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EG&G, Gaithersburg

EG&G is one of the Top Secret Government’s favorite companies. It provides high-tech products (like X-ray security devices) and what are nebulously called “asset management services” to the Department of Energy NASA, the Department of Defense, etc. But EG&G also does stuff like provide the security for Area 51 and run the airline that flies workers from Las Vegas to Area 51.

Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier (EG&G) is a company that was born in the early days of the Top Secret Government. Harold Edgerton, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed the “strobe light” techniques of high-speed photogtaphy in 1931. He formed a consulting business with a former MIT student, Ken Germeshausen, to commercialize the process. Later they added another former MIT student, Herbert Grier, to the consulting business.

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During the Manhattan Project, the nascent Top Secret Government realized it needed a method to photograph the different stages of an atomic explosion. They turned to Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier, and the memorable sequence of photos of the first atomic bomb test in 1945 were all taken by equipment they designed and installed. Soon the three incorporated as EG&G and were busy photographing atomic tests in Nevada and the Pacific. They won additional government contracts to develop instrumentation to monitor atomic tests and provide support services for nuclear weapons testing and manufacturing. EG&G went public in 1959 and began to acquire additional companies, such as Reynolds Electrical and Engineering (REECo), which for years was the prime contractor at the Nevada Test Site. In 1993, EG&G won a major contract to provide management and technical support for the Kennedy Space Center and the Space Shuttle program, including security, fueling, testing of the Shuttle’s systems, and managing Kennedy Space Center during Shuttle flights.

EG&G never strayed far from its Top Secret roots. Beginning in the 1960s, it started providing security services for various government facilities, including the Nevada Test Site and what became known as Area 51. As Area 51 grew, EG&G began operating its own airline, known as “Janet Airlines,” to shuttle workers between their homes in Las Vegas and Area 51. Janet flights later expanded to include routes between Las Vegas and the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada as well as Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

As EG&G grew, it became involved in more civilian engineering and research projects. Among its discoveries was the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for early detection of prostate cancer. EG&G also developed the high-speed microsensors used to trigger air bags in case of an auto crash. In 2002, EG&G was acquired by URS Corporation, the largest engineering firm in the United States. Its current activities are buried under broad categories such as “engineering and technology services,” but EG&G’s job listings indicate it is still heavily involved in classified projects (numerous positions require a Top Secret or higher security clearance along with a background investigation and polygraph), especially those involving the Department of Homeland Security and unmanned aerial vehicles, such as those tested in Nevada at Area 51 and the Tonopah Test Range.

What’s There: EG&G’s corporate headquarters is a typical suburban office complex. For details on the EG&G facilities at Plant 42 in California and in Las Vegas, see the descriptions for those sites.

Getting a Look Inside: Uninvited visitors are distinctly unwelcome at any EG&G facility. People have been threatened with arrest for merely stepping into one of their parking lots to take a photo of their buildings. In other words, make sure you are always on public property when near an EG&G facility.

Getting There: EG&G’s corporate headquarters is at 200 Orchard Ridge Drive in Gaithersburg, with additional offices at 900 Clopper Road. Directions to Plant 42 in California and the Las Vegas Janet Airlines terminal are given in the entries for those states.

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