Photo Of The Day

Photo: Ed Westcott. Billboards across the town reminded the residents of Oak Bridge to stay tight-lipped and motivated for the job at hand? even if they didn?t understand what they were doing it for.

Photo: Ed Westcott.
Billboards across the town reminded the residents of Oak Bridge to stay tight-lipped and motivated for the job at hand? even if they didn?t understand what they were doing it for.

Oak Ridge Confidential

Cautionary billboards were posted all throughout town warning residents to never speak about their work. Some billboards also had a little extra motivation for people, who did not understand what they were doing it for.

Due to the sensitive nature of the work at Oak Ridge, the entire town was fenced in with armed guards and the entire place was a secret of the highest concern.

Before the fight to win women equal footing in the workplace, there was the fight against Hitler and Hirohito. In the depths of World War II, everyone in America had to pitch in, men and women alike. And in 1943 the government offered war jobs, lots of them, in a town called Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Where is it on a map? What do they do there? What will I do there? The government didn’t give any answers to those questions ? and still the recruits, many of them young women, streamed in.

The one thing they did know was that the work they were going to do there was going to help end the war.

In 1942, Oak Ridge, a small town on the outskirts of Knoxville, Tennessee, joined the top-secret Manhattan Project and helped build the atomic bomb. The residents and workers had no idea what they were working on or why they were even asked to move to the fairly remote town. Only after Hiroshima was ravaged by the atomic bomb in August 1945, did the people of Oak Ridge know that they were actually enriching uranium for one of the most destructive weapons in human history. Later, Oak Ridge would become known as “Atomic City.”

During World War II, a majority of the 75,000 people in Oak Ridge, Tennessee had no idea that they were processing uranium for an atomic bomb until Hiroshima was devastated by one in 1945.

The only things that most people who settled into the “secret city” were told was that their work was important and it would help end the war.

In 1942, the U.S. government purchased 56,000 acres of land west of Knoxville, Tennessee for $3.5 million and established Oak Ridge, a town that was part of the Manhattan Project, the huge top-secret Allied initiative to develop the atomic bomb.

The head of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie Groves, liked the area because it had a small population, which made acquisition affordable and it was easily accessible by train and highway.

Oak Ridge was originally farmland and the few families there were given just two weeks notice by the U.S. government to vacate their homes. Most of these farm homes had been in their families for generations.

Although it was open to the public, even the non-military part of town was fenced off and guarded. Everyone, no matter the ranking, was stopped and checked.

Secrecy was of the utmost importance in Oak Ridge and if someone asked too many questions or even said certain words like ‘helium’ or the name of the equipment he was working on, a government agent would visit him and escort him out of the town.

Of course the secrecy and the billboards everywhere urging workers not to talk about their jobs made people suspicious and rumours started to circulate. One popular rumour was that the town was a prototype socialist community that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt engineered as a part of her master plan to turn the U.S. into a communist country.

Put people to work in a factory, tell them not to ask questions, throw in a few propaganda billboards around the place and you start to see why such theories arose.

So what do you do to fix a problem such as low morale in your secret city?!

You create the ideal wholesome American suburban town, complete with?roller-skating rinks, bowling alleys, sports teams, theatres, shopping & more, of course!

?We were very young,? former worker Colleen Black told?NPR. ?We were so young that we didn?t have a funeral home! And so you got acquainted and you went to the dances on the tennis courts and the bowling alleys, and the recreation hall.?

By 1945, Oak Ridge is a town of 75,000 people, operating 24 hours a day, one of the largest bus systems in the entire United States, and they’re using more electricity than New York City.

Housing for Oak Ridge residents was allocated by the government using a lettering system?according to the status of the workers and the size of their families. Higher ranking workers with bigger families would have been typically allocated an ?F? home, a two story four-unit structure. If a couple got divorced, they might be demoted from a ?B? house to an ?A? house with less living space.

Then there were the ?flat tops?; typically temporary structures for young newcomers, although?chronic shortages of housing and supplies during the war years probably made them a more permanent solution for many.

Like the rest of the world, people in Oak Ridge first learned about the “superbomb” in August 1945, when it was used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, several physicists who participated in the Manhattan Project founded the?Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, to begin an urgent educational program about atomic weapons.

In 1947, just two years after World War II, Oak Ridge was demilitarized and turned into an ordinary civilian town. But certain remains from the days when Oak Ridge was a secret city were left. In 1966, the American Museum of Science and Energy was established and people could tour the control room and reactor face.

?In 1983, the?Department of Energy?declassified a report showing that significant amounts of?mercury?had been released from the Oak Ridge Reservation into the East Fork Poplar Creek between 1950 and 1977.? While a federal court order was given to bring the Oak Ridge Reservation into compliance with environmental regulations, finding out the current status of this may call for an Erin Brockovich moment on a rainy day.

The historic K-25 uranium-enrichment plant wasn?t demolished until May of 2013, while the Y-12 facility,?originally used for electromagnetic separation of uranium, is still in use for nuclear weapons processing and materials storage. And the U.S. government is still the biggest employer in the Knoxville metropolitan area.?As of November 2012, the?Oak Ridge National Laboratory is also home to the world?s fastest supercomputer.

The U.S. Government?s Top-Secret Town

The Secret City: Photos

Photos: The Department of Energy has?recently been digitizing?a large number of photographs of life at Oak Ridge.

Inside America?s Secret Atomic City