Los Alamos, New Mexico
Los Alamos is referred to as the “Atomic City” and was really created as a large town in 1942.
Back then, there was a school located in this plateau area called the Los Alamos Ranch School and the US Military was looking for remote locations to develop an atomic bomb. Using the government eminent domain power, they took over the school in 1942 and built a laboratory facility which today is the town of Los Alamos. There were actually several sites across the US to develop the needed uranium and plutonium and equipment and facilities for the atomic bomb. Los Alamos was referred to as “Project Y” and was the principal location of the idea, theory, and assembly of the atomic bomb. The bomb was eventually tested at the remote “Trinity Site” in southern New Mexico. Los Alamos was chosen along with other sites based on location secrecy, access to water, and railroads. Los Alamos was also chosen as the headquarters of the project because it was far away from the US Coast and because Oppenheimer had visited the area as a child, making him aware of the location.
Even today, many people question the ethics and need for an atomic bomb but clearly in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Nazi Germany was beginning the work of building an atomic bomb. This led to world renowned scientist Albert Einstein sending a letter to then President FD Roosevelt in August 1939, warning him of this fact. Based on that letter, a commission was created which eventually led to the project being turned over to the Army Corp of Engineers and General Leslie Groves. Groves then selected Physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the development project. The decision to use the atomic bomb by then President Harry Truman was based on military, prisoner of war, and civilian casualties of an invasion of Japan; these estimates reached approximately 1 million people as it was clear Japan had no intention of surrendering.
When you travel to Los Alamos today, the town is actually the old top secret research facility. Some of the old buildings are still there to include the main gate, lodge, the scientist homes on “bathtub row”, and a dormitory. The lab facility buildings surrounded a small pond referred to as “Ashley Pond” which is the center of the town today. There are also some small but very nice museums in the town to include the Bradberry Science Center. The center was named after “Harris Bradberry” who took over the program after World War 2.
After World War 2, a new facility was developed on the west side of Los Alamos which is still there today. The facility and people there do a lot of good by researching ways to harness the atom in more positive ways for better energy for the future.
Coversations/Things we learned:
If you love this country and love history, its well worth the trip. Try and combine this visit with the Nuclear Museum in Albuquerque and the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee (where uranium for the atomic bomb was created) which are also featured on our website.
Bradbury Science Museum website:
The road and views to the Atomic City
Main gate to former Manhattan Project Laboratory - now the City of Los Alamos
1940s aerial view of Los Alamos.
(Statues of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves)
The Furr Lodge
(Fuller Lodge served as the dining hall for the Los Alamos Ranch School and as a community center for Manhattan Project workers)
(Former laboratory dormitory)
(Dr. Robert Oppenheimer‘s old residence at Los Alamos on Bathtub Row)
Bradbury Science Museum located in Los Alamo