Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

A photograph labeled “Installation of the Final Closure Head,” taken at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, Beaver County, on October 10, 1957, is part of an important new accession documenting the construction and evolution of the world’s first full-scale atomic power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime use received by the Pennsylvania State Archives (PSA) on April 14, 2009. The facility was in operation from 1957 until 1982. The collection was given to the PSA by GAI Consultants Inc., Homestead, Allegheny County, on behalf of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which operates the Nuclear Beaver Valley Power Station, Units I and II, near Shippingport, and American Nuclear Insurers of Glastonbury, Connecticut, which provides liability insurance to America’s nuclear power industry.

Archives staff processed the materials to create four new series that have been added to Manuscript Group 508, The Shippingport Atomic Power Station Collection. They consist primarily of photographic prints chronicling plant construction, reactor installation, and images of technical diagrams and scale cutaway models depicting the various components of the facility between 1954 and 1975. The donation of this accession resulted from the collaboration between GAI Consultants Inc. and PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation to guide FirstEnergy through the National Historic Preservation Act’s compliance process for its Beaver Valley I and II nuclear power plants.

Many of the prints were rescued from a trash container a number of years ago and are stamped on the reverse with Westinghouse Electric Company negative numbers. Owned by the Toshiba Corporation and its partners since 2006, Westinghouse Electric of Pittsburgh originally designed and oversaw construction of the three generations of Shippingport reactors, as well as more than half of the world’s currently operating commercial nuclear power plants. The company in 1949, also created, the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory of West Mifflin, Allegheny County, that provided reactors for the nation’s nuclear Navy and continues to support the U.S. Naval Reactors program after Bechtel Corporation won the contract to operate that facility in 1999. These photographs were provided to GAI Consultants by Stanley P. Focht of American Nuclear Insurers and Michael D. Banko III of FirstEnergy, who stipulated that they be entrusted to the permanent custody of the PSA after completion of the environmental site review process. In recognition of Shippingport’s landmark significance as America’s first commercial nuclear power station, PHMC erected a state historical marker at the site, which was unveiled in August 2009.

PHMC adopted “Energy: Innovation and Impact” as its annual theme for 2009, and an article entitled “‘Atoms for Peace’ in Pennsylvania” by Willis L. Shirk Jr. appeared in the Spring 2009 edition.


Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives.