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October 4, 2020

In the 1950s, Las Vegas Sold Atomic Bomb Tests as Tourism

Las Vegas is notoriously known for its bright lights and exciting nightlife, however, in the 1950s it became known for a different kind of light. In 1951, the Nevada Testing Site became the location for atomic bomb testing, located just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Yucca Flats of Nevada were located in the center of the American wasteland, making it the perfect place for nuclear testing.

First off by being located in the middle of the desert, it created very little threats to surrounding homes. Additionally, it provided a source of spectacles and entertainment for people who did live in this area. As a result, Vegas began to experience a new influx of people from across the country who would travel thousands of miles in order to catch a glimpse of this new show.

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

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

Bombs over Fremont.

Soon after Vegas was transformed from the original city of 25,000 people to the world-renown spectacle of three million people. Journalists everywhere began jumping on this new exciting event, and the topic of atomic tourism became the biggest headliner everywhere. Even writers in the New York Times began referring to it as, “the non- ancient but none the less honorable pastime of atom-bomb watching.”

Despite nuke testing occurring in multiple other places during this time, Vegas was the only one to turn it into an attraction. Inherently speaking, Vegas was designed for showmanship. Visitors are encouraged to live in the moment and focus on what is in front of them, by masking the individual from all reminders of time and location. Their motto: pay attention to what is in front of you. Therefore by taking advantage of this concept and its psychological effect, landowners and industry owners began turning these tests into spectacles of themselves. Organizations began hosting parties and picnics around the publicized atomic bomb testing schedule, and photos of these events began circulating across news sources everywhere.

However, in addition to these parties, Vegas also capitalized on the nuclear tests by providing itself as a source of relief and nostalgia from the surrounding terror. Gambling, games, and television were all sources of distraction that provided Vegas guests with an escape from the fear that was surrounding them.

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.

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

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

Bombs over Fremont.

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

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.

Nevada test site.

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

Operation Buster-Jangle - Dog test — 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.

Atomic tourists taking in the sites.

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

Man sitting 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.

Nowadays, the instead of watching explosions go off at the Nevada Testing Site, the main source of atomic tourism stems from the Atomic Testing Museum that opened in 2005. In addition to walking through recreations of old testing sites and bomb shelters, visitors may also take bus tours to the testing site itself.

While the 1950s was one of the most exciting decades for Vegas in terms of helping it to become the tourist destination that it is today, it was also one of the most frightening. Until the tests ended, Vegas functioned not only as a place for an escape from the struggles of everyday life, but also from the daily fear that people across the nation were living in. So while this may be one of the darker times of its history, it was also one of its brightest.



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