Welcome to the Secret City

Brief History of Oak Ridge

Not until the bombing of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 did citizens of Oak Ridge, Tennessee fully understand their role in the war effort. Built from scratch in 1942 as a site used to develop materials for the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge operated under a code of complete secrecy. Billboards, such as the one pictured below, were common place and encouraged citizens to remain stoic and unquestioning of their daily work for the sake of the war.

Oak Ridge billboard. Courtesy of Department of Energy archives/Ed Westcott photo

Selected for the area’s low population, accessibility to highways and railroads, and readily available utilities, Oak Ridge proved an ideal location to break ground on the government’s new project. Prior to construction, the federal government was tasked with erasing the surrounding rural farming communities, an act not uncommon for the Appalachian area. Some families were given as little as two weeks to quickly evacuate and relocate elsewhere.

Local tradition of Oak Ridge maintains that the town eccentric, John Hendrix, predicted the creation of such a city years earlier in 1900. With his trademark phrase, “I’ve seen it. It’s coming,” Hendrix relayed his prophecy to all who listened and regaled them with his visions of a future city with great buildings and factories striving to win the world’s greatest war.

Construction of K-25 plant, 1942. Courtesy of Department of Energy archives/Ed Westcott photo











Next Section: Women Workers of Oak Ridge