In the 1950s, Tourists Came to Las Vegas to See Mushroom Clouds from Atomic Bomb Tests

Las Vegas in the 1950s was one of the best tourist destinations in the United States. At that, over ten million people were visiting the city annually. New hotels and casinos were opening and the city was known for its bright lights and nightlife.

In 1951, the US government selected a testing site for atomic bomb testing, located just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The Yucca Flats of Nevada was located in the center of the American wasteland, making it the perfect place for nuclear testing. Between 1951 and 1992, the U.S. government conducted a total of 1,021 nuclear tests here. Out of these tests, 100 were atmospheric, and 921 were underground.

Mushroom clouds from the atmospheric tests could be seen up to 100 miles away in the distance. Vegas began to experience a new influx of tourists who would travel thousands of miles in order to catch a glimpse of the mushroom. People could see the clouds and bursts of light from their hotel windows. Some casinos and hotels hosted “dawn parties” and created atomic themed cocktails, encouraging visitors to view the tests.

Nowadays, 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.

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

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

#4 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.

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

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

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

#9 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.

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

#12 Operation Buster-Jangle – Dog test — with troops participating in exercise Desert Rock I, November 1, 1951.

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.

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

#15 Man sitting near a Nevada Test Site sign, Nevada, United States, 1955 From 1951–1962.

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.

#17 People witness the detonation of nuclear artillery shell, codenamed ‘Grable,’ fired by a 280mm M65 atomic cannon, 1953

#18 Greyhound Lines buses going to the Nevada Test Site, Nevada, 1955

#19 Filmmakers, next to a jeep, capturing an atomic explosion, at a Nevada desert test site, 1957.

#20 Newsmen Photographing Atomic Test in Nevada Desert, 1958

#21 People stand at the edge of a gigantic crater created by the Project Sedan nuclear test explosion, 1950s.

#22 Spectators on Fremont Street in Las Vegas look in vain for the atomic explosion, 1951.

#23 Residents of Las Vegas watch the mushroom cloud of a distant test of an atomic bomb, 1952.

#25 Dancer Gene Nelson throws himself in all directions as he performs what he calls the ‘Atom Antic’ on a mountain top not far from Las Vegas, 1952.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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