Atomic Bombing Boosted Tourism of Las Vegas In 1950s

by hridika ahire

Atomic Bombing Boosted Tourism of Las Vegas In 1950s

April 26, 2021

The Sin City

Las Vegas or Sin City is the 28th most populous city in the United States. The city is an internationally renowned major resort city known for its gambling, shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and nightlife. Las Vegas is also known as The Entertainment Capital of the World. It is one of the top three destinations in the United States when it comes to business conventions and global leader in the hospitality industry as it has more AAA Five Diamond hotels than any other city in the world.

Las Vegas was founded as a whole city in the year 1905 after 110 acres of land which was adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks was auctioned in what is now known as the downtown area. In 1911, it was incorporated as a city. Like any newly founded city or business, the first few years are pretty much dead. The same happened with Las Vegas, back in the early 90s, can you imagine Vegas being dead?


Nuclear Bombing

The year 1931 however, was when things turned around for Vegas. That was the year when Nevada legalized casino gambling. Now it is the biggest and the best gambling hub in the entire world. People from all over America started flocking to Vegas and tourism started growing. But it wasn’t just the gambling that helped Las Vegas tourism grow. It was the nuclear bombing that was turned into atomic tourism by Las Vegas that helped it grow.

Nuclear bombs became very famous in the 90s when the United States used the bombs to bring World War 2 to a sudden yet horrible end in 1945. It was believed that whoever had the most nuclear weapons, had the highest respect in politics and diplomacy around the world. That is why the US government wanted to test nuclear devices as a way to harness the untapped magic of atomic weapons in everyday objects.

lasvegas atomictourism canonical

Start Of Atomic Tourism

From the year 1951 to 1992, the U.S. government conducted a total of 1,021 nuclear tests in the Nevada Proving Ground which is now named the Nevada Test Site or NST, sixty-five miles north of Las Vegas. Due to the number of nuclear bombings in the area, the site has earned the nickname “The most bombed place on Earth.” Between 1950 and 1960, the population of Las Vegas grew by 161% partly because of the legalization of gambling in Nevada and the chance to see live nuclear tests in person.

The smoke clouds from the testing could be seen from 600 miles away in San Francisco. Las Vegas began capitalizing on “atomic tourism” and the guests in hotels could witness nuclear testing directly from their hotel windows. These hotels would even advertise the early morning events with taglines like “Up and Atom!”. Honestly, hats off to the marketing team.

Marketing At It's Best

The 1950s became the most exciting decade for Vegas in terms of helping it become the most visited tourist destination it is today. It wasn’t just the most exciting but it was also the most frightening place at the time. Fear was a fashion statement in America. As a result, Las Vegas became a destination for Nuclear tourists. After seeing people’s interest in nuclear weapons, the Vegas Chamber of Commerce promoted in advance the dates and times for the nuclear testing.

Calendars and community announcements were published in advance so that tourists can plan their visits and enjoy the spectacle. Bomb-watching became a rage amongst the thrill-seeking tourists and they would try to get as close as they could to the site of the bombing. The tourist companies would sell “Atomic Lunch Boxes”, “Dawn Bomb Parties” that would begin at midnight and lasted till the flash of bomb lit up the night sky. There was also a specialty drink made from vodka, brandy, cognac, and champagne over ice and was called “Atomic Cocktail”. Since Vegas was famous for its showgirls and nuclear bombs, the two were combined and “Miss Atomic” pageants were held.

Small Boy nuclear test 1962

Miss Atomic Bomb

Since Vegas was famous for its showgirls and nuclear bombs, the two were combined and “Miss Atomic” pageants were held. The photo of a girl with her arms spread above her head, dressed in a cotton mushroom cloud affixed to her white bikini, became the iconic symbol of carefree Vegas kitsch set with a background of immeasurable power and utmost destruction. The girl became the face of “Miss Atomic Bomb” and her stage name was Lee A. Merlin. The image was used again in 2012 as an album cover for the rock band names The Killers and their single hit “Miss Atomic Blonde.”

Due to the immense growth in tourism, the viewing sites expanded to overlooks like Mount Charlestown which is a few miles from Las Vegas. To make the experience easier for the tourists, chartered bus services were arranged to transport the viewers to the viewing locations and ticket costs included boxed lunches, cocktails, and most importantly, protective eyewear.

The Conqueror

While atomic bombing helped Nevada boom its tourism, you cannot think that it had no side effects. It is atomic bombing! People are going to have severe issues if not on site, then years later and that is what happened in 1956 to the crew of The Conqueror. The movie had outdoor scenes which were shot just outside St. George, Utah, one of the towns that were heavily irradiated during the nuclear testing at the NTS. The crew spent weeks at the site and as a result, many of them developed cancer in the subsequent years. 91 of the 220 cast and crew developed cancer by 1980 and 46 of them died.

By 1970, people acknowledged the dangers of nuclear bombing, and legal steps were taken. Senator Ted Kennedy sponsored the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) of 1979 that held the “United States liable for damages to certain individuals, to certain uranium miners, and to certain sheep herds, due to certain nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site.” The bill was introduced in the 96th Congress but did not receive any vote.

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Compensation For The Affected

The first-generation survivors in the Nevada range received compensation after President George H.W. Bush reintroduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act on October 15, 1990, and the survivors were guaranteed $50,000 of minimum compensation. As of 2018, 34,372 claims had been approved for a total of $2,243,205,380. However, the second and third generations of the people affected are still struggling to be recognized as an impacted community. These people have major health complications as well due to the radiation that they as well as their older relatives experienced. These include mental and physical disabilities at birth, which is not a shocker for anyone that inhaled the toxic air while they were pregnant or were exposed to it at birth.


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