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Carl Bailey and the Atomic Bomb


In 1943, a North Dakotan named Carl Bailey traveled to Los Alamos, New Mexico to work on a top-secret project. He went there to help make atomic bombs.

Bailey, born and raised in Grafton, was the son of Frank Bailey, the local railway depot agent. Young Carl went on to study science at Moorhead’s Concordia College, graduating in 1940, and then studying nuclear physics at the University of Minnesota. He assisted in working with an atom smasher, otherwise known as the Van de Graaff Accelerator.

Carl was joined by his wife Carol for the move to Los Alamos, where they lived at the top-secret atomic bomb headquarters. The Bailey family back home knew nothing about Carl’s work. All the family’s letters, back and forth, went through the Santa Fe post office, and were strictly censored. Neither Carl, nor wife Carol, ever revealed any details about the project. Even their war-ration coupon books were forwarded from Grafton, as if they were still back home. All the while, Carl Bailey worked with Uranium-235 and the Van de Graaff accelerator.

On this date, in 1945, the scientists successfully exploded the first nuclear weapon at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The public knew nothing of this first blast. About three weeks later, on August 6, 1945, the U.S dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Only then did the Bailey family learn that Carl had contributed to the bomb project, as revealed by a Fargo Forum story the next day. 100,000 people died in the nuclear explosion, and 100,000 more died later from radiation burns and cancer, marking the beginning of the atomic age.

When the war ended, Mr. and Mrs. Bailey returned home with a new baby girl, Kathleen, born at Los Alamos in 1944. Carl Bailey then earned a University of Minnesota doctorate in physics and returned to Concordia College, his alma mater, to teach.

Professor Bailey taught for 46 years before retiring in the 1990s. Concerning the atomic bomb, Bailey said he always felt sorrow for the “damage and carnage” it inflicted, but believed it was justified because it ended the war quickly, thus avoiding the heavy losses involved in a land invasion of Japan.

Grafton’s Carl Bailey died in 2012, at the age of 94.

Dakota Datebook written by Kjersti Maday and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.


“Once N.D. Man Shares Atom Glory,” Fargo Forum, August 7, 1945, p. 1, 6.

Amy E. Kelly, “Remembering World War II: The Manhattan Project: Dr. Carl Bailey, 1940, Professor Emeritus,” Concordia Magazine, Spring 2011, http://www.cord.edu/Magazine/2011/spring/feature/feature5_ww2.php,

Accessed on June 21, 2013.

“Interview With Carl Bailey,” Concordia College Omeka, http://omeka.cord.edu/items/show/189, accessed on September 7, 2012.

“Bailey Belies Administrative Image, Finds Enjoyment in Teaching Field,” The Concordian, March 19, 1965, p. 4.

“Local News,” Moorhead Daily News, March 7, 1946.

“Neutron Counters, Plutonium Hemispheres, and Welder’s Glasses: Reminiscences of the Manhattan Project,” L. Worth Seagondollar, Radiations, Fall 2005, p. 18-23, www.sigmapisigma.org/radiations/2005/seagondollar_fall05.pdf

“Local News,” Moorhead Daily News,” June 13, 1945.

“Carl Bailey leaves legacy as Concordia College mourns,” WDAY, Kevin Wallevand, September 17, 2012, http://www.wday.com

U.S. Census Bureau, “Frank Bailey,” Grafton, N.D., North Dakota Federal Census, 1920.