What is Atomland-on-Mars?

1. The phrase that New York Times reporter William L. Laurence, the only media representative let into the Manhattan Project during the war, used to describe the production facilities for the atomic bomb and their awe-inspiring size and strangeness:

"During the course of my journey I discovered that in less than three years our scientists and engineers, backed by our great industries, had built an Atomland-on-Mars, a scientific Never-Never Land, where the accepted 'impossibilities' of yesterday had become actualities of staggering dimensions, in both time and space."
Dawn Over Zero (1946)
Cover to William L. Laurence's "Dawn over Zero".

2. A place for me to put up some of the more interesting visual things I have run across in the course of my research on the history of nuclear weapons.

Who made this site?

My name is Alex Wellerstein, and I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, writing a dissertation on the history of nuclear weapons secrecy in the United States. I have worked on projects related to nuclear history for professors at Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley, and for the U.S. Department of Energy.

I am a very visually-oriented person and in the course of my research and work I have come across a lot of unusual atomic imagery. Much of it is not the sort of thing that I have any real excuse to use in my actual work, so I have created this little site as a place to host some of it. I hope you enjoy it. I have tried to restrain myself from giving copious commentary on the images (so maybe you will indulge me for going on-and-on here).

I intend to update this site whenever I find something more worth putting on it and have the time to do so.

Who made these images? What is their copyright status?

I did not create any of these images. In cases where the photographer is known to me, I have tried to indicate it. The photographers and artists who created these images get all of the creative and artistic credit. I am in their debt.

All of the images on this site, as far as I know, are in the public domain, usually because they are works of the federal government. Please feel free to contact me if you know otherwise.

It might also be worth saying here that all of these images have been declassified. (And in some cases, the story of their declassification is as interesting as the images themselves—but you might have to wait until I turn my dissertation into a book to read about that!)

I have sometimes made minor repairs or adjustments to the images, but I explicitly want to state that I do not consider such operations in my case to have added any copyrightable, creative content to the images. I do not believe that the process of scanning in public domain imagery should create a new copyright, and I do not believe that simply because one has spent time and resources in restoring old imagery that such actions create a new copyright either. The law is often unclear on this, and there are certainly a number of people out there who would like it if my opinion were not how things worked, but in my own case I will never make any copyright claim over such actions.

If you plan to use these images elsewhere, you may consider crediting myself and my site as the place that drew them to your attention, as a courtesy. But there is no legal compulsion for you to do this.

On the other hand, all other site content, including layout, presentation, selection, and arrangement of images, I consider to be copyrighted. What this means is that you cannot just create a duplicate of my site, or take all of the same images that I have in the same order that I have them and call it your own work. I have put a lot of work into the arrangement and selection of images and consider that my creative contribution. I reserve all such rights.

Note that as far as I have been able to tell, Dawn Over Zero did not have its copyright renewed. So I'm assuming that the cover has probably had an expired copyright as well.

Is this political?

Yes and no. "Yes" in the sense that one can hardly talk about nuclear weapons and not be political — they are technological objects whose power has kept them political from long before the first nuclear detonation made their power obvious. However, I would argue that exactly what sort of politics the weapons necessitate has never been unambiguous. The attempt to articulate what those politics are has been the heart of much of the policy discourse about the bomb.

But this site is not political in the sense that it is trying to advocate any particular politics. I certainly have my own political point of view on nuclear weapons, historical and contemporary, but I am not really much of a political advocate, and this is not my soapbox.

This site is not meant to fetishize or glorify nuclear weapons. It is not meant to condemn them or the United States for producing them, or using them, either. It is not meant to make light of them, or to parody the Cold War. There is of course some risk of both with a site whose purpose is to look at the nuclear world through the lens of "oddity," or to get swept up by the sublime nature of such power. But my goal is for this site to raise questions, not answer them. I do not consider it to have any simple, coherent "message."

Contact information

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions, comments, etc.

Higher-resolution versions of most of the images are available.

Alex Wellerstein
Department of the History of Science
Harvard University
Science Center 371
Cambridge, MA 02138
E-mail: wellerst_at_fas_dot_harvard_dot_edu
Main website: http://wellerstein.net

Text, layout, arrangement, and selection © Alex Wellerstein, 2008. Images are in the public domain.