Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

"Living Under a Mushroom Cloud: Fear and Hope in the Atomic Age"


After the bombing of Japan, Americans sought a silver lining in the atom's mushroom cloud of destruction. Journalists and scientists optimistically made sensational predictions about atomic energy's peacetime benefits. Most of their fantastic ideas were not realized, but the use of atomic energy and radioactive isotopes did contribute to significant advances in medicine, power, and scientific research. In 1953 President Eisenhower enthusiastically supported the creation of an "Atoms for Peace" organization whose purpose was to bring scientists together from all over the world to share information about the wise and peaceful uses of atomic energy. Most postwar atomic research, however, was applied to the development of a larger, more powerful nuclear arsenal.

After World War II, the word "atomic" and the atom symbol symbolized power, progress, and modernity. Manufacturers used atomic symbolism to make their products more appealing to consumers. In the early 1960s, these symbols became obsolete, replaced by images of space exploration.

Entrance to the
HOPE! section.

Illustration from Atomic Energy and Peace Published by the Independent Economic Research Foundation, Hadlyme, Connecticut,1954 Courtesy of Sheila Riley.

Hope panel.

Poster for a lecture on atomic power, 1946. Farrington Daniels, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, worked at the Chicago metallurgical lab that worked on the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. He directed that facility from 1945 to 1946. From 1946 to 1948, he designed one of the earliest experimental nuclear power reactors at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Daniels was an early proponent of the private development of nuclear power and later in his career researched solar energy. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Farrington Daniels (center, taking notes) at the United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, Switzerland, 1955.

Daniels was named technical advisor to the U.S. delegation to this conference, which promoted international cooperation in nuclear research and development. The conference was an enormous scientific and political success. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Illustration from "Inside the Atom" showing peacetime uses of atomic energy A comic book published by the General Electric Company, 1955.

Starting in 1948, General Electric identified peacetime applications of atomic energy in educational comic books.

Editorial cartoon Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, 27, 1945.

This cartoon shows the allegorical figure of "War" departing as the figure of "Peace" shares the wartime secrets of atomic energy with industry, science, and medicine.

Postage stamp Issued by the U.S. Post Office Department, 1955.

The perimeter of the stamp features a quotation from President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1953 "Atoms for Peace" speech.

Audio-Visual kiosk for the HOPE! section

See the wonders of ATOMIC ENERGY! You will be AWED by uses of atomic power, ASTONISHED by advances in nuclear medicine, and AMAZED by the accomplishments of atomic scientists!

Film 1: Excerpts from A is for Atom (ca. 1953, General Electric). This animated, educational movie demonstrates the many uses of atomic power and radioactive isotopes.

Film 2: Excerpt from Inside the Atom (1948, National Film Board of Canada). This film shows how radioactive isotopes are used in cancer treatments.

Film 3: Excerpt from Oak Wilt in Wisconsin (ca. 1955, University of Wisconsin-- Madison). This film shows how radioactive isotopes were used to discover the cause of oak wilt.

Film 4: Excerpts from President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech to the United Nations, December 8, 1953.

(NOTE: This text has been included for completeness in documenting this exhibit. The films cannot be viewed. However, this capability may be added at a later time for this or other 'virtual exhibits'.)


After the atomic bombing of Japan, visionaries speculated about the fantastic possibilities of a new "Atomic Age." Those who viewed atomic power as simply explosive predicted its application to harbor and canal excavation, ice clearing, fire suppression, and mining. Other people envisioned atomic-powered vehicles, atomic fertilizers, pocket-sized temperature control devices, and large atomic power plants. Some forecasts portrayed a world of peace and plenty made possible by the harnessing of the atom.

Most of these predictions soon proved unrealistic for technical, safety, or economic reasons. By the mid-1950s, predictions had focused more narrowly on the scientific and medical applications of radioactive elements and on the large-scale generation of electricity.

Atomic Predictions

"It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy electrical energy too cheap to meter--will know of great regional famines only as matters of history--will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds--and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours. This is the forecast for an age of peace." Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, 1954.

Illustrations of a proposed atomic automobile and jet airplane Published in Newsweek, August 20, 1945.

The pea-sized dots indicate the expected size of the atomic power plants required to run these inventions. The massive weight of safety shielding made atomic cars and airplanes impractical.

Illustration from Adventures Inside the Atom A comic book published by the General Electric Company, 1948.

