While the United States is best known for known for dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August, 1945, its development of the nuclear bomb did not stop then.
Development of the more powerful hydrogen bomb didn’t start immediately after World War Two. Instead, research into the hydrogen bomb was jump-started by the Soviet Union’s first successful atomic bomb detonations in 1949.
On November 1, 1952, the United States tested its first hydrogen bomb. The test took place on Elegelab Island in the Enewatak Atoll. The U.S. test hydrogen bomb 1951 was located in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
The hydrogen bomb structure was nicknamed “Mike”. It used a design by Stanislaw Ulam and Edward Teller; this is why it is called the Teller-Ulam design.
It wasn’t designed as a bomb, per se, only a method of verifying the principals of a hydrogen thermonuclear bomb. At twenty feet high and 140,000 pounds plus another 24,000 pounds in refrigeration equipment, it was too big to be used as a bomb.
Prior tests involving a radiation-implosion principal and thirty other designs had been done between 1946 and 1951. Alternative designs for mega-bombs using lithium-6 deuteride, which was in short supply, were sidelined in the name of time. So the Teller-Ulam design was rushed to production.
The “Mike” bomb of the Teller-Ulam design was the largest nuclear explosion to date and the first thermonuclear explosion in human history.
The first hydrogen bomb test wasn’t reported in the U.S. until two weeks later, when reports appeared in the New York Times. Even that report wasn’t complete, only mentioning that experiments on a hydrogen bomb had been completed.
The hydrogen bomb released approximately 10.4 megatons of energy, equivalent to over ten million tons of TNT. The explosion was 450 times the strength of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan. The explosion destroyed Elegelab Island as well. All that was left behind was a 6,240 foot wide, 164 foot deep crater.
The design was, in theory, a success. A thermonuclear bomb could be built. However, the design team continued its work. It sought to acquire enough lithium-6 to build a much smaller and thus deliverable thermonuclear device. That didn’t happen until 1954.
President Harry Truman tried to keep the hydrogen bomb test a secret, since he was coming up for reelection. However, Truman got ahead of the leaks and rumors in the press, announcing the development of the hydrogen bomb on January 7, 1953. This was followed by a Soviet Union thermonuclear bomb test on August 12, 1953 in what is now Kazakhstan. This was called the fourth Soviet nuclear test to date. The Soviet bomb contained lithium-6 deuteride and lithium tritide along with uranium 238.
Soviet development of nuclear weapons was accelerated by a series of “atomic spies”. Morris Cohen gave the Soviets technical documents straight from Los Alamos, where the first nuclear bombs were made. Klaus Fuchs was part of the British delegation to Los Alamos and gave information to the Soviets. George Koval gave information to the Soviets from the Oak Ridge project and designs on the Fat Man plutonium bomb, though his role wasn’t known to the West until 2007 when he was recognized by Russian leader Vladimir Putin with a medal posthumously. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy related to the atomic spying. They were actually executed for their role in accelerating Soviet development of nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War, when such nuclear weapons could possibly be used in a war between the U.S. and Russia.