One of the best things to do in Las Vegas is visit the National Atomic Testing Museum, it’s a blast!
Atomic Blasts Drew Tourists to Las Vegas
Most people who visit Las Vegas know it’s a blast. During the mid-twentieth century, it literally was. For more than a decade, visitors traveled to the oasis in the desert to party all night on hotel rooftops and watch a flash illuminate the sky. A mushroom cloud emerged following the atomic bomb detonation.
For 12 years beginning in 1951, bombs detonated at the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Vegas, averaging about one every three weeks. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce released a calendar of detonations and best places to view them. This drove visitation and Vegas earned the nickname, Atomic City.
Iconic hotels like the Flamingo and Sands served atomic-themed cocktails. Families packed atomic box lunches for picnics close to the detonation site as possible. Images of mushroom clouds adorned candy, postcards, and toys. Knowing what we know about atomic bombs, this certainly all sounds strange. But, it was reality until 1963 with the banning of above ground detonations with the when the Limited Test Ban.
The National Atomic Testing Museum is a Sure Bet
Today, visitors to Las Vegas can learn more about the science and history of the of the Atomic Age with a visit to one of the best things to do in Sin City, the National Atomic Testing Museum. The museum is somber yet fascinating. It was a nice complement to my road trip to Area 51. Plus, it was nice comparing it to my visit to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tenn., no law enforcement official ran my ID!
The National Atomic Testing Museum is a journey from the early beginnings of the Nevada Test Site, through scientific experiments, to the current state of testing. There are more than a dozen distinct areas with exhibits and curated displays with each telling a piece of nuclear history, including a Disney film!
Two movies I distinctly remember from the ‘80s are The Day After and Threads, both about life after a nuclear attack. They’re disturbing and leave me with questions. A display answered some of my questions about what happens to humans in the path of a nuclear blast. Mannequins sit in a mock home and an album, presented by the J.C. Penney Company, displays before and after images of an atomic blast. During the testing, the mannequins wore clothing made from natural and synthetic fibers donated by J.C. Penney. Scientists studied how the clothing responded based on distance to the blast. Closer to the blast meant a greater impact.
See a Geiger Counter
More than 12,000 artifacts including Geiger counters (used to detect and measure radioactivity) and weapons and 16,000 government and personal photos recount more than 70 years of atomic history. A display includes the pop-culture to the Atomic Age.
Originally opened as the Atomic Testing Museum in 2005, it was designated a private national museum by Congress in December 2012. It is one of a few private national museums tasked with telling the U.S.’s atomic history.
Located about a mile from the Strip, the National Atomic Testing Museum is a great alternative to Sin City’s gambling scene. The museum is a step into retro Las Vegas but also a reminder of the power atomic weapons hold. Let’s hope no one ever witnesses the use of these weapons on humans again.
Nuts & Bolts About Visiting the National Atomic Testing Museum
755 E. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Tel: (702) 409-7366
Open Thursdays – Sundays, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Adult General Admission: $22
Youth (7 – 14): $16
Under 6 years old: Free
Discounts with ID available to seniors 62 and older, students, Nevada residents, and active military: $18.
“Atomic Tests Were a Tourist Draw in 1950s Las Vegas,” Bloomberg CityLab
“How 1950s Las Vegas Sold Atomic Bomb Tests as Tourism,” Smithsonian Magazine
“Atomic Tourism in Nevada,” American Experience on PBS