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).

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Andrew Lichtenstein

    The Power of Protest Photography

    A new exhibition captures the rallies, riots, marches, and demonstrations that erupted in New York City between 1980 and 2000.

  • Bryan Woolston / Reuters

    Photos of the Women's Marches Around the World

    Images of today’s marches in Washington, New York, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and from other cities in England, Ghana, France, Canada, Serbia, Australia, Kenya, Germany, India, and many more.

  • Elizabeth Conley

    Americans at Work: A Church for the Unemployed

    Part of our ongoing series of photo essays at The Atlantic titled “Americans at Work.” This week, photographs of the NorthWest Bible Church’s Between Jobs Ministry in Spring, Texas, made by photographer Elizabeth Conley.

  • Scott Olson / Getty

    Photos of the Inauguration of President Donald J. Trump

    On January 20, 2017, the peaceful transfer of American power took place in Washington, DC, as Barack Obama, passed the office to Donald J. Trump.

Join the Discussion