Scientists and businessmen tried to play down the most outrageous post-World War II claims for atomic energy. Here Johnny imagines a Buck Rogers future with atomic disintegrator guns and atomic flying machines. His teacher admonishes him for "reading too many comics."


After World War II, many people expected that atomic energy would cure cancer. Medical scientists sought to fight the disease by using newly available radionuclides from the federal government's experimental reactors. Some radioisotopes, primarily cobalt-60 and cesium-137, were substituted for x-rays in treating cancerous tumors.

Although the simplistic expectation that cancer would be eradicated has not been realized, medical researchers have made radiation treatments more effective and less hazardous to patients. Some of the most dramatic health-care developments have come in the field of "nuclear medicine," which uses radiation from various sources to identify and diagnose illnesses.

Atoms Cure Cancel

Photographic illustration depicting an ill man rising from his wheelchair in the midst of a mushroom cloud Published in Collier's, May 3, 1947.

Progress in nuclear medicine helped foster the belief that good would result from the evil of atomic weapons.

Whole body scan, 1990.

Radioactivity has created many ways for doctors to see inside the human body. This scan shows the body of a healthy person. Courtesy of the Section of Nuclear Medicine, Department of Radiology, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.


Almost since the discovery of x-rays in 1895, doctors have used radiation to help them see inside the human body. This process is now called "body imaging" and has been of enormous benefit in identifying diseases and planning treatment. Between 1945 and 1965, doctors and medical physicists energetically applied new sources of radiation to this task, and developed new instruments to help them read and record the results.

Diagnosis panel.

Gamma camera, ca. 1975.

The gamma camera, invented by Hal Anger in 1957, is an elaboration of the scintillation scanner that uses a very large scintillation crystal coupled to many photomultiplier tubes. Courtesy of Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Diagnosis panel

Dr. Edwin C. Albright, using a scintillation detector to examine a patient's thyroid gland, University of Wisconsin Hospital, Madison, ca. 1955.

Because iodine concentrates so readily in the thyroid gland, it was one of the first chemicals to be radioactively tagged for medical purposes. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Scintillation crystal Made by Harshaw Chemical Company, Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1960, and Photomultiplier tube Made by Radio Corporation of America, New York, New York, ca. 1960.

These two devices are the key components of the scintillation detector, the first significant postwar diagnostic instrument. Scintillation crystals are chemical compounds that absorb energy from radiation and convert it into flashes of visible light. The photomultiplier tube, invented in 1947, detects each scintillation, converts it into an electrical pulse, and amplifies it. These two devices made it possible to convert radiation into an electrical current that could be measured and recorded using a range of standard electronic devices. Courtesy of the Section of Nuclear Medicine, Department of Radiology, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.

Technetium-99m generator ("cow"), ca. 1975.

This lead-clad device supplied technetium, a radioactive tracer for medical imaging. Technetium-99m, with a half-life of six hours, is produced by the decay of radioactive molybdenum. To extract the technetium, medical staff injected a saline solution into the top of this column of molybdenum, and drew off the water-soluble technetium from the bottom. Courtesy of the Section of Nuclear Medicine, Department of Radiology, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.


The same physical qualities that make radiation dangerous to humans make it a valuable therapeutic agent -- it can kill cancerous cells as well as healthy ones. The therapeutic challenge is to focus the right amount of the right kind of radiation on the diseased cells, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. Post-World War II research, much of which involved radionuclides, helped make radiation treatments more locally precise and the dosage safer and more accurate.

Treament panel.

Advertisement for General Electric Company, "Atomic Weapons Join War on Cancer!" Published in Newsweek, October 11, 1954.

This advertisement, which pictures a super- voltage x-ray machine, demonstrates the popularity of the "atomic" label in the mid-1950s. Although x-rays were used to treat cancer, as were the radioisotopes of cobalt and cesium, high- energy x-ray machines were first developed before World War II and owed little to the nation's development of atomic energy.

Patients entering "Uranium Tunnel", Lone Rock, Wisconsin, 1954.

The therapeutic effects of radioactivity were applied outside the scientific community as well. In 1954, Lone Rock farmer Kenneth Crook opened a storefront and began charging the public $1.00 an hour to sit on uranium-filled cushions. Although Crook claimed his popular "uranium tunnel" was meant only to entertain and educate, the State of Wisconsin charged him with practicing medicine without a license and closed all the state's uranium "cures" in 1955.

Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machine Used at Wisconsin General Hospital, Madison, ca. 1960.

Originally developed in 1951, the telecobalt machine used the high-energy gamma rays emitted by cobalt-60 to treat cancer. Cobalt-60 machines were able to reach deeper tumors with less skin dosage than standard x-ray machines. Courtesy of Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Professor John Cameron, holding pellet of lithium fluoride, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1962.

Cameron helped develop thermoluminescent dosimetry, a technique for measuring therapeutic doses of radiation. A small pellet of lithium fluoride, which absorbs energy from radiation and emits it as visible light when later heated, is placed next to an area to be treated with radiation. By measuring the amount of light given off by the pellet, doctors can tell exactly how much radiation the patient has received at the intended point of treatment. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Treament panel

R-meter Made by Victoreen Instrument Company, Cleveland, Ohio, 1947.

This instrument measured the intensity of radiation from high-energy x-ray or cobalt-60 radiotherapy machines so that accurate doses of radiation could be administered. Courtesy of Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Set of collimators, ca. 1955.

A collimator is a device that defines and limits a field of radiation. These metal caps, each with an opening of a different size and shape, were placed over a small metal cylinder of radioactive strontium-90, which was then applied directly to a diseased eyeball for the treatment of tumors. Courtesy of Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The large-scale production of electricity was one of the earliest predicted applications for atomic energy and one of the few to become a reality. Starting in the late 1940s, Atomic Energy Commission laboratories built a number of experimental power reactors, and in September 1954, construction began on the nation's first commercial atomic power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Other plants quickly followed. Atomic power became a symbol of progress and technological know-how, and even small utilities wanted to be part of it.

The pioneering power reactors of the 1950s and early 1960s proved that large amounts of electricity could be generated by nuclear fuel, and the United States became the worldwide leader in nuclear power technology. In 1965 the future looked promising.

Despite its technical feasibility, atomic power failed to achieve its anticipated success in later years for a number of reasons, including: slower-than-expected growth in demand; the low cost of competing fuels; and increasing costs posed by safety regulations, public opposition, and fuel disposal.

Atoms Light
the World panel.

Advertisement for General Electric Company Published in Newsweek, June 27, 1955.

General Electric became the leading builder of nuclear power plants in the United States. In this company advertisement, "Atom Man" helps a housewife by plugging in a vacuum cleaner that runs on electricity produced by a nuclear plant.

Advertisement for America's Independent Electric Light and Power Companies, "How the Atom is Putting New Shapes on the Horizon" Published in Life, October 8, 1956.

America's smaller power companies used nuclear power to symbolize their ingenuity and progress.

Advertisement for Eastman-Kodak Company, "An Egg Built to Hatch Miracles" Published in Time, February 13, 1956.

Eastman-Kodak used this striking image of a reactor containment vessel under construction to advertise both its film and the Kodak x-ray machines used to test the reactor's welds.

Advertisement for International Nickel Company, How Inco Nicle is Helping Produce Power from the Peace Atom" Published in Newsweek, October 10, 1954.

Many industries that had any connection at all to atomic research and energy used the prestige of nuclear power to promote their products.

Atoms Light the World
(second panel).

University of Wisconsin researchers extracting uranium from low-grade ores, Silverton, Colorado, 1954.

Mining uranium is the first step in creating atomic fuel for either military or peaceful uses. Under the supervision of chemistry professor Farrington Daniels, this project tested the feasibility of recovering uranium in the field using inexpensive, portable equipment. It was hoped such techniques would reduce transportation costs, make poor ores profitable, and allow uranium processing to continue if America's large processing plants were destroyed in a war. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

The USS Nautilus nuclear-powered submarine at sea, 1966.

Launched in January 1955, the Nautilus carried the first practical atomic power source. A land-based version of the Nautilus' Pressurized Water Reactor became the nation's first operating commercial atomic power plant in 1957. Courtesy of the Visual Material Archives, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. (Lot 3238)


Wisconsin's first nuclear power plant, a 50,000-kilowatt demonstration plant called "LACBWR," was built in Genoa, Wisconsin for the Dairyland Power Co-operative. The Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee designed and built the plant, which produced electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and running the steam through an electrical generator. Construction began in May 1963, and the reactor first operated on July 11, 1967. After extensive testing, LACBWR began generating electricity commercially in 1971 and continued for sixteen years.

