This item was intended to be a one sentence item about Miss Atomic Bomb for a trivia post but ended up growing).
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the US was testing its atomic bombs above ground in the desert of Nevada, the dangers and risks of radiation and radioactive fallout remained unknown.
Between 1945 and 2008 there were over 2,000 nuclear tests world wide. Of these, 1,054 were by America.
Despite the Cold War and the beginning of the nuclear arms race, atomic energy was regarded as the bright, new energy source for the future:
Children’s toys and chemistry sets contained radioactive material without any second thoughts:
Not only did people watch the testing on TV, they also gathered to watch the tests from nearby, in the open air. Soldiers were deliberately exposed for testing.
VIP observers watching testing during Operation Greenhouse at Enewetak Atoll, 1951
Soldiers being exposed to a nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site in 1951
These five volunteers were standing at ground zero when a 2KT nuclear war headed air-to-air missile, Genie, was exploded 15,000 feet above their heads, to demonstrate that the weapon was safe for use over populated areas. Whether this affected the health of the officers is unknown.
The testing of "Small Boy" in 1962
Cameramen at the Nevada Test Site, May 25, 1953
More than 1000 nuclear devices were detonated at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1992.
Apart from its nuclear testing, Nevada was also known for something else: Las Vegas. Located about 100 kilometres (65 miles) from the test site, Vegas club owners and business proprietors were quick to cash in on the proximity. Bars, restaurants, hotels—essentially anywhere with a roof and a view—hosted atomic blast viewing parties on their roofs, often offering complimentary sunglasses and sunshades to their blast-viewing patrons.
Some vintage Las Vegas postcards:
Vegas was known for gambling, palatial casinos and showgirls.
Between 1952 and 1957 there were four appointments of showgirls as atomic beauty queens.
The El Rancho Vegas held one of the earliest atomic blast picnics in 1952. Their picnic had an accompanying beauty pageant, which was won by Candyce King, dubbed "Miss Atomic Blast", a showgirl at the Last Frontier Hotel. King apparently donned an atomic bomb style hairdo that required a toilet paper roll and two cans of hairspray for support.
In addition to the normal beauty queen trappings, King was presented with a ten pound bag of mushrooms (think mushroom cloud) by the Pennsylvania Mushroom Growers Association. King, as Miss Atomic Blast, had the honour of lighting the Stardust’s iconic mushroom-cloud-meets-falling-atomic-stars sign for the first time.
The Stardust sign by day. . .
. . and at night.
In 1953, the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce chose “Atomic City” as the theme of the annual parade and beauty pageant. Paula Harris, who became known as "Miss A-Bomb", won the pageant and rode on the chamber of commerce’s float, which bore a sign likening the city’s modernity to that of the A-Bomb.
In 1955 the military sought to carry out Operation Cue, a series of tests designed to test how well suburbia and its trappings survived an atomic bomb blast. After a series of delays, the operation came to be known as “Operation Mis-Cue.” During one such delay 6 soldiers crowned a Copa Girl named Linda Lawson as Miss Cue, using a tiara made from wire and cotton bunting in the shape of a mushroom cloud. The Sands used the photographs as atomic publicity shots.
The most famous and most well known “Miss Atomic Bomb” was Copa Showgirl Lee A. Merlin, pictured at the top of this post and below. She was crowned, coinciding with Operation Pumbbob, while wearing a cotton mushroom cloud on the front of her swimsuit (although what is visible looks more like Bridget Jones' knickers). The popular photograph by Don English was distributed nationally. She was the last “Miss Atomic Bomb.”
Btw, The Killers used the first photo for the cover of their album "Miss atomic Bomb:
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