9 strange-but-true photos that capture Las Vegas' brief love affair with nuclear bombs.

On Jan. 27, 1951, a U.S. B-50 bomber dropped a nuclear warhead over the Nevada desert.

"A fantastically bright cloud is climbing upward like a huge umbrella," said John Kerrigan of The Washington Bulletin.

The bomb, codenamed Able, detonated about a thousand feet above the ground, illuminating the early morning sky.


The thunderous boom echoed through the surrounding mountains and woke up the sleepy desert town of Las Vegas, some 45 miles away.

It was supposed to be a government secret. But despite what you hear on TV, what happens in Vegas rarely stays there.


A mushroom cloud during early atomic tests.Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

This is the story of Atomic Las Vegas, told through nine unforgettable photos.

1. Las Vegas took advantage of its proximity to atomic testing sites and turned it into a tourism boom. (Pun very much intended.)

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

"You brace yourself against the shock wave that follows an atomic explosion. "

Instead of saying "Pardon our dust," Las Vegas, in true Las Vegas fashion, doubled down.

Within days of the first test, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce issued a press release about their latest attraction — the nuclear testing site, even describing their town as "The Atomic City."

It quickly became, "Come, admire our dust, and see a show afterward."

2. Just over a year later, journalists were invited to take in a blast for themselves. The coast-to-coast broadcasts jump-started the atomic craze.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

"A heat wave comes first..."

Over the next 12 years, there was a detonation every three weeks, each one a source of immense pride, patriotism, and dollars for the city of Las Vegas.

3. Hotels offered panoramic views of the distant desert skyline for the optimum experience.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

4. The Chamber of Commerce published a calendar of the bomb schedule, including the best places to see the clouds.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

5. Tourists packed cars and drove out to the desert to get a closer look, carrying dinner in "atomic lunch boxes," of course.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

By 1954, nearly 8 million people were visiting Las Vegas each year. In 1950, the city's population was 24,624. By 1970, that number had ballooned to more than 125,000.

6. Women sported mushroom clouds as hairdos and as costumes in beauty pageants.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

They were found on billboards, marquees, and school yearbooks. One was even on the county seal.

7. The Nevada Test Site wasn't just a boom for travelers. The proving ground flooded the area with federal funds, and the site employed close to 100,000 men and women.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

8. But despite the economic and population booms, there was some fallout (literally and figuratively) from the Nevada Test Site.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

"...then the shock, strong enough to knock an unprepared man down. "

The government coordinated a very successful public relations campaign to downplay the potential danger and highlight the patriotic aims of this Cold War-era pursuit, even handing out guides to Nevada schoolchildren.

"A committee said there would be little danger to Vegas," Karen Green, curator at the Atomic Testing Museum, told the National Endowment for the Humanities. They said "if people were exposed they could take showers.”

But many working onsite and those who lived close by — who call themselves as "Downwinders" — developed serious illnesses and cancers due to exposure. Many saw their children, friends, and loved ones die prematurely as a result. In 1990, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which presented families monetary compensation and a much-deserved apology.

9. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty put an end to above-ground nuclear experiments in 1963.

Photo via Las Vegas News Bureau, used with permission.

"Then, after what seems like hours, the man-made sunburst fades away."

The tests continued underground for decades, but the public displays were complete. No more fanfare. No more pageantry and kitsch.

235 bombs later, the party — and this peculiar era in modern-American history — was over.

Most Shared
Rice University

A plaque marking the death of a glacier comes with a haunting message to future generations.

The former Okjökull glacier in western Iceland is the first to lose its status as a glacier due to climate change. Known now as simply "Ok," the once sprawling ice sheet has melted to about seven percent of what it was a century ago and was declared no longer a glacier in 2014.

Scientists predict that in the next 200 years, if the climate crisis is not mitigated, the rest of Iceland's 400 glaciers will meet the same fate.

Next month, the land that Ok once covered will be marked with a memorial plaque. Researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas, Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, and geologist Oddur Sigurðsson—who first declared the glacier's lost status—will unveil the plaque in a public ceremony on August 18.

The plaque's text begins, "A letter to the future," then reads:

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

A quarter of domestic cats have had their claws removed. Even though it might make the owners lives a little easier, the procedure can be incredibly painful for the animals and has been described as "barbaric."

Most of Europe and Canada have banned cat declawing (onychectomy), as well as several U.S. cities, but New York just became the first state to do so. Now, any vet who declaws a cat in the there will face a fine of $1,000, unless the procedure is medically necessary.

"Declawing is a cruel and painful procedure that can create physical and behavioral problems for helpless animals, and today it stops," New York GovernorAndrew Cuomo saidin a statement, per USA Today.

Some people get their cat declawed to stop their furniture and flesh from being destroyed. However, declawing a cat isn't the best way to stop a cat from scratching. In fact, it's probably the worst. "If a person has an issue with a cat scratching, well, first of all, I'd advise them don't get a cat because that is the very nature of a cat. But, secondly, there are ways to change cats' behavior. Get scratching posts. There are vinyl sheathes that could be placed on the nails," Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said. Rosenthal sponsored the bill and is a cat owner, herself. "[T]here's many ways to address that behavior." None of the ways you address the problem should include taking it's claws off.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities
Alie Ward

Your dinner plate shouldn't shame you for eating off of it. But that's exactly what a set being sold at Macy's did.

The retailer has since removed the dinnerware from their concept shop, Story, after facing social media backlash for the "toxic message" they were sending.

The plates, made by Pourtions, have circles on them to indicate what a proper portion should look like, along with "helpful — and hilarious — visual cues" to keep people from "overindulging."

There are serval different styles, with one version labeling the largest portion as "mom jeans," the medium portion as "favorite jeans," and the smallest portion as "skinny jeans."

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

In today's installment of the perils of being a woman, a 21-year-old woman shared her experience being "slut-shamed" by her nurse practitioner during a visit to urgent care for an STD check.

The woman recently had sex with someone she had only just met, and it was her first time hooking up with someone she had not "developed deep connections with."

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being