Although LACBWR generated only a small portion of the power supplied by Dairyland, the nuclear plant faced several challenges—lack of storage space for spent fuel, the expense of impending safety upgrades, and regulations requiring a staff equal to that of a much larger plant. When a newer coal plant proved to be less expensive to operate and capable of meeting the demand for electricity, Dairyland decided to close the nuclear plant in April 1987.

The La Crosse
Boiling Water Reactor
(first view).

The La Crosse
Boiling Water Reactor
(second view).

Protection outfit Used at the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, Genoa, Wisconsin, ca. 1967.

Workers wore this type of uniform in areas of suspected contamination to keep radioactive dirt off their clothing. All uniforms were laundered at the plant to prevent contamination from spreading offsite. Workers also used goggles and respirators when necessary.

Replica of the fuel assembly
Used at the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, Genoa, Wisconsin
, ca. 1967.

The LACBWR reactor was powered by 72 of these assemblies, each composed of 100 rods filled with uranium dioxide pellets. The assemblies are arranged in the reactor to produce a "chain reaction," in which a flux of neutrons splits nearby uranium atoms. When these atoms split, they release energy used to boil water and additional neutrons which continue the reaction.

The La Crosse
Boiling Water Reactor
(third view).

Checking fuel assemblies for surface contamination prior to installation, La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, Genoa, Wisconsin, ca. 1966.

One key to safety in any nuclear plant is strict monitoring and attention to cleanliness. Courtesy of Dairyland Power Co-operative.

Drawing of a vertical cross-section of the LACBWR core Made by Allis- Chalmers Manufacturing Company, Atomic Energy Division, Bethesda, Maryland, 1964.

This drawing shows the placement of fuel elements (red) and control rods (blue) inside the reactor vessel. The fuel is loaded into the reactor from above and was stationary during operation. To start the reactor, the control rods were withdrawn from below; to slow or stop it, they were raised back into place.

Drawing of a horizontal cross-section of the LACBWR core Made by Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, Atomic Energy Division, Bethesda, Maryland, 1964.

This drawing shows how the twenty-nine X-shaped control rods, shown in (blue) fit between the seventy-two fuel elements, shown in (red), preventing neutron transfer between them.


In 1946 the federal government decided to sell radioactive chemicals ("radionuclides") to research institutions and industries. By 1953 the government's atomic reactor at Oak Ridge, Tennessee had made over 30,000 shipments of radionuclides to almost 1,500 universities worldwide. Scientists used radioactive materials to study insect migration, genetic mutation, food sterilization, photosynthesis, and many other things.

Within a decade after the Hiroshima bombing, radionuclides found their way into a wide variety of scientific fields, including genetics, plant pathology, entomology, enzyme research, botany, physics, chemistry, soil science, food science, medicine, pharmacology, engineering, and metallurgy. Scientists continue to rely on radioactive materials today.

Atoms Reveal
Nature's Secrets panel.

John Willard and students, University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1948.

Willard was an internationally distinguished radiation chemist who had supervised the chemical separation of plutonium for the project that developed the atomic bomb. Willard was instrumental in establishing the University of Wisconsin's postwar use of radioactive chemicals in teaching and research. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.


In the mid-1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission began to promote the construction of small nuclear reactors to produce neutrons for research. Research reactors were used to explore the physics and chemistry of atomic reactions, to produce radioisotopes for research, and to conduct such scientific studies as neutron activation analysis (which can identify trace chemicals in a given sample) and neutron radiography (which can identify hidden flaws in materials).

The University of Wisconsin began to operate a nuclear reactor in March, 1961. Over the years, this reactor has contributed to hundreds of studies in fields as diverse as animal nutrition, pollution abatement, superconductor manufacture, and the dating of archaeological materials. The University has used the reactor to train nuclear engineers and commercial reactor operators for four decades.

University of
Wisconsin Nuclear
Reactor panel.

Advertisement for nuclear research reactors, "Why Universities Need This Nuclear Research Reactor Now!" Published in Time, January 30, 1956.

Nuclear reactor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1965.

The reactor is surrounded by a thick layer of concrete to shield users from radiation. Courtesy of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Core of the nuclear reactor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1965.

