Last week (Nov 17-21, 2014) I enjoyed an archive visit to The Strong (Rochester, NY) as a Research Fellow. I spent my days photographing various Atari coin-ops and working on the museum’s Atari Coin-Op Divisions Collection, 1972-1999 (http://www.museumofplay.org/collections/video-and-other-electronic-game-collections). The complete collection is massive (22 pallets) and The Strong will employ an archivist to work full-time on processing the collection in January. In the meantime, Jeremy Saucier shared a few documents with me: a “binder full of Atari” in-house newsletters such as St. Pong, Atari Connection, Atari Life, and Atari 81. The latter title revealed a ‘happy find’–a short article on Atari’s El Paso, TX Plant, the one whose products went onto to populate the Alamogordo landfill in September 1983. In a very short time-period Atari Inc would operate three different facilities in El Paso: Atari’s VCS cartridge manufacturing plant (*1982-1983) at 11460 Pellicano Dr; Atari Distribution Center at 11500 Rojas Dr in 1984; and in 1985 Atari Inc. & Distribution Center was located at 9230 Billy The Kid Street (I’m not making that name up!). The El Paso Main Library holds records on all three locations.
Here are a few highlights from the article on the El Paso Plant published in Atari 81 (Vol. 1, No. 3., March/April 1981):
- according to the article the plant opened in 1979 (*even though the El Paso Library’s record states 1982) with 60 employees. By 1981 the numbers increased to 250 due to the increased demand of product for the Atari VCS
- El Paso was selected for its accessibility to the East and West coasts: “it is a major southern crossroad for interstate trucking lines. The fact that El Paso is in the Southwest also means that transportation routes are less likely to be affected by foul weather” (p. 6)
- Atari’s personnel manager, Bill Medrano, predicted that El Paso would “become a miniature Silicon Valley by the end of the century” (p. 6)—-he’s referring to the end of the 20th century not the 21st.
- In 1981 the plant produced “well over half of Atari’s total supply of VCS cartridges”.
- “Cartridge assembly, packaging and shipping all take place under one roof” (p.6).
- All the employees photographed in the two-page article are women (the same seems to be the case with the employees who “stuffed” printed-circuit boards at Atari’s coin-op division in CA).
- Atari was involved in El Paso’s Women’s Employment and Education Association (WEEA). “The WEEA is a private program to help single mothers on welfare secure steady jobs and learn to support themselves and their families” (p. 7). The women pictured working in the plant are all Latina.
- “Atari has hired over a dozen of the program’s graduates, more than any other company in El Paso” (p. 7).
- This may explain the discrepancy in dates: Atari “is building a new 128,000-square-foot plant which will dwarf the old 38,500-square-foot warehouse. The building will be ready for occupancy in August ” (p. 7). I will assume that this refers to the location at 11460 Pellicano Dr.
Last lines of the article: “This phenomenal growth is but a reflection of the growing reputation and popularity of Atari products. The establishment and expansion of facilities outside the Silicon Valley will continue as Atari meets this demand in the U.S. and around the world” (p. 7).
According to the El Paso Main Library this new plant closed two-years later in 1983.