The Secret City

Starting in 1942, the U.S. government began quietly acquiring more than 60,000 acres in Eastern Tennessee for the Manhattan Project -- the secret World War II program that developed the atomic bomb. The government needed land to build massive facilities to refine and develop nuclear materials for these new weapons, without attracting the attention of enemy spies. The result was a secret town named Oak Ridge that housed tens of thousands of workers and their families. The entire town and facility were fenced in, with armed guards posted at all entries. Workers were sworn to secrecy and only informed of the specific tasks they needed to perform. Most were unaware of the exact nature of their final product until the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945. Photographer Ed Westcott (the only authorized photographer on the facility) took many photos of Oak Ridge during the war years and afterwards, capturing construction, scientific experiments, military maneuvers, and everyday life in a 1940s company town (where the company happens to be the U.S. government). [29 photos total]

Pixtale is updated with new interesting photo stories nearly every day, checkout the our Archives.

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to updates with RSS

Use key shortcuts: Use J/K keys or / to navigate

A special traveling exhibit of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, "Your Stake in the Atom", is housed in its own geodesic exoskeleton structure some 20 feet high and 50 feet in diameter in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1966. The exhibit featured live demos on uses of nuclear power and a set of remote controlled mechanical hands. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Early Construction of the K-25 uranium enrichment facility (background), with one of original houses of Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the foreground, in 1942. That year, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began quickly acquiring land in the Oak Ridge area, at the request of the U.S. government, to build production facilities for the Manhattan Project. The K-25 plant, when completed, was the largest building in the world for a time. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Military Police man Elza Gate in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Lie detection tests were administered as part of security screening (U.S. Department of Energy) #
A billboard posted in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on December 31, 1943. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Calutron operators at their panels, in the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II. The calutrons were used to refine uranium ore into fissile material. During the Manhattan Project effort to construct an atomic explosive, workers toiled in secrecy, with no idea to what end their labors were directed. Gladys Owens, the woman seated in the foreground, did not realize what she had been doing until seeing this photo in a public tour of the facility fifty years later. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Workers perform maintenance on a cell housing in the K-25 uranium enrichment facility, in Oak Ridge, Tennesee. (James E. Westcott/DOE) #
A caultron "racetrack" uranium refinery at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the Manhattan Project. The light-colored bars along the top are solid silver. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer at Oak Ridge, on February 14, 1946. Oppenheimer was called the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role as the head of the secret weapons laboratory of the Manhattan Project. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Temporary Housing (Hutments) fill the formerly empty valleys of Oak Ridge in 1945. The sudden growth of the military's facilities caused the local population to grow from about 3,000 in 1942 to about 75,000 in 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
A young entrepreneur during the days of the Manhattan Project, in Oak Ridge, Tennesee. (James E. Westcott/DOE) #
Shift change at the Y-12 uranium enrichment facility in Oak Ridge. Notice the billboard: "Make CEW count Continue to protect project information." CEW stands for Clinton Engineer Works, the Army name for the production facility. (Ed Westcott/US Department of Energy) #
A billboard in Oak Ridge, photographed during WWII, on January 21, 1944. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
The main control room at the K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Welding at the K-25 facility in Oak Ridge, in February of 1945. At the height of production, nearly 100,000 workers were employed by the government in the secret xity. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Kiddy Club at the Midtown Recreation Hall in Oak Ridge, on January 6, 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
A Link Trainer, a type of flight simulator produced between the early 1930s and early 1950s, in Oak Ridge, in September of 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
This 1945 photograph shows the giant 44 acre K-25 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the uranium for the first atomic weapon was produced. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Energy) #
V-J day celebration in Jackson Square in downtown Oak Ridge in August of 1945. When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan on August 6, 1945, the news reports revealed to the people at Oak Ridge what they had been working on all along. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Oak Ridge's Grove Theater shows "The Beginning or The End" in March of 1947. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Oak Ridge's X-10 graphite reactor, in 1947. X-10 was the world's second artificial nuclear reactor (after Enrico Fermi's Chicago Pile) and was the first reactor designed and built for continuous operation. (DOE) #
An employee at the Oak Ridge electromagnetic process plant, where stable isotopes are concentrated, holds a vial containing the stable isotope Molybdenum 92, on January 22, 1948. Stable isotopes can be handled without risk to the person. In contrast to radioactive isotopes, they do not emit radiation and can therefore be safely handled. (AP Photo) #
A therapy unit installed at the Oak Ridge hospital in 1955 used a source of radioactive cesium-137 to kill diseased tissue, allowing maximum dose of radiation to a cancerous area and minimizing effects to healthy tissue elsewhere. The hospital, was one of the nation's early centers for nuclear medicine. (AP Photo/ Oak Ridge Associated Universities) #
Two of 40,000 mice being used in atomic tests at Oak Ridge, by scientists seeking to learn the possible effects of radiation on the heredity of man, displayed by the Atomic Energy Commission on February 18, 1950. The mouse on the right is described by the AEC as a "hereditary mutation" - a descendant of mice which have been given periodic doses of X-rays. A normal litter mate in on the left. (AP Photo) #
An "Atoms For Peace" traveling exhibit in Oak Ridge, in 1957. President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched an "Atoms for Peace" program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals, and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world. The first nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakistan were built under this program. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Senator John F. Kennedy visits Oak Ridge National Lab on February 24, 1959. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on April 21, 1959. When it was first founded in 1942 to supply housing for workers at the Atomic Energy Commission plant, Oak Ridge was a military reservation. Since the end of World War II, however, the AEC has removed the fence that once surrounded Oak Ridge and gradually given more voice in matters of community policy to the town council, an elected body with advisory powers only. On May 5, Oak Ridge's transformation from military control to self-government was completed, as its citizens voted to incorporate. (AP Photo) #
A view of the K-25 uranium enrichment facilities from a patrol radio relay tower in Oak Ridge, on November 7, 1960. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #
Photographer Ed Westcott took almost all of the photos above. He was the first AEC government photographer in Oak Ridge, and the only authorized photographer during the Manhattan Project. Here, Ed poses with his motion picture cameras and lights in Building 2714 in in Oak Ridge, in 1960. Born in 1922, Westcott still resides in Oak Ridge, and recently celebrated is 90th birthday. (Ed Westcott/DOE) #

Most Popular Stories on Pixtale