During the 1950s and prior to the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) (and later the submarine launched ballistic missile, SLBM), the United States anticipated a nuclear attack from Soviet long-range, strategic bombers. To defend the nation's population, the U.S. Army fielded first the Nike-Ajax missile, and later the larger and faster Nike-Hercules, which would be equipped with the W-31 nuclear warhead. Armed with a nuclear warhead, the Nike-Hercules was intended to not only destroy formations of incoming Soviet bombers, but destroy the Soviet nuclear weapons as well. Missile batteries of the Nike-Hercules were established (often by retrofitting Nike-Ajax batteries) across the United States, often in the suburbs on the outskirts of major urban areas. Military authorities repeatedly emphasized to the civilian populations that the risk of fallout from high-altitude nuclear detonations would be minimal, and certainly trumped outright nuclear destruction by Soviet forces.
Douglas Aircraft Company was the primary contractor for assembly of the Nike-Hercules missile, with sole assembly of the Nike-Hercules missile at the Charlotte Ordnance Missile Plant. The guidance systems and ground equipment (radars and ground trailers) for the missile were also manufactured in North Carolina at Western Electric Company plants in Burlington (radars and ground trailers) and Winston-Salem (gyroscopes, guidance systems).
Governor Luther Hodges presented remarks at the dedication of the Charlotte Ordnance Missile Plant on 22 May 1956. The plant would manufacture Nike-Ajax before being retooled for the larger, faster Nike-Hercules in 1957. In terms of the production of weapon systems in North Carolina, the Nike-Hercules stands alone as the most prominent product of the Cold War. Although the military did not construct any Nike batteries in the state, for a time the nation's defense against Soviet strategic bombers bore the fingerprints and toil of thousands of Tar Heel men and women.