In 1952, UNC sociologist Howard Odum suggested that the state take advantage of the Triangle’s three research universities: UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, and Duke University. And thus, the idea for a research park in the triangle area was born. Business leaders like Robert Hanes, the president of Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, and Romeo Guest, a Greensboro contractor wanted to attract modern industry to the Tar Heel State. Research Triangle Park was their brainchild, and it later became one of the top five research centers in the United States. According to historian Numan V. Bartley, RTP was the “South’s most successful high-technology venture.”
The first few years of development would prove uneventful, and the project would be changed to non-profit status. In 1956, the Research Triangle Company was formed and its Executive Director, George Simpson, would approach developer Karl Robbins in 1957 with the proposition of development. Robbins created Pineland, Inc., a stock venture to purchase land for the potential center. Few people purchased stock in the company, so developers sought corporate and institutional funding. The Research Triangle Institute was formed in 1958 and operated independently from the area universities. In a year, RTI had raised $1.5 million.
Five companies would be located in RTP by the year 1959. By the mid-1960s, public confidence in the feasibility of the Park’s long-term success was solidified. International Business Machines (IBM) announced its plans for a 400-acre, 600,000 square foot research facility in RTP, and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare publicized its plans to establish its National Environment Health Service Center at RTP.
Research Triangle Park averaged six new companies and 1,800 new employees annually over the next four decades. During the 1990s technological boom, RTP’s employment numbers reached its peak at approximately 45,000.