The fuel elements are kept in a pool of very pure water. The water both cools the fuel and slows down the neutrons, which makes them more effective at splitting other atoms. Courtesy of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Ionization chamber Made by Keleket, ca. 1961.

Operators at the University of Wisconsin reactor used this device to check for radioactive contamination. It is one of the earliest types of detection devices, and was nicknamed the "cutie pie" by Atomic Energy Commission scientists.

Slow neutron detector Made by Nuclear Chicago Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1955.

Neutrons, produced in large quantities in nuclear reactors, can be harmful to people in close proximity. Operators at the University of Wisconsin reactor used this device to detect leaks in the reactor's shielding.


Because they are easy to detect, radioactive forms of chemical elements ("radioisotopes") have been used as "tracers" to follow and examine complex organic and inorganic chemical reactions. A landmark study of the late 1940s used radioactive carbon-14 to discover the chemical process called photosynthesis, in which green plants convert carbon dioxide and water into starch and oxygen. Since that time, radioisotopes have been a useful tool for many studies.

Laboratory Research
(first view).

Biochemistry professors Robert Burris and Perry Wilson recording data from a Geiger counter, University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1948.

The glassware on the counter is a Toeffler pump, which was used to transfer radioactively marked gasses between containers. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Laboratory Research

Made by Nuclear Instrument and Chemical Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1955, and Geiger counter Made by Nuclear Instrument and Chemical Corporation, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1955.

These instruments were used in the Biochemistry Department of the University of Wisconsin. Radioactive samples were placed on the tray and slid into the Geiger counter for measurement. The scaler, purchased with Atomic Energy Commission funds, tabulated the results.

Lead shield Used in the Biochemistry Department, University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1946.

Researchers placed radioactive samples and a Geiger counter inside this lead cylinder, which screened out naturally-occurring background radiation to ensure accurate test results.


University of Wisconsin plant pathologists A. J. Riker and James Kuntz demonstrated the practical results of radioisotope research when they presented their studies of oak wilt disease at the 1955 "Atoms for Peace" Conference. Riker and Kuntz had injected radioactively-marked spores of oak wilt fungus into healthy oaks and followed their paths through the trees with Geiger counters. In doing so, they discovered that the fungus is transmitted in sap that flows from tree to tree through a system of interconnected roots. They also proved that the fungus kills oaks by eventually blocking the flow of sap in their trunks. As a result of their studies, Riker and Kuntz developed several measures for preventing the spread of oak wilt, including the severing of all the root connections of infected trees to a depth of six feet.

Wisconsin Oak
Wilt Studies
(first view).

Oak trunk

Showing various methods for administering radioactive tracers.
In early experiments, Riker and Kuntz injected tracers (including iodine-131 and rubidium-86) into oaks by cutting the bark with a chisel and pouring the tracer solution into a tar paper funnel around the trunk. Later techniques involved gravity feeds from buckets and the pumping of the solution into holes in the bark.

A. J. Riker and James Kuntz examining a tree, ca. 1955. Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

Wisconsin Oak Wilt
Studies (close-up).

Root injection axe Used by A.J. Riker and James Kuntz, ca. 1955.

The narrow projection on the back of this axe cut neat holes in the bark of oak trees, through which radioactive solutions were injected. Courtesy of James Kuntz.

Pressure tank injector Used by A.J. Riker and James Kuntz, ca. 1955.

This hand- operated device pumped radioactive solutions into trees. Courtesy of James Kuntz.

Root system of a northern pin oak, ca. 1950.

Riker and Kuntz discovered that some species of oaks grow in stands of several dozen trees whose roots are all interconnected with grafts. This sample contains roots of three different trees which have grafted together into a single system. Courtesy of James Kuntz.

You have finished

Entrance to THE
EDUCATION sections.


While Americans were bombarded with fearful images of atomic annihilation, they also saw the atom portrayed in positive and humorous ways. America's growing interest in all things atomic prompted manufacturers and other commercial businesses to use the atom symbol and the word "atomic" to capture public attention and to project images of progress and modernity. "Atomic," "nuclear", and "H-bomb" became slang terms used to signify things that were awesome or monumental. Americans also began laughing at some of their own atomic fears in movies and comic books.

The Atomic
(first panel).

Poster and photographic still for the motion picture, "The Atomic Kid", 1954.

