Man and the Atom
Posted On: 01/22/2018 - 12:49pm, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
At 10 am on November 9, 1948, the doors of Music Hall opened to admit curious Cincinnatians to a fascinating exhibit, “Man and the Atom,” on the first day of a two-week run in the city. The exhibition featured displays and demonstrations explaining the science behind atomic energy and stressed its current and future constructive uses.
Cincinnati Atomic Age Exhibit Program, Music Hall, November 9-21, 1948. CMC Printed Works Collection.
The exhibit was the creation of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in conjunction with the Mayor of New York’s Committee for Atomic Energy. This exhibit was a part of the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the City of New York in August and September of 1948. The main theme, and one of the goals of the Atomic Energy Commission, was to show the public the peacetime uses of atomic energy and dispel some of the mystery and fear surrounding the subject.
The producers of the exhibit acknowledged the military use of atomic energy in weapons, which included over-sized reproductions of newspaper pages from August 7 and 12, 1945, the dates the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan during World War II. The Air Force also contributed a display. The military use of atomic energy was only discussed in the context of historical background since the focus of the whole project was peacetime beneficial uses.
The atomic exhibit featured two large models in a display prepared by General Electric Co. that showed how atomic plants could someday supply entire cities with light, heat, and power. The Cincinnati Enquirer noted that these plants only existed theoretically and “that scientists hope that they can solve the huge engineering problems involved and eliminate forever the dependence of mankind on coal and oil, supplies of which may someday be exhausted.” The production of radioactive isotopes and their medical, biological, industrial, and agricultural uses were carefully explained in the displays. The American Cancer Society display introduced the therapeutic effects of radioactive isotopes and described the healing effects achieved to date by X-ray and radium in the treatment of cancer.
Allan Katzberg of the Institutum Divi Thomae shows Mrs. Alfred Friedlander a model of a future atomic energy plant at the “Man and the Atom” exhibit. Cincinnati Enquirer, Tuesday, November 9, 1948.
Radiological safety was stressed. It was pointed out that the hundreds of thousands of men and women who worked in the giant atomic energy plants scattered across the country did so in “complete safety.” Various radiation detection instruments and devices were demonstrated and explained, including Geiger counters that were incorporated at several points in the exhibit. Spectators could hear the clicking of a Geiger counter in a display that turned dimes radioactive and “then handed them back to their donors with a special protective device which enables them to be carried safely.” The dime demonstration was only one area where Geiger counters clicked away. A toy electric train “carries an actual piece of radium around lead and concrete shields to show what protection from radio activity these materials offer.”
Cincinnati Atomic Age Exhibit Program, pg.5. CMC Printed Works Collection.
The exhibit included knowledgeable volunteer “narrators” who wandered the floor helping to explain the displays to visitors and answer the inevitable technical questions. Narrators included physics professors and instructors from the University of Cincinnati, as well as local high school teachers.
Thousands attended the atomic exhibit during its run at Music Hall. A large number of those who attended were students. Attendance on the second day of the exhibit totaled 6,000, half of whom were school children marveling at the displays. The Cincinnati Enquirer talked with students who had attended and reported that many felt much of the content “went over their heads” because of insufficient time to assimilate the displays and absorb the information. Nevertheless, some 26,000 students had registered to see the exhibit by November 10th under a program initiated by the superintendents of the Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati Parochial Schools, and the Covington, Kentucky Schools.
Dr. Fitzhugh B. Marshall decorates a model atom built by Westinghouse scientists with Christmas tree lights. Cincinnati Enquirer, November 11, 1948.
As visitors exited the Man and the Atom exhibit at Music Hall, they encountered a “Dedication to Peace” prepared by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It read in part, “In your progress through this hall, you have viewed some faint foreshadowing of the glories that the atomic age can hold for humanity. You have seen how this majestic force of the universe may lift suffering and drudgery, increase material abundance, and open noble new realms of the mind and spirit.” But it also warned that each of us shared “the compelling task of helping to avert the use of atomic energy to send civilization to smash.”
The CMC Printed Works Collection contains a twelve-page program for the 1948 Man and the Atom exhibition at Music Hall.