Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1951

First atomic detonation at the Nevada test site

Forcefully marking the continued importance of the West in the development of nuclear weaponry, the government detonates the first of a series of nuclear bombs at its new Nevada test site.

Although much of the West had long lagged behind the rest of the nation in technological and industrial development, the massive World War II project to build the first atomic bomb single-handedly pushed the region into the 20th century. Code named the Manhattan Project, this ambitious research and development program pumped millions of dollars of federal funds into new western research centers like the bomb building lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico and the fissionable material production center at Hanford, Washington. Ironically, the very conditions that had once impeded western technological development became benefits: lots of wide-open unpopulated federal land where dangerous experiments could be conducted in secret.

After the war ended, the West continued to be the ideal region for Cold War-era nuclear experimentation for the same reasons. In December 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission designated a large swath of unpopulated desert land 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the Nevada Proving Ground for atmospheric atomic testing. On January 27, 1951, the government detonated its first atomic device on the site, resulting in a tremendous explosion, the flash from which was seen as far away as San Francisco.

The government continued to conduct atmospheric tests for six more years at the Nevada site. They studied the effects on humans by stationing ground troops as close as 2,500 yards from ground zero and moving them even closer shortly after the detonation. By 1957, though, the effects of radioactivity on the soldiers and the surrounding population led the government to begin testing bombs underground, and by 1962, all atmospheric testing had ceased.

In recent years, the harm caused to soldiers and westerners exposed to radioactivity from the Nevada test site has become a controversial topic. Some critics argue the government waged a “nuclear war on the West,” and maintain that the government knew of the dangers posed to people living near the test site well before the 1957 shift to underground tests. Others, though, point out that the test site has brought billions of dollars into the state and resulted in great economic benefit to Nevada.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Astronauts die in launch pad fire

A launch pad fire during Apollo program tests at Cape Canaveral, Florida, kills astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chafee. An investigation indicated that a faulty electrical wire inside the Apollo 1 command module was the probable cause of the ...read more

Shelby GT 350 debuts

On this day in 1965, the Shelby GT 350, a version of a Ford Mustang sports car developed by the American auto racer and car designer Carroll Shelby, is launched. The Shelby GT 350, which featured a 306 horsepower V-8 engine, remained in production through the end of the 1960s and ...read more

National Geographic Society founded

On January 27, 1888, the National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, D.C., for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.” The 33 men who originally met and formed the National Geographic Society were a diverse group of geographers, explorers, teachers, ...read more

Siege of Leningrad is lifted

On this day, Soviet forces permanently break the Leningrad siege line, ending the almost 900-day German-enforced containment of the city, which cost hundreds of thousands of Russian lives. The siege began officially on September 8, 1941. The people of Leningrad began building ...read more

Paris Peace Accords signed

The United States, South Vietnam, Viet Cong, and North Vietnam formally sign “An Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” in Paris. Due to South Vietnam’s unwillingness to recognize the Viet Cong’s Provisional Revolutionary Government, all references to it were ...read more

Dante is exiled from Florence

On this day, poet and politician Dante Alighieri is exiled from Florence, where he served as one of six priors governing the city. Dante’s political activities, including the banishing of several rivals, led to his own banishment, and he wrote his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, ...read more

The so-called Dracula killer

On this day in 1978, Richard Chase, who becomes known as the “Dracula Killer,” murders Evelyn Miroth and Daniel Meredith, as well as Miroth’s 6-year-old son andanotherwoman,in Sacramento, California. Chase sexually assaulted Miroth with a knife before killing her and mutilating ...read more

Lincoln orders armies to advance

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues General War Order No. 1, ordering all land and sea forces to advance on February 22, 1862. This bold move sent a message to his commanders that the president was tired of excuses and delays in seizing the offensive against ...read more

Soviets liberate Auschwitz

On this day, Soviet troops enter Auschwitz, Poland, freeing the survivors of the network of concentration camps—and finally revealing to the world the depth of the horrors perpetrated there. Auschwitz was really a group of camps, designated I, II, and III. There were also 40 ...read more