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Los Alamos Rolodex: An Indexical Look Into America's Nuclear Past

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Collection of Los Alamos Rolodex. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Collection of Los Alamos Rolodex. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation.

The following is an excerpt from the book "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978" by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, published by Blast Books, in conjunction with the institution's current exhibition.

A few years ago, these business cards, embedded in a set of "Rolodexes," emerged from the Black Hole of Los Alamos, established in the 1950s and run for more than 50 years by Edward Grothus. Officially the Los Alamos Sales Company, it was started when Grothus worked as a machinist and technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory -- the place where the atomic bomb was developed in secret in World War II, and which continued after the war as the nation's primary atomic weapons development center, joined later by Lawrence Livermore Lab in California.

The Black Hole was a store, but it was also a museum of stunning complexity, and Grothus was the lone curator. After more than 30 years of keeping the store stuffed to the limit, Grothus died, in 2009. His children kept the business open without restocking it, perhaps hoping it would all just dwindle and go away, leaving the real estate finally out from under the pile, which would then be sold. So far, that has not happened.

What remains of the Black Hole in its post-Grothus spewing is mostly office dregs -- metal desks, racks, shelving, chairs, adding machines, and even office trailers, full of more office stuff. Members of the Center for Land Use Interpretation often visited Grothus and the Black Hole over the years, but it was amid this posthumous disgorging that we stumbled onto the Rolodexes.

As a historical record, they are relevant to an understanding of the present -- they are hard evidence of the business relationships that built the transformative and secret technology that our nation still uses to dominate globally. Atomic bombs and their associated infrastructure were the heart of the "military-industrial complex," which, after the war, many believe became the political and economic core of the United States. These business cards are the synapses of this empire, each one the tip of an iceberg that may never be explored.

It takes a lot of technology to make technology, but ultimately the bomb was made by people calling other people on the phone. Although these cards are corporate, by definition, they are also personal. The cards name names: the individual salesmen who came calling, or were called upon, to do business with other lab contractors, who also, presumably, had their own business cards. The cards are even intimate, listing direct phone numbers, few of which seem to be in service anymore. Today, some of these cards may represent the opposite of what they were originally meant to do -- connect people to people, seller to buyer. These cards are now dead ends. Obsolete, ephemeral minutiae. Expired information, spilling out of the wreckage of a former black hole, at the end of the atomic pile.

-- Matthew Coolidge
The Center for Land Use Interpretation

Cover of "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Cover of "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1969. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1969. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1973. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1973. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1968. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1968. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1971. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1971. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1970. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1967. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.
Card inscribed: 1967. | Photo: © The Center for Land Use Interpretation, from "Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab, 1967-1978," published by Blast Books.


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