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

  • Attila Balazs / MTI via AP

    Photos of the Week: 4/22–4/28

    Bats roosting in Israel, continued anti-government protests in Venezuela, Amazon’s glass spheres under construction in Seattle, ANZAC Day in Australia, and much more.

  • Christophe Simon / AFP / Getty

    Iraqi Christians Slowly Return to War-Damaged Qaraqosh

    In August of 2014, ISIS militants swept through towns near Mosul, Iraq, taking control and forcing thousands to flee. The Christian city of Qaraqosh was retaken by Iraqi forces in October of 2016, but the it remains almost completely deserted.

  • Tauseef Mustafa / AFP / Getty

    Unrest in Kashmir Surges Once More

    Anti-government protests have escalated again in Indian-administered Kashmir, following violent clashes earlier this month.

  • Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

    The Masks We Wear

    We wear masks for many reasons: for fun, for protection, or to make a statement.

Join the Discussion