After the April 22, 1952, televised broadcast of the bomb, atomic culture swept the nation, and Las Vegas became the epicenter of the craze. The mushroom cloud associated with the bomb became an icon for Las Vegas, adorning postcards, candy, toys, showgirls' headdresses and more. Las Vegas establishments like the Flamingo and the Sands hawked the Atomic Cocktail, the Atomic Hairdo and Miss Atomic Bomb beauty contests.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce issued a calendar for tourists, listing the scheduled times of the bomb detonations and the best places to view them. The Sky Room at the Desert Inn, offering a panoramic view of the Nevada horizon, was a favorite watch spot of tourists, as was nearby Mount Charleston. Many tourists packed "atomic box lunches" and had picnics as close to ground zero as the government restrictions would allow. On the eve of detonations, many Las Vegas businesses held "Dawn Bomb Parties." Beginning at midnight, guests would drink and sing until the flash of the bomb lit up the night sky.
One Bomb Every Three Weeks for 12 Years
In addition to generating tourism, the Nevada Test Site also brought thousands of military personnel, thousands of jobs and more than $176 million in federal funds to the region, two-thirds of which went back into Las Vegas' economy. For twelve years, an average of one bomb every three weeks was detonated, at a total of 235 bombs. Flashes from the explosions were so powerful that they could reportedly be seen from as far away as Montana. Scientists claimed that the radiation's harmful effects would have dissipated and been harmless once the shock waves reached Las Vegas, and they scheduled tests to coincide with weather patterns that blew fallout away from the city. However, as the tests continued, people in northeastern Nevada and southern Utah began complaining that their pets and livestock were suffering from beta particle burns and other ailments; by 1963 the Limited Test Ban was in effect, banning above ground nuclear testing at the site.
My dad worked at Jackass Flats (Nevada test site). He knew when the test was going to go off, and would take me for breakfast to the Landmark Hotel. There was a restaurant at the top and we would have a little countdown. When the shockwave hit the hotel, the restaurant would sway. I have vivid memories of the glass of orange juice in front of me tilting back-and-forth.
There is still a bar on Fremont Street in Las Vegas called Atomic Liquors. They used to set up lawn chairs on the roof so they could watch the nuclear tests with a nice cold drink in their hands.