Las Vegas’ Atomic Museum rebrands and widens its appeal


During the 1950s, Las Vegas inadvertently became the epicenter of the atomic craze. Tourists would flock to the city, eager to catch a glimpse of the mushroom clouds blooming 65 miles away at the Nevada Test Site.

Evidence of our atomic history has been on display at the National Atomic Testing Museum for nearly 20 years. Now, the institution is refreshing its image with new leadership, a new name and new ways to tell the story of America’s most explosive era.

“Obviously, we are never going to veer from our core mission, which is this country’s nuclear testing and what it did to keep us safe,” says Rob McCoy, CEO of the recently rebranded Atomic Museum. “But when Robert Oppenheimer detonated the first experiment of ‘the Gadget,’ as we call it … it unleashed the Atomic Age. We need to tell that story side-by-side with atomic testing. That includes literature, film, music and pop culture.”

The hope is to broaden the museum’s reach by widening its scope, McCoy says. A Las Vegan who previously served as the CEO of the Neon Museum, McCoy came out of retirement to help the Atomic Museum with its new mission.

“We have three of the most distinct museums in the world that nobody else has—the Mob, Neon and Atomic,” he says. “I grew up with bombs being exploded, all the bright lights of Las Vegas and organized crime pretty much running the Strip. It was pretty much a natural fork.”

Atomic Museum visitation has more than doubled since the CEO joined in August, he says. The venue has also launched a new online ticketing system; partnered with Nevada State College, UNLV and CCSD; hosted STEM events for kids; and launched new exhibit “The Bomb Without the Boom,” focused on the way the United States manages its nuclear stockpile, and the upcoming “Spy,” which will spotlight artifacts from the Cold War and stories about U.S. efforts to spy on the Soviet Union.

Experimentation and hands-on experiences are vital to the museum’s success, McCoy says, though education remains a key priority, too. Atomic history tends to fly under the radar in schools, he explains, and these lessons are too important to ignore.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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