In the latter half of the 20th century, a hallmark of summertime at what was then the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) was the Family Day celebration. Beginning in 1954, and running through the next few decades, Family Days allowed Lab employees to bring their relatives into some areas of the Lab. Visiting children could glimpse the world where their parents went to work, filled with offices, laboratories and world-changing innovations.
LASL’s first open house to welcome families occurred in 1954, with 12,000 visitors parading through many technical areas. Family Days formally began in 1960 to coincide with the Lab’s 15th anniversary, with Laboratory Director Norris Bradbury advising division leaders to designate a team member to work on the festivities.
A kid’s-eye view of LASL
At different times, guided tours and open houses comprised Family Days. For children, LASL was a trove of curiosities. They explored many points of fascination, like the hands-on Honeycomb control panel, “H-4’s plastic man” and even an experimental monkey. For the littlest visitors, even a peek at mom or dad’s office held a thrill. Families loaded onto buses to make their ways around the Lab. Family Days also came with festive delights and souvenirs, such as the commemorative blue ring from 1980 that is now in the Bradbury’s collections.
Critically, Family Days were also opportunities to introduce children to a world of career possibilities. One Lab employee recalled of Family Day, “As a child, I was able to literally visit the exact same firing sites where I later worked as an adult and witness 500-pound high explosive shots!” These first-hand experiences impressed many local kids, some of whom became the next generation of Lab employees.
The end of an era
While Family Days occurred most summers, they did not happen annually. In 1970 the event was canceled due to budget constraints, for example, and in the 1980s Family Days were less frequent. National security after 9/11 was at odds with the event’s open access, and eventually Family Days disappeared. But for many, a warm nostalgia remains.