Viral Pic Allegedly Shows 1950s 'Miss Atomic Bomb' Beauty Queen. We Checked Its Authenticity

Don English/Las Vegas News Bureau/National Historical Publications and Records Commission Facebook page
Don English/Las Vegas News Bureau/National Historical Publications and Records Commission Facebook page


A photo authentically shows the winner of a 1950s “Miss Atomic Bomb” beauty pageant.


Rating: Mixture
Rating: Mixture

What's True:

The photo, taken in 1957, authentically shows a Las Vegas showgirl posing in a bathing suit featuring a mushroom cloud made of cotton. However...


What's False:

The image was taken for a publicity shoot, according to the photographer who snapped it, not during a competitive beauty pageant.


On May 7, 2024, the official Facebook page of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) made a post that included a black-and-white image of a blonde woman posing in a bathing suit or leotard decorated with what appears to be a mushroom cloud made of cotton.

The caption of the post reads,

Miss Atomic Bomb, the icon of the National Atomic Testing Museum, Las Vegas. Located near the Nevada test site, Las Vegas was in direct line to the open air tests. Civilian nonchalance was essential in securing acceptance of the potential risks.

The National Atomic Testing Museum is part of the Directory of Historical Records Organizations. The directory includes information on 75 Nevada repositories, including a link to each repository's home page. The directory was updated as part of NHPRC's grant to the Nevada State Historical Records Advisory Board.

The Nevada SHRAB also promoted archives through Archives Month, awarded archival education scholarships, and collaborated with a consultant to lead a state-wide needs assessment survey and report and developed a five-year strategic plan.

You can read more about their work at

The image, which the NHPRC identified only as "Miss Atomic Bomb, the icon of the National Atomic Testing Museum, Las Vegas," in its Facebook post, has also appeared on a number of other social media sites including X and Reddit, where it has made multiple appearances in subreddits such as r/OldSchoolRidiculous and r/HistoryPorn since at least 2016. Some of these posts claim the woman was the winner of a "Miss Atomic Bomb" beauty pageant.

Through a combination of a reverse image search on TinEye and a standard Google search for "Lee Merlin," the name associated with the woman in some posts, we were able to confirm that the image is an authentic photo of a model taken at a publicity event in Las Vegas in 1957. It was not, however, taken at a competitive beauty pageant. For these reasons, we have rated this claim as "Mostly True."

The photographer who took the photo, the late Don English, explained some of the history behind it in an interview included in a lengthy article published by the Nevada Appeal in 2004. According to him, the woman in the photo was a showgirl in the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel and Casino. English, a photographer for the Las Vegas News Bureau, a promotional agency that is part of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, hired her to pose for him on May 24, 1957.

The city of Las Vegas began capitalizing on its proximity to the Nevada Test Site, located around 65 miles north of the city, shortly after the U.S. government facility for testing nuclear weapons opened in 1951. According to a web page about the Nevada Test Site maintained by the Atomic Heritage Foundation's National Museum of Nuclear Science and History,

Mushroom clouds from the atmospheric tests could be seen up to 100 miles away in the distance. This led to increased tourism for Las Vegas, and throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the city capitalized on this interest. Many guests could see clouds, or bursts of light from hotel windows, and the hotels promoted these sights. Some casinos also hosted "dawn parties" and created atomic themed cocktails, encouraging visitors to view the tests. Calendars throughout the city also advertised detonation times, as well as the best viewing spots to see flashes or lights or mushroom clouds.

By 1957, English said, photographing the actual mushroom clouds from the tests had become boring. "We were shooting so many atom bombs," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2005, that "we tried to do anything that was a little bit different." As a result, English and his colleagues came up with the idea of creating a mushroom cloud bathing suit and hiring an attractive woman to pose wearing it. 

The photo was an instant hit for English. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, it has been published in "hundreds of publications worldwide" and, as of June 2022, remained "the most published photo in the Las Vegas News Bureau Collection." 

Confirming the model's real identity is less straightforward, and in the early 2000s trying to find her became something of an obsession for Robert Friedrichs, a scientist for the National Nuclear Security Administration who helped to develop Las Vegas's National Atomic Testing Museum, which features images of "Miss Atomic Bomb" on some of its merchandise.

As Friedrichs described to the Los Angeles Times, as well as in an interview he gave as part of an oral history project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he combed local newspaper clippings and interviewed retired Sands showgirls in an attempt to find the woman who posed in the mushroom cloud bathing suit. Aside from a few vague recollections from her former coworkers — "She was very quiet," one said — and the name Lee Merlin, which was likely a stage name, Friedrichs came up empty handed. "She dropped off the face of the Earth," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Regardless of the true identity of the woman in the photograph, the image's history is well documented enough to corroborate the date it was taken as well as its connection to Las Vegas' history of nuclear test tourism. However, there was no official pageant behind the photograph. As a result, we have rated this claim as "Mixture."


"Home." The Atomic Museum and the NTSHF - Las Vegas, NV, Accessed 19 June 2024.

Iconic Las Vegas Images | Las Vegas News Bureau Collection. Accessed 19 June 2024.

Interview with Robert Elmer Friedrichs, February 25, 2005 | UNLV Special Collections Portal. Accessed 19 June 2024.

Museum Looking for Las Vegas' 1957 Blonde Atomic Bombshell. Accessed 19 June 2024.

"Nevada Test Site." Nuclear Museum, Accessed 19 June 2024.

"Remembering Don English." Nevada Public Radio | KNPR, Accessed 19 June 2024.

Rosenblatt, Susannah. "Seeking the Smiling Face of Nevada's Nuclear Heyday." Los Angeles Times, 2 Jan. 2005,