Building the town that helped build the atom bomb.

Town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Manhattan District, Corps of Engineers.

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SKU: NL-01392 Categories: ,
Date: September 27, 1945
Place: Not listed (presumably Chicago or NYC)
Dimensions: Map: 112 x 43 cm (43 x 17 in); Folded: 8.5 x 5.5 in.
Condition Rating: VG
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This map is a product of the Manhattan Project, the mission to develop nuclear weapons during the Second World War. It shows plans for the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an entirely planned “secret city” built by the Army Corps of Engineers and the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1943. The site was chosen because of its remoteness, given the dangerous nature of the research and production to be carried out there. The facilities, initially named the Clinton Engineer Works and then Clinton Laboratories before becoming Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), were tasked with producing enriched uranium, which was eventually used in the Little Boy atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The X-10 Graphite Reactor at ORNL, constructed in 1943, was the world’s second nuclear reactor and the first one designed and built for continuous operation.

Tens of thousands of construction workers were brought in to build the facilities at Oak Ridge, followed by tens of thousands of researchers, engineers, and staff who lived largely in isolation from the surrounding communities and had to abide by strict secrecy. In the closing months of the war when Oak Ridge was at its busiest, over 80,000 people were employed at the Clinton Engineering Works. Workers were only told what was necessary to carry out their specific part of the much larger undertaking and very few knew about the atomic weapons program until after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. They were subject to constant reminders about secrecy and underwent regular security screenings (even still, two workers at Oak Ridge leaked atomic secrets to the Soviets).

The planning and construction of the town was not without controversy. To save time, farmers in the area were rapidly dispossessed of their land and forced to accept whatever compensation the government deemed fair. Even during the war, the methods used led to criticism and investigations, including in Congress. 

Moreover, due to restrictions imposed on federal funding by Southern Democrats in Congress, Oak Ridge was built as a segregated community, with black residents confined to single-room “hutments” in a separate area, marked here as “Gamble Valley Trailer Camp.” These small huts, resembling miniature army barracks, had originally been built as temporary housing for construction workers. As in the South more broadly, facilities such as restrooms and buses were also segregated spaces. Even black scientists who had worked on the early phases of the Manhattan Project were not exempted from these restrictions and instead moved on to other laboratories and projects.  

After the war, the number of people employed at the laboratory declined dramatically and the town of Oak Ridge was turned over to civilian control. Still, research on nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and related fields continued and ORNL has recently added a focus on supercomputers; it is currently home to the world’s second most powerful supercomputer, named Summit.


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is an architectural and engineering firm that was founded in Chicago in 1936.

Condition Description

Three light stains along center crease, else near fine. Folding map (which has made parts of the scan blurry, although the actual map is not).


Only one copy in OCLC (1198229268), held by the Knox County Public Library System.