Atomic Heritage Foundation

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

The Trinity Test

The Trinity Test

The Trinity Test

The Trinity Test

Norris Bradbury with the "Gadget" on top of the Trinity test tower

A Long Night’s Vigil

  • The Trinity Test

    The Trinity Test

    Elsie McMillan remembers asking her husband Edwin what would happen at the Trinity Test.

    Narration:  J. Robert Oppenheimer decided to test the plutonium bomb or “Gadget” in the desert of the Alamogordo Bombing Range, about 240 miles from Los Alamos. Oppenheimer named the site “Trinity,” inspired by John Donne’s poetry, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” Elsie McMillan asked her husband Ed what to expect.

    Elsie McMillan: Things were moving fast now. There soon would be a test near Alamogordo at White Sands, the very place we had visited with carefree abandon a few years ago. I asked Ed in all innocence what would happen. It seemed an easy question, with a simple answer. Knowing that it was an atomic bomb they were testing should have made me more aware of what would be involved.

    It was difficult for Ed to tell me. He finally answered, “There will be about 50 of us present, key workers. We ourselves are not absolutely certain what will happen. In spite of calculations, we are going into the unknown.

    “We know that there are three possibilities. One, that we will all be blown to bits, if it is more powerful than we expect. If this happens, you and the world will be immediately told. Two, it may be a complete dud. If this happens, you will also be told. Third, it may, as we hope, be a success, we pray without loss of any lives. In this case, there will be a broadcast to the world with a plausible explanation for the noise and the tremendous flash of light which will appear in the sky.”

    With our alarms set for 2:30 a.m., Ed would leave at 3:15. We did not want to allow much time. We did not want to say goodbye. 

  • A Long Night’s Vigil

    A Long Night's Vigil

    Elsie McMillan vividly describes waiting with her neighbor Lois Bradbury for word that the Trinity Test had been a success.

    Narrator: Elsie McMillan remembers waiting up all night to see a glimpse of the test with her neighbor Lois Bradbury. Lois’ husband Norris Bradbury was in charge of the final assembly of the “Gadget,” or plutonium test bomb.

    Elsie McMillan: There was a light tap on my door. There stood Lois Bradbury, my friend and neighbor. She knew. Her husband was out there, too. She said her children were asleep, and would be all right since she was so close and could check on them every so often.

    “Please, can’t we stay together this long night?” she said. We talked of many things, of our men, whom we love so much, of the children, their futures, of the war with all its horrors. We kept the radio going softly, despite the fact our last word had been that the test would probably be at 5:00 a.m. We dared not turn it off.

    Suddenly, there was a flash and the whole sky lighted up. The time was 5:32 a.m. The baby didn’t notice. We were too fearful and awed to speak.

    The news came. “Flash! The explosive dump at the Alamogordo airfield has exploded. No lives are lost. This explosion is what caused the tremendous sound and the light in the sky.”

    We looked at each other. It was a success. Could we believe the announcement, no lives are lost? They had not said no injuries. We had hours to wait to be absolutely sure. At least it was over with.

    Lois went home to grab a few hours of rest before her family might awaken. I, too, crawled into bed, but found I could not sleep. The day dragged on. I tried walking the mesa with the children, but by lunchtime home was where I wanted to be.

    The door opened about 6:00 o’clock in the evening. We were in each other’s arms. Then, and only then, did the tears come streaming down my face.

Quick Fact:
The Trinity Test was the world's first nuclear weapons test. It took place on July 16, 1945, at Alamogordo, NM.