Choosing the Secret City: The Creation and Importance of Oak Ridge, TN

In 1942, the federal government launched the enormously secretive Manhattan Project. In order to safely experiment and privately expand the nation’s nuclear capabilities, five closed cities were created, one in east Tennessee: Oak Ridge. The city’s construction changed the landscape, economy, and culture in east Tennessee during World War II. Many of those changes are still visible today when comparing Oak Ridge to its neighbors.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Describe the role of the Manhattan Project and Oak Ridge, Tennessee in ending World War II and the decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan.
Evaluate the topic or subject in multiple diverse formats and media.
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Write informative/explanatory texts to analyze, synthesize, and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the...
Write an opinion piece evaluating the Manhattan Project, including the rationale for using the atomic bomb to end the war.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The student will:

  • Make inferences based on information conveyed in an oral history.
  • Analyze topographical and historic maps of east Tennessee.
  • Form and defend an opinion on the creation and influence of Oak Ridge.
  • Analyze photographs of east Tennessee to understand changes in the region during the World War II era.
Essential and guiding questions: 

Why was Oak Ridge chosen as a Manhattan Project site? How was east Tennessee affected by the creation of the “Secret City”?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 

Helpful Hints


  • Printed photographs (In “Resources”)
  • Image analysis form
  • Pencil/pen and paper