Throwback Thursday: The Glowing Dawn of the Atomic Age, Seen From 1950s Los Angeles
America had a lot going for it in the 1950s — economic prosperity, technological innovation, military might, a baby boom — but in the current times of nuclear non-proliferation, it’s easy to forget it also had nuclear bomb tests in the Nevada desert whose glow could be seen from Los Angeles.
These photos, taken in L.A. at that time, show the pre-dawn luminescence caused by A-bomb tests carried out at the vast Nevada Test Site, northwest of Las Vegas.
Between October 1951 through September 1992, 928 atomic tests were conducted at the NTS, 100 of which were completed above ground more than 300 miles away from L.A. in the sprawling Desert National Wildlife Range. If that seems like a long distance for the glow from an atomic bomb to be visible, consider that the mushroom cloud could be seen as far as 100 miles from the blast site. While Los Angeles, ever famous for its unique light, got to see the nuclear glimmer, the radioactive fallout had a tendency to drift northeast into Utah.
The light from the tests seems to light up the entire sky, a dull incandescence sharply outlining anything between it and the camera. At first, the images look mundane for looking so much like a sunrise — the difference of course is that this fusion-born light comes straight from man’s handiwork, and heralds the beginning of an arms race that in the 1960s tilted perilously close to Armageddon. An interesting theme in the handwritten captions accompanying these photos is the regular reminder that the blast is much more powerful than any previous, which makes sense given that during this period the yields of nuclear tests were definitely on the rise.