1950 to 1959: The Two Superpowers

1950 to 1959: The Two Superpowers

Timeline Image: 
Newspaper with headline "Truman says Russia set of Atom blast"

May 25, 1953

U.S. military conducts Shot Grable of Operation Upshot-Knothole, the first test of a nuclear artillery shell from a 280mm AFAP (Artillery Fired Atomic Projectile). The explosion yielded 15 kilotons and was the second ever US detonation of a gun-type design nuclear weapon.

November 16, 1952

The United States tests a second nuclear device during Operation IVY known as the "King Shot". This device was dropped from an aircraft and exploded at an altitude of 1480 feet above its target. The explosion, which derived its energy entirely from fission, was extremely large and probably yielded somewhere around 500 kilotons.

November 1, 1952

The United States tests its first ever thermonuclear device at Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific during Operation IVY. The Mike Shot yielded 10 megatons of TNT and was roughly 1000 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima seven years earlier.

November 1, 1951

The US military conducts the Dog Shot of Operation Buster, a 21 kiloton airdrop fission bomb with a composite plutonium-uranium core. As part of Operation Desert Rock I, thousands of military personnel were present to simulate activity on a nuclear battlefield.

May 8-9, 1951

The U.S. conducts the "George" nuclear test at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean as part of Operation Greenhouse. The "George" test involved a device in which a relatively large fission yield was to be used to ignite a relatively small mass of thermonuclear fuel. According to Edward Teller, the success of the "George" shot was pivotal in the development of the Super and provided scientists with the confidence to proceed along further speculations of thermonuclear design principles.

May 1951

The United States begins Operation Greenhouse, a series of nuclear tests conducted at Eniwetok Atoll to test various design principles that would later become pivotal in the development of thermonuclear weapons. The purpose of these tests was to reduce the size, weight, and amount of fissile material necessary for nuclear weapons, while simultaneously increasing their destructive power.

March 1951

Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam come up with a promising design (the details of which are still highly classified) to facilitate the ignition of a large mass of thermonuclear fuel by a relatively small fission explosion. Calculations based on the new design commenced immediately, most of them done by Los Alamos scientists. In addition, scientists used some of the earliest computing machines to help with calculations.