When did the history of the Atom bomb begin?

The beginning of the history of the atom bomb is usually associated with the successful test of the American atom bomb in June 1945. However, the history of the atom bomb begins earlier in time than this date if we consider the Science behind the bomb, which I consider as the starting point of the atom bomb.

Origins of the bomb trace back to 460 BC, the year Greek philosopher Democritus was born, who formed the atomic theory, which Titus Lucretius further developed. Fast-forwarding to the Nineteenth century, John Dalton developed “Dalton’s Laws of Partial Pressures”, explaining the behaviour of atoms in relation to the measurement of their weight, becoming the first scientist to do so. Dalton’s work allowed other scientists to develop his ideas.

Ernest Rutherford is responsible for atom nucleus development, proposing that the entire mass of an atom was concentrated in a small core. Rutherford focused on atom structure. He proposed that elements could be assigned an atomic number in relation to an elements property. In 1919, Rutherford conducted an experiment, which saw hydrogen atom production. Rutherford explained that nitrogen in the air transformed after colliding with alpha particles. Rutherford’s discoveries were “a massive tremor to pass through the world of physics, but the real world felt hardly a bump”, his work appeared to be a small discovery; to Physicists it was a great breakthrough.

Marie Curie’s work in the field of radiation was “instrumental to Image result for marie curie radiationthe future development of the atomic bomb”. Curie discovered that Thorium emitted radiation, and that the amount of radiation present depended on element size, concluding that radioactivity does not relate to the atom structure. One of Curie’s assistants worked in the United States as a part of their atom bomb project, proving that Curie’s work has a long lasting legacy.

In 1905 Albert Einstein developed the mass-energy conversion equation (E = mc2)Einstein’s contribution continues later on in the history of the atom bomb. In 1919, British Scientists had successfully transformed atoms of Nitrogen into Oxygen, which was one-step further to being able to create a bomb. Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron, which became vital to splitting a nucleus. In 1938, fission of the nucleus of Uranium through neutron bombardment was discovered; this could release enough power for an atom bomb. This research took place in Germany; it was an alarming thought the Nazi owning nuclear weapons, prompting the US to start their programme.

Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt about German advancements in 1939.  Roosevelt agreed to create a bomb for the US resulting in ‘The Manhattan Project’. The Manhattan Project was “perhaps the largest organized effort since the construction of the ancient pyramids”. In July 1945, the first atom bomb was tested in New Mexico. This stage can be considered the beginning of atom bomb history as this is the first time one had been released onto Earth. We can consider the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, as the beginning of the atom bomb, there were the first bombs released purposely.

The beginning of atom bomb history is debatable. For some the Chinese atom bomb in 1964 is the beginning, for the developing world this was a victory against imperialism, encouraging other developing countries to consider nuclear programmes. For me the History of the atom bomb began when the first science advancements began, without these nuclear programmes would be impossible. The history of the atom bomb is ongoing and will be for as long as programmes are developed, it is up to you to decide when you think the history officially began.

Patrice Atherton




De, Groot G. J. The Bomb: A History of Hell on Earth. London: Pimlico, 2005

Gull, Imrana. “History of Nuclear Non-Proliferation.” Pakistan Horizon, vol. 53, no. 2/3, 2000, pp. 89–96. www.jstor.org/stable/41393961.

History – Atomic Bomb, available at: http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-ww2/atomic-bomb [accessed 13/11/16 at 16:50]

Nobelprize.org – The development and proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/educational/peace/nuclear_weapons/readmore.html [accessed 13/11/16 at 16:43]

Pasachoff, N. (2008) ‘Marie Curie: And the Science of Radioactivity’ Oxford University Press




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