November 1, 1952 – The U.S. Detonates the World’s First Hydrogen Bomb

On this date, the U.S. detonated the world’s first thermonuclear weapon, the hydrogen bomb, on Elugelab Island in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. This island was located in the Marshall Islands about 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. The bomb, given the code name “Mike,” was as large as a building, weighing some 82 tons. Getting it set up took more than 11,000 civilians and military personnel in the vicinity of Eniwetok. A two-mile long tunnel was also built extending from the bomb to another island and filled with helium balloons that would provide data on the progress of the fusion reaction.

“Mike” was detonated remotely from the control ship Estes, which was stationed 30 miles away from ground zero. Within 90 seconds the fire ball had reached 57,000 feet. The cloud, when it had reached its furthest extent, was about 100 miles wide. The explosion wiped the small island Elugelab off the face of the planet, and destroyed life on the surrounding islands.

Elugelab Island, before and after

Elugelab Island, before and after

The new weapon was approximately 1,000 times more powerful than conventional nuclear devices. News of the event was not released until two weeks later, in a three-paragraph announcement by The Atomic Energy Commission.

The shot was documented by the filmmakers of Lookout Mountain studios. The film was accompanied by powerful, Wagner-esque music and was narrated by actor Reed Hadley. After the test, a private screening was given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was later released to the public after censoring, and was shown on commercial television channels.

The mushroom cloud of the first U.S. test of a hydrogen bomb, "Ivy Mike", as photographed on Eniwetok, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, in 1952. Photograph: REUTERS

The mushroom cloud of the first U.S. test of a hydrogen bomb, “Ivy Mike”, as photographed on Eniwetok, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, in 1952. Photograph: REUTERS

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