Enter a search request and press enter. Press Esc or the X to close.
Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Lauren Grizzard
Hey you! Yeah, you! Can I let you in on a secret? It’s a very big secret. The size of an entire city type of secret. That’s because this secret WAS an entire city. A city that didn’t exist when Pearl Harbor was bombed and was built entirely by the government in 1942: Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Before 1942, Oak Ridge looked like the landscape often seen in East Tennessee: large plots of land with many hills and valleys. For that reason, it became the site of a secret project for the United States government called the Manhattan Project. The goal at Oak Ridge was to build an entire city protected by a large fence that would have 24/7 security and bring families to live and work there. That doesn’t sound like it needs to be a secret, does it? But people living and working in Oak Ridge had to promise not to talk about any part of their jobs, even to other people living in the city. Because Oak Ridge was built for the war effort during World War II, there was a common fear that you could tell information to the wrong person and it get to the enemy.
So, what were they doing that needed that much secrecy? Not even the workers of Oak Ridge knew! Workers were given specific, repetitive tasks that they knew would help the war effort. You may be given a job to keep the line of a gauge in a certain place by flipping switches and turning knobs, and you didn’t know why the line needed to be there, but day-in and day-out you would make sure you did that job. It wasn’t only men that helped work these jobs, but women as well. (Be sure to watch the video posted below to learn a bit more about the women in the Secret City!)
In 1945, the secret of Oak Ridge’s purpose would be revealed through a newspaper headline:
Except for top scientists working at Oak Ridge and the other sites involved forming the Manhattan Project, most of the workers didn’t know they had been helping to build the atomic bomb that would be used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. World War II ended soon after the bombings and many at Oak Ridge felt like they had helped contribute to ending the six-year long war. Some historians now think that the war would have ended without the bombings, but we will never know for certain if that is true. What we do know is that the workers of Oak Ridge lived and worked in secrecy to do what they felt was right and protect the Secret City. You can still visit Oak Ridge today and see some of the original buildings from 1942. There is even still an active scientific laboratory there! But thankfully, this historic town isn’t a secret you have to keep.
Repetitive – To do the same thing over and over, Repeat.
Contribute – Give something to help reach a goal.
Historians – 1) people who study history.
2) a student or writer of history
What part of Tennessee was Oak Ridge built: East, Middle, or West?
What war was going on while the Secret City was built?
Imagine you lived and worked in Oak Ridge. How would you feel not being able to talk about your job to your friends and family?
How do you think the workers in Oak Ridge felt helping build a bomb without knowing? How would that make you feel?
Check out this video to see more about the lives of those who lived and worked in Oak Ridge:
5.49 Describe Tennessee’s contributions during World War I and World War II, including: the conversion of factories to wartime production, the importance of Oak Ridge, and the influence of Tennesseans (i.e., Cornelia Fort, Cordell Hull, and Alvin C. York).
TN.53 Evaluate Tennessee’s contributions during World War II, including the impact of Camp Forrest, Camp Tyson, and Oak Ridge as well as the influence of Tennesseans during the war (e.g., Cornelia Fort and Cordell Hull).
Lauren Grizzard is the Scheduling Coordinator at the Tennessee State Museum.