The Atomic Age and The Automobile


America in the 1950s and 60s was having somewhat of an infatuation with nuclear energy. The possibilities seemed endless for the amount of energy that could be produced by one reactor. Could this technology be used in the consumer market?

The Ford Motor Company had an interesting answer to that technology. Enter the Ford Nucleon Concept. In 1957 Ford introduced the first nuclear power car, the Nucleon. It featured a replaceable uranium fission reactor that could be easily replaced upon depletion. Ford estimated about every 5000 miles. This car would have no noxious fumes and no loud and obnoxious internal combustion motor to upset your suburban neighbors.

Even in this highly idealistic stage of nuclear energy, the engineers at Ford knew that consumers did not want to too close to atomic energy. So they put the passenger compartment far forward of the reactor and over the front axle.


The technology Ford was drawing on was already in use by the US Navy in submarines. The problem, however, was to shrink the size of that system down in size and weight so that it would be suitable for cars. Ford speculated that this technology was on the horizon and when it arrived they would already be ahead of the competition with their concept.


Fast forward about 50 years, America is dealing with an energy dilemma. Do we continue to use fossil fuels to power our cars or do we look for other answers? The US government has clearly expressed its interest both politically and economically for research into alternative fuel sources. Companies such as Telsa have risen to fill this gap, but like a blast from the atomic age past the idea of fission-powered cars came back in 2009 Cadilac introduced their concept thorium-powered car at the Chicago Auto show. A lot of research is being conducted into thorium and its viability as a nuclear energy source.


But could we really see nuclear reactors going 80 mph down the 15?


The Atomic Automobile

Where are all the clean, infinite-range nuclear-powered cars, ships, and planes?


Shhh… Fight the Noise

Today thought of as tools for elite military units or vast international criminal organizations, Silencers (more accurately described as surppressors), were developed in the early 1900s.


Hiram Percy Maxim received the patent for the first firearm suppressor in 1909. Surprisingly the silencer is actually closely related to the development of the car muffler, which was originally called the car silencer. The two devices share a lot in common from an engineering perspectively. Both devices mitigate noise by diverting expelled gases. Here is the first patent for the Maxim Silenced Firearm


What is strange about this technology was its original intended use for application on firearms that would be used in urban and rural areas of the US. Two unique conditions existed in America in 1900s that made the early concept of the silencer attractive for many of Americans. A lot of Americans owned guns due to the industrialization of gun manufacturing and there was few regulations as to attaining them and many Americans were moving out of rural areas into more urban areas. This caused a problem because, while the carry of a firearm was widely accepted, the sound of the gunshot was a great disturbance and often a crime. So it seems clear in Maxim’s design that he intended this new invention to be used by a more metropolitan gun owner who perhaps was fond of hunting and sporting with them. Here is a brochure that you can see is clearly targeted for civilians.

Maxim Silencer Brochure

It would not be until World War II when the US began to look seriously at the use of silencers by the military for clandestine operations. The father of modern US intelligence, William Wild Bill” Donovan would introduce this invention and its potential to Franklin Roosevelt. Below is a small .22 pistol developed for the Clandestine missions of the OSS

This signaled a shift in the characterization of Silencers in America from civilian use to military use.