In this film, Mickey Rooney plays Blix Waterberry, a man caught in an atomic blast while prospecting for uranium. Although Waterbury's life is saved by a peanut butter sandwich, the radioactivity endows him with special powers, including the ability to glow when aroused. Blake Edwards, the screenwriter of this picture, used the film to poke fun at the public's ignorance of what radiation really is. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(second panel; first view).

Poster for the motion picture, "Kiss Me Deadly", 1955.

The movie, which ends with the brutal death of most of its characters in a radioactive explosion, was particularly violent for its time. Note the reference to the atomic bomb ("Mickey Spillane's latest H-bomb") as an advertising device. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

Electric chandelier Used in the Lakefront Cafeteria, Memorial Union, University of Wisconsin, Madison, ca. 1957.

The atom symbol was incorporated into furnishing design during the 1950s. This chandelier may have been designed to look like an atom with the wires symbolizing electron paths and the center representing the nucleus.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(second panel; second view).

Ball clock Made by the Howard Miller Clock Company, Zeeland, Michigan, 1947.

One of the most popular of all atom-inspired furnishings was the 'ball clock,' a fashionable home and office decoration designed by George Nelson. The idea for the clock came from classroom models of molecules in which balls represented atoms. This clock hung in the lobby of the Milwaukee Art Museum for almost fifty years. Courtesy of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Accessioned from museum service.

Poster for the motion picutre, "Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm", 1951.

This installment of the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series includes a farcical portrayal of atomic radiation. Pa acquires the ability to run electrical appliances after putting on a pair of old overalls and thinks he has discovered radioactive uranium on the farm. Eventually he learns that only the overalls, which were worn by a G.I at the Bikini test bombings, are radioactive. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(second panel; close-up).

"Atomic" sewing needles Made in Japan, ca. 1955.

The word "atomic" provided manufacturers with an effective way to market their products, even when the reference had nothing to do with the shape or function of the product. Courtesy of Atomic Interiors.

Bikini Worn by a student at Lawrence College, Appleton, Wisconsin, 1971.

Four days after the Bikini Atoll test bombings in July 1946, a French fashion designer introduced his "explosive" new design in swimwear at an "end of the world" party for the media. Two-piece bathing suits had existed for ten years, but the bikini was especially skimpy, perhaps making the wearer feel dangerously "atomic."

Poster for the motion picture, "Run for the Hills", 1953.

This movie takes a humorous look at atomic war and fallout shelters. In it an insurance man, played by Sonny Tufts, becomes so paranoid about atomic war that he moves his family into a cave. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

"Anatomic Bomb" Published in Life, September 3, 1945.

Only weeks after the Japan bombings, Life took a lighthearted approach to the new atomic age by labeling a Hollywood starlet an "anatomic bomb" instead of the usual "bombshell."

Some of the Companies that Jumped on the 'Atomic Bandwagon'

Wall of Advertisements panel.

Wall of Advertisements (close-up).

Advertisement for The Rosicrucians, "Man-The Mortal God"
Published in Popular Science, January 1946.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(third panel; first view)

"Wonderful World of Color" board game Made by Gardner and Company, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1955.

Although this game has nothing to do with atoms or science, its creators used the atom symbol as a major part of the design. Players circled the nucleus-like globe on electron-like paths. Courtesy of Alex Malloy.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(third panel; second view)

Atomic comic books
Artists Al Fago and Pat Masulli helped give the atom a friendly image among young comic book readers of the 1950s when they created a stable of atomically-charged animal characters. Atomic Mouse was the most successful; his series ran for 54 issues between 1953 and 1963.

"Atomic Mouse" Published by Charlton Publications, Derby, Connecticut, 1960.

Atomic Mouse began life as Cimota Mouse ('atomic' spelled backwards), a victim of an evil magician. When the magician shrunk him to the size of an atom, he met several living atoms who gave him U-235 power pills, a new costume, and a lecture on working for the good of the world. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

"Atomic Rabbit" Published by Charlton Publications, Derby, Connecticut, 1957.

Atomic Rabbit acquired his powers by eating radioactive carrots. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

"Atomic Bunny" Published by Charlton Publications, Derby, Connecticut, 1958.

In August 1958, Atomic Rabbit changed his name to Atomic Bunny. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

"Atom the Cat" Published by Charlton Publications, Derby, Connecticut, 1958.

