Atomic Testing Museum

When I heard that Las Vegas was home to the National Atomic Testing Museum, I was quite giddy with excitement and it went to the top of my list of things to do during our short stay.

The image of the atom or of a mushroom cloud may bring out different feelings in different people. For some, it is a horrific icon, of a time when the United States used the ultimate in destructive power to completely level two whole cities. While others see it as a savor, something that brought an end to the bloodshed of the Second World War. For others it is an icon of nostalgia, believing that while the Cold War raged, it was a safer time period. For me, the word “atomic” has many meanings, mostly as part of the optimistic look we had toward the stars, and how atomic power and the space race then influenced design. But, as a history major, I am not unaware of the cost of such beautiful design. Little Boy and Fat Man killed thousands. But also brought an end to a very horrific war, and, some historians estimate, saved millions, as Japan seemed unrelenting. I see both sides of the coin of the terror of the atomic bomb, nuclear power (for example the Chernobyl disaster), but I also see the problems it has solved, and while the National Atomic Testing Museum highlights the pluses of the atomic bomb, and the sciences that followed, it is not without the other side represented as well.

The museum begins with World War II, the Manhattan Project, and the end of the war with the dropping of the bombs, and the decision to choose the land outside of Las Vegas as a testing ground in the 1950s. It follows the aftermath of WWII, the 50s period of “Duck and Cover”, Civil Defense, and the influence on popular culture. I especially liked the fallout shelter display, which also had a catalog of the mannequins used, offering both before and after pictures, some whose after picture was just a black rectangle with the word “missing” below. J.C. Penny produced the images, as they provided the clothing for the mannequins set to be bombed. A clever marketing scheme if there ever was one! By 1963 nuclear testing moved underground, due to fallout, and the museum showcases the transition, and technology developed for the move to underground testing.

I was so very pleased I was able to visit this extremely unique museum as it was also very educational, and is worth a visit if you find yourself in Vegas. Admission costs $22, though discounts are offered to a wide variety of groups, so check their website to see if a discount is available for you!

9 thoughts on “Atomic Testing Museum

  1. I bet you had a super-interesting visit! I’m the third generation (and fourth person) in my family to work in the nuclear industry, so I’m also aware of both sides of the story; we used to have a little museum-come-display-piece which was nice for a visit, though sadly it closed down about five or six years ago now.

  2. Oh goodness I love the places you go! Seriously you should create a vintage guide to Cali one day! I love this! Thank you for sharing the photos and info about it! xox

  3. I’m glad you went and did this post! We have wanted to go the last 2 times we were in Vegas…it just slowly moved down on our list of things to do but we have always said “I wish we went to the Atomic Testing Museum!” We are certainly checking it out next time!

  4. How neat. I wish would have known about all these great places you have visited in Vegas when I was there. You have given me ideas for when I back.

  5. This looks like such an interesting stop. It’s interesting how much atomic power came to define the 50s and 60s, and what an impact the development had on people. My boyfriend even has a compilation album of songs songs from the 40s and 50s about atomic power, it’s a pretty great listen.

  6. I’m so interested in all the history to do with the atomic bomb. I’l have to add this to my list when I go to Vegas in a month or two. If you haven’t already, you should read “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. I thought is was really interesting and there are a ton of cool photos.

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