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Sen. Leverett Saltonstall Bikini Atoll Papers

The items shown here illustrate the role of Senator Leverett Saltonstall (1892-1979) in the oversight of the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.

Leverett Saltonstall, the son of Richard Middlecott Saltonstall and Eleanor Brooks Saltonstall, served as U.S. senator from Massachusetts from 1945 to 1967. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed Saltonstall to the bipartisan President’s Evaluation Commission for Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear tests designed to assess the effects of nuclear weapons on battleships. The Evaluation Commission was part of Joint Task Force One, headed by Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, and oversaw the tests and their results. The commission itself was charged with observing the tests, studying their results, and submitting its observations to Truman with conclusions and recommendations.

The tests were conducted at Bikini Atoll, then part of the Trust Territory of Pacific Islands captured from Japan and controlled by the United States, today part of the Republic of Marshall Islands. Detail map of Micronesia, showing Marianas, Caroline Islands, and Marshall Islands (including Bikini) from the Operation Crossroads bookletAfter removing the island's population to a neighboring atoll, the Navy conducted two tests: Able, detonated at an altitude of 520 feet on 1 July 1946, and Baker, detonated at 90 feet underwater on 25 July. 95 obsolete vessels had been placed in the lagoon, including battleships, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers that contained fuel, ammunition, scientific instruments to measure radiation, and live animals to test the radiation’s effects. While Able sunk five ships and damaged fourteen others, it was Baker that caused massive radioactive contamination, resulting in the termination of additional testing.

Among Saltonstall’s documents about Operation Crossroards are an informational booklet; a letter from Admiral Blandy; his identification badge for Joint Task Force One; reports from the Commission to President Truman after Able and Baker; a communication from President Truman to the Commission; excerpts from Saltonstall’s diary (1-4 July and 25 July); letters to his mother on 30 June and 7 July describing the tests; and dramatic photographs of the mushroom cloud caused by the Baker test.

See also the collection guide to the Leverett Saltonstall papers.

Photographs of the Baker detonation:

Test Baker, 1 second after detonation  Test Baker, 2 seconds after detonation  Test Baker, 8 seconds after detonation