Atom the Cat acquired his powers by absorbing atomic rays from a nuclear reactor. The scientists who built the reactor gave him a cape and convinced him to work for his country and the world. Atom the Cat maintained his powers by eating fresh fish. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

The Atomic Bandwagon
(third panel; first close-up)

Toy ballistic missile Made by Scientific Products Company, Richmond, Virginia, 1958.

This toy, made to look like a missile that carried atomic weapons, came packaged with chemicals that served as the 'rocket fuel' needed to launch the toy into the air. A thirteen-year-old Madison, Wisconsin boy played with this toy.

Toy jeep Made by Unique Art Manufacturing Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1945-1950.

The 'atomic brakes' on this G.I. Joe jeep were so named to capture the imagination of young boys, including the Madison, Wisconsin lad who played with this toy.

Display box of toy atomic bombs Made by Royal Tot Manufacturing Company, New York, New York, 1950-1960.

These percussion cap toys allowed children to pretend they had the power to drop the mighty atomic bomb on the targets of their choice. Courtesy of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

'Astro Launch' board game Made by Ohio Art, Bryan, Ohio, 1963.

Ohio Art used the atom symbol for the shape of this game and incorporated the symbol into its decoration as well. Courtesy of Alex Malloy.

'Uranium Rush' board game Made by Gardner and Company, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1955.

In this game, players used a 'Geiger counter' to locate uranium ore. The winner was the player who made the most money from selling uranium to the federal government.

The Atomic
(third panel;
second close-up)

Toy pistol and comic book Made by Daisy Manufacturing Company, Plymouth, Michigan, ca. 1946.

Dick Calkins, the creator of the Buck Rogers character, was ahead of his time. He had shown Rogers using atomic-powered pistols and rocket ships in the 1930s, a decade before nuclear power became a widespread theme. Courtesy of Robert Pettit.

"Atomic Fireball" candy Made by Ferrara Pan Candy Company, Forest Park, Illinois.

The makers of this candy, introduced in the early 1950s, used an atomic metaphor to describe the product's peppery- hot taste.


Some children in postwar America worried about becoming victims of atomic bombing and radiation. Educators sought to calm children's fears by teaching them about their "friend," the atom. Parents and teachers also hoped that children, especially boys, would become interested in atomic science and would help keep America in the forefront of atomic research when they grew up.

An Atomic Education

Teaching atomic energy at a public school, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, late 1950s.

Courtesy of the Visual Materials Archives, Archives Division, State Historical Society of Wisconsin. (Whi(X3)27398

An Atomic
Education panel
(first close-up)

Atomic energy lab Made by A.C. Gilbert Company, New Haven, Connecticut, 1950.

Gilbert's lab came with three radioactive sources, a Geiger counter, and a cloud chamber where atoms could be split. The lab sold for fifty dollars, but because it cost more than that to produce, production ended after only one year. Courtesy of John Wickland.

"Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom" Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., New York, New York, 1949.

This instructional comic book was prepared with input from Lieutenant-General Leslie R. Groves, the man who had supervised the building of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. This book was sold separately and as part of the Gilbert Company's Atomic Energy Lab. Courtesy of John Wickland.

An Atomic Education panel
(second close-up)

Atomic energy lab Made by American Basic Science Club, San Antonio, Texas, 1959. Courtesy of John Wickland.

"Adventures Inside the Atom" Published by General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York, 1948.

By using simple explanations and clever analogies, the authors of this comic book sought to make complex scientific concepts understandable to older children. They portrayed atomic research as a wonderful adventure filled with promise for the future. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

"Inside the Atom" Published by General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York, 1955

By the time this comic book was published, General Electric did not need to portray atomic fantasies; it was able to review the strides that nuclear research and energy had actually made to that point. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

"Classics Illustrated: The Atomic Age"
Published by Gilberton Company, Inc., New York, New York, 1960.

This special issue traces the history of atomic science, illustrates how atomic energy works, shows how to build a radiation detector, and discusses the variety of peacetime uses of atomic energy. It ends with a list of predictions including atomic-powered trains and a disease-free world. Courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries' Comic Art Collection.

Geiger counter Manufactured by A.C. Gilbert Company, New Haven, Connecticut, 1950-1960.

When the Gilbert Company learned that the Geiger counter was the most popular piece in their Atomic Energy Lab, they began to package and market it separately. The Geiger counter came with an instruction booklet on uranium prospecting. Courtesy of John Wickland.

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text