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Two thousand miles away from the U.S. A-bomb tests in 1945, something weird was happening to Kodak's film.

The ground shook, a brilliant white flash enveloped the sky, and the world changed forever. Code name "Trinity," (external - login to view) the bomb test at dawn on July 16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico (external - login to view) was the first large-scale atomic weapons testing in history. Only three weeks later two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan (external - login to view).

More than 1,900 miles away from Alamogordo, at the Rochester, NY headquarters of Eastman Kodak, a flood of complaints came in from business customers who had recently purchased sensitive X-ray film from the company. Black exposed spots on the film, or "fogging," (external - login to view) had rendered it unusable. This perplexed many Kodak scientists, who had gone to great lengths to prevent contaminations like this.

Julian H. Webb (external - login to view), a physicist in Kodak's research department, took it upon himself to dig deeper and test the destroyed film. What he uncovered was shocking. The fogging of Kodak's film and the Trinity test in New Mexico were eerily connected, revealing some chilling secrets about the nuclear age.

It all started when Kodak had a problem with its packaging. Even today, X-ray film is highly sensitive (external - login to view) (much more so than regular photographic film) and subject to ruin due to dirt, scratches and even minimal light exposure. Proper packaging and protection is essential to make sure the film gets from manufacturing to shipping to the customer's place of business safely. According to an article Webb would write in 1949 for the American Physical Society (external - login to view), the paper and cardboard used for packaging in the '40s were often salvaged from wartime manufacturing plants where radium-based instruments were also produced. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can cause flecks of spots or fogging when "in intimate contact with (sensitive film) for a period several weeks." During wartime, Kodak took precautions to avoid radium contamination. It moved packaging manufacturing to mills where Kodak had full control over the raw materials.

One of these mills was located along the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana; it specialized in producing strawboard, used as a stiffener board between sheets of film. When Webb investigated the mysterious fogging in 1945, he found that it originated not from the X-ray film itself but the packaging, which he tracked to this particular mill, and specifically, the production run of strawboard from August 6, 1945. After testing the radioactive material on the strawboard, he discovered—rather alarmingly—that the spots on the film were not caused by radium nor any other naturally occurring radioactive material, but "a new type radioactive containment not hitherto encountered." What was this unknown radioactive material, he must have wondered, and what was it doing in southwest Indiana?

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When Kodak Accidentally Discovered A-Bomb Testing (external - login to view)


fun fact:

Howard Hughes made some sort of Genghis Khan movie downwind the Nevada test site. The number of actors and production crew that contracted cancer was significantly about average, including The Duke and Susan Heyward.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/201...ood-john-wayne (external - login to view)