An Explosive Beauty Pageant: Miss Atomic Bomb

Mushroom clouds were visible from downtown Las Vegas, no doubt spurring some of the fascination with the bombs that led to the Miss Atom Bomb fad.

Mushroom clouds were visible from downtown Las Vegas, no doubt spurring some of the fascination with the bombs that led to the Miss Atom Bomb fad.

Today we view the atom bomb as a terrifying weapon that could potentially wipe out humanity. Early in the Cold War, however, the American public held a different view of the bomb and atomic power in general. While anxieties about the potential deadly effects were there, a sense of excitement about the brand new power source seemed to outweigh that, no doubt partially stoked by government propaganda, even as the government began to body snatch to try and figure out how deadly the bomb’s radiation was.

This was a time when the atom seemed to be ale to do anything, when slapping a nuclear reactor into a car seemed like a good idea. The public was fascinated with the nuclear tests being performed at the Nevada Test Site. Visible from the city of Las Vegas, the testing drew tourists curious to see the power of the atom at work. A weird, short lived offshoot of this clamoring was the atomic pin-up girl.


Four known “Miss Atomic Bombs”

The first of the atomic pin-up girls was Candyce King, an actress who appeared at Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Her photo appeared on May 9, 1952 in the Dixon Illinois Evening Telegraph and the Statesville, North Carolina Daily Record. She was dubbed Miss Atomic Blast by US Marines participating in maneuvers associated with nuclear testing at Yucca Flats.

Miss A-Bomb was crowned a year later, during the Upshot-Knothole series of tests. The city of North Las Vegas held its annual beauty contest, selecting Paula Harris as Miss North Las Vegas 1953. She rode a movie themed float, based on the movie “The Atomic City,” The sign on the side of the float said that North Las Vegas was “as new and modern as the A-Bomb,” and Miss Harris was dubbed “Miss A-Bomb.”

Perhaps the most famous test conducted during atmospheric testing was known as Operation Cue. It tested the impact of atomic blasts on a mock town. The test was delayed several times, and personnel began to dub the test “Operation Mis-Cue.” During a delay, some of the personnel went to Las Vegas. Six US Army men dubbed Linda Lawson, a Copa Girl at the Sands Hotel “Mis-Cue.” A photo of her being crowned with a mushroom cloud was released on May 1, 1955.

The last Miss Atomic Bomb was crowned two years later. She was Lee A. Merlin, and her photo with a large cotton mushroom cloud affixed to the front of her white swimsuit. This was the most widely dispersed of the Miss Atomic Bomb photos, appearing in publications worldwide.


End of Miss Atomic Bomb

By the end of the 1950’s, the public had become more aware of the dangers associated with nuclear testing. Testing began to move underground, and no longer held the same allure it did early in the Cold War. Miss Atomic Bomb became a relic of an era when, for lack of a better term, the A-bomb was considered “sexy.”



“Miss Atom Bomb.” DOE/NV August 2013.