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

  • Robert F. Bukaty / AP

    Photos of the Week: Sun Biter, Solar Probe, Belgian Bovines

    Flowers carpet Brussels, a farewell is bid to Aretha Franklin, abandoned share bikes find homes in Germany, a cardboard Viking church collapses in Liverpool, a bridge collapses in Italy, and much more.

  • Walter Iooss. Jr. / Getty

    Photos: The Queen of Soul's Amazing Career

    A collection of images of Aretha Franklin’s incredible life of performance, spanning the past five decades.

  • Fiona Goodall / Getty for Lumix

    A Visit to Tuvalu, Surrounded by the Rising Pacific

    Fiona Goodall, a photographer working with Getty Images, recently visited the tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, a country battling rising sea levels with limited resources.

  • Peter Morgan / Reuters

    Photos: 15 Years Since the 2003 Northeast Blackout

    On August 14, 2003, more than 50 million people across eight U.S. states and parts of Canada were left without power for days in the most widespread blackout in North American history.