Historical Society Hosts Presentation On Ads For Los Scientific Laboratory And Sandia Corporation, 1956-64

Pfeiffer LASL 1964 SA v211i5 p139 Problem plasma confinement(1) (1).jpg

Image Courtesy LAHS


Both Sandia Corporation and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory published recruitment and brand awareness advertisements in Physics Today and Scientific American in 1956–1964. In those advertisements the laboratories mobilized tropes, symbols, and art of an “American Southwest Imaginary.” Those efforts included a Los Alamos advertisement series featuring artistic interpretations by New Mexican artists of phenomena such as clandestine nuclear testing and plasma containment, as well as references to conquistadores in a Sandia advertisement. 

Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, will review a sample of these advertisements when he speaks in Fuller Lodge at 7 p.m. Jan. 14. His lecture is titled “Nuclear Weapons are a Southwestern Thing: Los Alamos and Sandia Magazine Advertisements, 1956–1964.”

Pfeiffer will examine a sample of advertisements to suggest how nuclear weapons laboratory advertising responded to US nuclear weapon projects, while also seeking to shape the circumstances and outcomes of some projects. In particular, he will discuss the ways in which Los Alamos and Sandia mobilized images of the American Southwest in efforts to recruit workers, shape mass attitudes positively toward nuclear weapons work, and respond (or not) to geopolitical and sociocultural changes varying from shifts in American gender ideologies to the challenges of the nuclear explosive test moratorium of 1958-1961.

Martin Pfeiffer is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. His main research focus at the moment is nuclear semiotics: the ways in which we create, negotiate, and circulate meaning about, around, and through nuclear weapons. Pfeiffer, originally from Louisiana, currently lives in Albuquerque.