In 1942, as part of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government acquired 70,000 acres of land in Eastern Tennessee and established a secret town called Oak Ridge. The name chosen to keep outside speculation to a minimum, because Oak Ridge served a vital role for the development of the atomic bomb. The massive complex of massive factories, administrative buildings and every other place a normal town needs to function, was developed for the sole purpose of separating uranium for the Manhattan Project. The completely planned community was designed by the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, and had a population of more than 70,000 people. Due to the sensitive nature of the work at Oak Ridge, the entire town was fenced in with armed guards and the entire place — much like the Manhattan Project in general — was a secret of the highest concern.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office recently started to digitize its collection of archival photos and share them through Flickr; and this group of images from the 1940s are part of those recently released. Amazingly, some people at the DOE are ACL readers and they passed along the link to all of these great pictures, knowing my curiosity for such things.
The Manhattan Project has long fascinated me and much has been written and said about the top-secret program. The scale, cost and secrecy of Oak Ridge makes it an utterly intriguing story. To see the images from Oak Ridge during that era is incredible, even if most of the photos are staged shots of the day-to-day lives of the people that worked on this project. It’s an interesting look back at a program that, for better or worse, drastically changed the world.
More info about the photography from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Most of them were taken by Ed Westcott [pictured above], who was the only person allowed to photography the Oak Ridge reservation during the Manhattan Project. Aside from documenting the operations of the project, he spent a lot of time capturing everyday life within the 70,000 acre top secret city. All of the photos with people were meticulously posed.