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

  • Susana Vera / Reuters

    Hopeful Images From 2017

    After another year of news stories that produced photos which can often be difficult or disturbing to view, I’ve made it a tradition to compose an essay of uplifting images from the past year.

  • KCNA / Reuters

    2017 in Photos: Wrapping Up the Year

    Time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2017. Among the events covered in this essay, part 3 of 3: California wildfires, Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico, a farewell to the Cassini spacecraft, and much more.

  • Omar Sobhani / Reuters

    2017 in Photos: A Look at the Middle Months

    Time to take a look back at some of the most memorable events and images of 2017. Among the events covered in this essay, part 2 of 3: Hurricane Harvey hits Texas, France elects a new president, a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S., and much more.

  • Jae C. Hong / AP

    Ferocious Wind-Driven Wildfires Burn Across Southern California

    Some of the strongest Santa Ana winds recorded in years have been pushing several sudden and destructive wildfires across the hills and towns north of Los Angeles.

Join the Discussion