Nevada became the center of the nation’s eye during the 1950s after President Harry S. Truman authorized a 680-square mile section of the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range for nuclear bomb testing. As each atomic blast lit up the Nevada scenery public interest increased. So much so that Americans around the country witnessed the first televised atomic blast in 1952. Atomic bomb fever began to infiltrate every aspect of society, from household goods to football teams naming themselves the “Atoms.”
Inspired by the cultural phenomena, Las Vegas decided to combine two of its major attractions – nuclear bombs and showgirls – into a beauty contest. The first atomic pin-up girl, Candyce King, appeared on May 9, 1952 in the “Evening Telegraph” (Dixon, Illinois) and the “Day Record” (Statesville, North Carolina) papers. She was called “Miss Atomic Blast.” In the spring of 1953, the city of North Las Vegas chose Paula Harris as Miss North Las Vegas of 1953 and gave her the nickname “Miss A-Bomb.”
Operation Cue, in 1955, drew much attention when it evaluated how well houses, items, food, mannequins, etc… would hold up from a nuclear blast at various distances. It was delayed multiple times because of high winds and was nicknamed “Operation Mis-Cue.” This inspired Sands Hotel Copa Girl Linda Lawson to be crowned “Miss Cue” on May 1, 1955. The title was “to illustrate another mis-firing of the Operation Cue Bomb.” Lawson’s ‘crown’ was a mushroom cloud.
Perhaps the most famous “Miss Atomic Bomb” was Copa Showgirl Lee A. Merlin. She was crowned, coinciding with Operation Pumbbob, while wearing a cotton mushroom cloud on the front of her swimsuit. The popular photograph by Don English was distributed nationally. She was the last “Miss Atomic Bomb.”
Nevada National Security Site, “Miss Atomic Bomb,” January 2011.