of this article; above, we see the nuclear criticality test facility ALCO built at Schenectady, on its own dime, in 1956 to prepare core designs for APPR and later reactors. (ALCO Products press photos in Will Davis’ collection.)
ALCO’s bread and butter became small, packaged military reactors as seen above in an ALCO advertisement.  The company quickly became known for these, and bid on and won a number of early contracts for such plants – but also lost out on some of them to other new

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