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In the past, an atomic bomb was detonated in the middle of the Nevada desert, and the resultant glow earned Las Vegas its name of “the city of lights.” Approximately 65 miles outside Sin City, the U.S. Army began conducting nuclear weapons testing in 1951.

The glow of the bombs lighted the sky at night, and during the day, mushroom clouds could be seen rising over the horizon.

Fear was not the only feeling displayed in traditional American fashion. Nuclear tourists were among the first to recognize Las Vegas as a worthwhile vacation destination.


Let’s take a step back and figure out why the state of Nevada was selected for nuclear testing. The Yucca Flats in Nevada was located right in the heart of the American wasteland, making them an ideal site for conducting nuclear tests. Since it was situated in the middle of the desert, it posed few threats to the homes in its direct vicinity.

In addition, the United States federal government owns more than 87 percent of the state of Nevada. It had a lot of available land, the weather was nice, and there were good rail connections.

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A Horseshoe Club advertisement is touting its excellent views of nuclear tests.


Those who lived in this area were exposed to a range of spectacles and entertainment due to the nuclear explosions in the area. As a direct result of this, Vegas began to face a brand new influx of people from all over the country who would come hundreds of miles away to see the new show launched there.

Almost immediately after its establishment, Las Vegas grew in size, going from its original 25,000 people to the three million people that make up now its show.

Journalists from all over the world began reporting this new exciting event, and the subject of atomic tourism soon became the most talked-about issue in every region.

Even writers for the New York Times began referring to it as “,” as the term has become more popular. “the non-ancient but honorable pastime of atom-bomb watching.”

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Witness the power of the Atomic Bomb. A mere $3 for a safe viewing distance.


Showmanship was a primary design goal for Vegas from the beginning. By removing all cues that indicate the present time and place from the visitor’s mind, the attraction hopes to foster an attitude of knowledge-seeking and inspire visitors to focus on the items directly in front of them.

Their motto is to focus on what is directly in front of them. Consequently, landowners and industry owners began turning these tests into spectacles of themselves by profiting from this concept and the psychological effect it had.

The Vegas Chamber of Commerce was charged with advertising the dates and times for these tests in advance. Tourists could plan their visits and enjoy the view of the mushroom cloud by checking calendars and community announcements that would be published months in advance.


Photos of these events began to spread through different news sources all over the globe, and bomb-watching became such a craze that thrill-seeking tourists would make certain to grab the place that was as near as they could go to ground zero.

“Dawn Bomb Parties” were held at various Las Vegas businesses the evening before the explosion. Guests would begin partying and dancing at midnight and proceed until the Bomb went off and lit up the night sky.

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Bombs over Fremont.

However, in addition to these parties, Vegas also capitalized on the nuclear tests by providing a source of relief and nostalgia from the surrounding terror.

Gambling, games, and television were all distractions that gave Vegas guests an escape from the fear surrounding them.

Vegas itself and the Yucca Flats of the Nevada Testing Site were turned into tourist attractions of various sorts. The main spectacle of the site to date is the large craters currently scarring the desert surface.


The desert floor is sprinkled with craters of all shapes and sizes, ranging from nuclear warheads to smaller surface-level bombs.

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Early morning bathers at a hotel pool in Las Vegas stop to watch the mushroom cloud of an atomic detonation at a test site about 75 miles from the city. May 8, 1953.

The underground test that did take place in 1963 created the Bilby crater, which is now regarded as one of the most renowned craters. The event triggered a hole that was 1,800 feet wide (550 meters) and 80 feet deep (24 meters), and it also produced an aftershock that was felt in Las Vegas. The detonation generated about 249 kilotons of explosive power.

The large size of Sedan Crater is another reason it is so popular. A 104-kiloton blast right beneath the surface of the desert floor produced this crater, which is about 1280 feet (1280m) wide and 230 feet (70 m) deep.

Compared to the effects of a size 4.75 earthquake, those effects displaced about 12 million tons of earth during its passage.

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Guests at the Last Frontier hotel in Las Vegas watch the mushroom from a detonation about 75 miles away. May 8, 1953.


One journalist, writing for the State Department’s Washington Bulletin, described seeing the explosion. “You put on the dark goggles, turn your head, and wait for the signal. Now, the Bomb has been dropped. You wait the prescribed time, then turn your head and look.

An extremely bright cloud is climbing upward like a huge umbrella. You brace yourself against the shock wave that follows an atomic explosion.

A heat wave comes first, then the shock, which is strong enough to knock an unprepared man down. Then, after hours, the man-made sunburst fades away.”

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Watching poolside. Nuclear tests were a rather ordinary part of life in Las Vegas.

A total of 235 bombs were put off over twelve years, with an average of one Bomb coming off every three weeks. There were reports that individuals in Montana could see the flashes produced by the explosions due to their power.

They scheduled the tests to coincide with weather patterns that swept fallout away from the city, and they claimed that the harmful effects of the radiation would have dissipated and been harmless once the shock waves reached Las Vegas.

People in the northeastern part of Nevada and southern Utah began complaining that their pets and livestock suffered from beta particle burns and other ailments as the tests continued. By 1963, the Limited Test Ban was in force, which banned above-ground nuclear testing at the site.

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Bombs over Fremont.

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

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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.


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Nevada test site.


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Reporters witnessed the nuclear test on Frenchman Flat on June 24, 1957.

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Operation Buster-Jangle – Dog test β€” with troops participating in exercise Desert Rock I, November 1, 1951. It was the first U.S. nuclear field exercise conducted on land; troops shown are a mere 6 miles from the blast.


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Atomic tourists are taking in the sites.

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Camerapeople are filming the atomic blast of the Wasp Prime Test during Operation Teapot. Nevada, February 18, 1955.

The man sits near a Nevada Test Site sign, Nevada, United States, 1955. From 1951–1962, Mercury was a town in the Nevada atomic testing site where hundreds of test explosions were conducted.


Watching poolside.

Soldiers at the test site.


Fashion of the atomic age.

An atomic bomb generated the first flash of light.


Birds-eye view of dozens of craters dotting the Yucca Flats.

A nuclear crater was left behind.


Model posing in front of a nuclear cloud.

Miss Atomic Bomb of Sin City.


Photograph of Yucca Flat, covered with craters created by atomic bombs, in the Nevada Test Site.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Las Vegas News Bureau / U.S. Army Archives / Atomic Tourism in Las Vegas by Kiana Pancino).

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