Apocalypse Soon: History through the Doomsday Clock

If you haven’t already heard of the Doomsday Clock, you might want to stop reading here so that you can continue to remain blissfully ignorant and sleep well at night without having to worry about the impending nuclear apocalypse. If you’ve already heard of it, then you know that the Doomsday Clock is a symbol representing earth’s proximity to a world-ending manmade catastrophe with midnight marking the beginning of the end.

Since the Doomsday Clock was first conceived in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist’s Science and Security board, the minute hand has wavered back and forth away from and towards impending doom depending on a number of factors including international relations, changing political regimes, the development of new nuclear weapons, and in recent years, climate change.

Currently the clock is said to be sitting at two minutes to midnight, the closest we’ve been to the apocalypse since 1953. To celebrate the impending end of humanity, here are some of the most important years in the history of the Doomsday Clock.

1949 – 3 Minutes to Midnight

In 1947, a group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists who had previously worked on the infamous Manhattan Project — responsible for the world’s first atomic weapon — began publishing a newsletter and later a magazine about global security in the wake of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings.

Initially, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight, but by 1949, the hands had shifted for the first time putting it at three minutes to midnight due to the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb test. Although the Soviets denied any tests had taken place, President Harry Truman warned American citizens that the nuclear arms race had begun.

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1953 – 2 Minutes to Midnight

Not to be outdone by the Soviets, the U.S. government upped the ante in 1952 when they tested the first thermonuclear device, otherwise known as the hydrogen bomb. Approximately 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb, the test bomb affectionately known as “Mike” obliterated an entire island in the Pacific and created a fire ball that was more than three miles wide.

By 1953, the Soviets had their own H-bomb which prompted the Bulletin to once again move the hands of the Doomsday Clock to just two minutes to midnight and issue a harrowing warning: “only a few more swings of the pendulum, and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western civilization.”

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1963 – 12 Minutes to Midnight

In the years that followed the invention of the hydrogen bomb, neither the U.S. nor the Soviets seemed particularly eager to wield the horrible power they held and instead chose to solve a number of political problems such as the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis through diplomacy rather than war. This eased global tensions and moved the clock back to seven minutes to midnight by 1960.

In 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, agreeing to end all atmospheric nuclear testing. This measure brought the Doomsday Clock even further back to a much more comfortable time of 12 minutes to midnight.

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