Abstract

While most stories of splitting the atom—from Chernobyl to Fukushima and Hiroshima to the Marshall Islands—revolve around images of pure destruction and human misery, the truth is that a much more complicated relationship has existed between nuclear technologies and human existence. This article focuses on agriculture to explore how executive branch policymakers in the United States implemented nuclear technologies in the budding nuclear age. Part of that tale involves how nuclear technologies, especially radioactive isotope tracers, helped improve agricultural science and knowledge. The other side of the story is that agriculture also proved important to the development of nuclear technologies because it provided a clearly peaceful output for atomic research. Atomic agriculture thus frequently assumed a place of prominence for explaining how splitting the atom was a gift to the world and not the red horse rider of the apocalypse.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

NOTES

1. The author would like to thank the editorial staff and anonymous reviewers at
Agricultural History
for their helpful suggestions and advice during the publishing process, along with Sheyda Jahanbani, Sara Gregg, Greg Cushman, Ted Wilson, Johan Feddema, Donald Worster, and Vaughn Scribner. Joe Musial,
Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom!
(
New York
:
King Features Syndicate
,
1949
),
31
.
2.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Sixth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: July 1949
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1949
),
16
.
3. Musial,
Learn
, introduction; Joel B. Hagen,
An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology
(
New Brunswick
:
Rutgers University Press
,
1992
),
100
101
.
4.
Time
50
(
Aug.
4
,
1947
): cover image. In the Christian holy texts, the red horse rider of the Apocalypse represents war. Revelation 6:
3
4
.
5. Paul Boyer,
By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age
(
New York
:
Pantheon
,
1985
),
xviii
. For more on the US atomic program, see, for example, Ferenc M. Szasz,
The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945
(
Albuquerque
:
University of New Mexico Press
,
1984
); J. Samuel Walker,
Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
1997
); Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin,
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
(
New York
:
Alfred A. Knopf
,
2005
); Jenny Barker-Devine,
“‘Mightier Than Missiles’: The Rhetoric of Civil Defense for Rural American Families, 1950–1970,”
Agricultural History
80
(Fall
2006
):
415
35
.
“Material prepared for hearings by the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy,”
Feb.
1957
, p.
23
, official file, folder OF 108-F Atoms For Peace (5), box 453, White House Central Files, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kans. (hereafter DDEL).
6. Deborah Fitzgerald,
Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
2003
),
4
; Edmund Russell,
War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to
Silent Spring (
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
,
2001
); J. L. Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945–1972
(
DeKalb
:
Northern Illinois University Press
,
2009
),
5
12
,
192
; John Fraser Hart,
The Land That Feeds Us
(
New York
:
W. W. Norton
,
1991
); Shane Hamilton,
Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
2008
),
5
.
7. Mike Davis,
Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World
(
New York
:
Verso
,
2001
),
6
,
12
; John Perkins,
Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
1997
),
vi
,
4
; Nick Cullather,
The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia
(
Cambridge
:
Harvard University Press
,
2010
),
ix
,
7
; Kristin L. Ahlberg,
Transplanting the Great Society: Lyndon Johnson and Food for Peace
(
Columbia
:
University of Missouri Press
,
2008
),
4
,
13
20
; Angus Wright,
The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma
(
Austin
:
University of Texas Press
,
1990
),
xi
,
xiv
xv
.
8. Press Release “First Peacetime Application of Atomic Research Becomes Immediately Possible under Army Program,” June 14, 1946, Press Releases [2 of 3], folder Atomic Bomb, box 174, President's Secretary's Files, Papers of Truman, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Mo. (hereafter HSTL).
9.
“Atomic Energy and the American Farmer,”
Dec.
16
,
1947
, p.
1
, folder Atomic Energy— Lilienthal, box 1, subject file
1945
1954
, Papers of Clark Clifford, HSTL.
10. Ibid.,
2
,
5
6
.
11. Ibid.,
6
,
9
,
11
,
12
.
12. Ibid.,
13
16
; Cullather, Hungry World,4.
13.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Fifth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1949
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1949
),
90
91
.
14.
Sixth Semiannual Report
,
18
,
21
,
101
,
104
.
15. In general, the AEC tried to downplay any potential dangers of nuclear energy, especially radiation. See, for example,
“Atomic Bomb, Survival Under Atomic Attack,”
Oct.
29
,
1950
, folder OF 692-A, box 1527, official file, Papers of Truman, HSTL.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Eighth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: July 1950
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1950
),
172
;
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Ninth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1951
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1951
),
24
.
16.
Ninth Semiannual Report
,
24
25
,
28
;
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Tenth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: July 1951
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1951
),
42
44
.
17.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Eleventh Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1952
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1952
),
69
,
71
,
75
.
18. Ibid.,
75
,
81
.
19. Ibid.,
82
83
.
20. John Hersey,
Hiroshima
(1946; repr.,
New York
:
Alfred A. Knopf
,
1981
),
46
.
21.
Eleventh Semiannual Report
,
86
89
,
92
.
22. Ibid.,
93
,
95
,
99
,
101
,
123
26
.
23.
“General Principles Regarding Atomic Energy Development,”
pp.
1
3
, folder Atomic Energy, box 6, Campaign Series, Ann Whitman File, Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers as President, DDEL.
24. Edward L. Schapsmeier and Frederick H. Schapsmeier,
“Eisenhower and Agricultural Reform: Ike's Farm Policy Legacy Appraised,”
American Journal of Economics and Sociology
51
(
Apr
.
1992
):
153
.
25.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Thirteenth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1953
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1953
),
120
;
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Fifteenth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1954
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1954
),
46
.
26.
“Atomic Energy and the Improvement of Agriculture,”
Jan.
12
,
1954
, pp.
6
7
, folder 1, box 449, official file, White House Central Files, DDEL.
27.
“Report of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy,”
vol.
1
,
Jan.
1956
, p.
61
, folder Operation
“Candor”
(
1
), box 9, Administrative Series, Ann Whitman File, Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers as President, DDEL; Cullather,
Hungry World
,
3
4
.
28.
“Report of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,”
64
.
29. Ibid.,
65
67
; Hamilton,
Trucking Country
,
7
.
30.
“Report of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy,”
67
68
.
31.
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Twenty-second Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: July 1957
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1957
),
116
17
;
US Atomic Energy Commission
,
Twenty-third Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission: January 1958
(
Washington, DC
:
GPO
,
1958
),
64
67
.
32. Meeting No. 1595, Feb. 25, 1960, pp. 152–53, Entry A1 19, Minutes of the Meetings of the AEC, box 13, RG 326, Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, National Archives and Records Administration II, College Park, Md. (hereafter NARA II).
33. McCone's sentiments were paraphrased in the notes, and therefore it is unlikely that the wording is a direct quotation of his. Ibid. Meeting No. 1603,
Apr.
1
,
1960
, pp.
221
23
, Entry A1 19, Minutes of the Meetings of the AEC, box 13, RG 326, Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, NARA II.
34. Jacob Hamblin,
“Let There be Light and Bread: The United Nations, the Developing World, and Atomic Energy's Green Revolution,”
History and Technology
25
:
1
(
2009
):
27
,
40
,
42
.