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Made in Appalachia: Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal

Artifacts and their stories, selected from the Appalachian Studies Teaching Collection to explore Appalachian material culture beyond its stereotypical inclusions.

Lux Smiley Face Clock (1972)

[Artifact 2013.35.3]

Made by the Lux Robertshaw Controls–Lux Clocks, Lebanon, Tennessee 

Robertshaw Controls-Lux Clocks made a variety of windup and electric clocks in the mid-20th century. The iconic yellow and black smiley face became a phenomenon in 1970.  Two brothers, Bernard and Murray Spain were in the business of making fad items.  They added the text, “Have a Happy Day,” copyrighted the image and words, put it on buttons, and a fad was indeed born.

Atomic Jet Flying Toy (ca. 1950)


[Accession 2013.28.1]

Made by Formis Manufacturing, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Tin toys date from the 19th century, but toys labeled with “atomic” and “jet” were inspired by World War II and popular in post-war America.

From Chenille Bedspreads to Tufted Carpets in North Georgia

[Accession 2011.13.1]
Tufted Throw Rug (1970s), made by Jervon Textile, Dalton, Georgia
Jervon was a small company in business from 1971 to 2001.

As a teenager in North Georgia in the 1890s Catherine Evans made a copy of an old tufted bedspread. She sold it and got orders for more. As demand increased, she contracted with other local women to help her make them. By 1930 this cottage industry had grown to involve 10,000 people and dozens of distributors.

During the 1930s, Glen Looper of Dalton, Georgia built machines to do the tufting. The entire industry rapidly mechanized and moved into new products, including tufted carpet. Hand tufting disappeared, chenille bedspreads went out of style, and Dalton became the Carpet Capital. Today around 70% of the carpet in the world is made in the area around Dalton, Georgia—in Appalachia.

Tufted Chenille Bedspreads from Dalton, Georgia, in the Spiegel mail order catalog, 1942

New tufted carpet made in Dalton, Georgia, 2011
Photo from The World of Deej Travel Blog, used by permission


Uranium Ore Souvenir, ca. 1970

[Accession 2013.18.1]

Sold at the American Atomic Energy Museum at Oak Ridge, Tennessee 

After World War II the existence of the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge was declassified.  In 1949 the American Atomic Energy Museum opened to teach about nuclear science and tell the story Oak Ridge’s involvement in the Manhattan Project.  It is now called the American Museum of Science & Energy.

Atomic Bombs

A “Secret City” in Appalachia made the nuclear material for the first atomic bombs.  

In 1942 the U.S. military selected a place near the town of Clinton, Tennessee for a secret industrial complex. Called the Clinton Engineer Works, it produced uranium and plutonium needed by the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bombs. Located in a 17-mile-long valley, the complex consisted of four industrial facilities and a city to house the workers. Security was very high earning the town the nickname “Secret City.”  Eventually, it took the name Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The K-25 facility used gaseous diffusion technology to separate Uranium 235, ca.1945

The Y-12 is still used to store nuclear materials, 2012.

Natural uranium is 99% U-238 and 1% U-235.  Only U-235 can be used in an atomic bomb and the two isotopes are very difficult to separate. Three of the facilities, named Y-12, K-25, and S-50, each used a different technology to try to separate U-235 from U-238, a process known as enrichment. It took three years and millions of dollars to produced 200 lbs of U-235. A fourth complex, the X-10 Test Graphite Reactor, piloted the production of plutonium.

Workers loading uranium pellets into the X-10 reactor to make plutonium, ca.1945

At its wartime peak 70,000 people, many drawn from the nearby mountains, lived and worked at Oak Ridge. A large percentage were women. The workers were given no information about what they were making.  Some suffered significant health affects in later years.

Shift change at the Y-12 facility, 1944

After the war, Oak Ridge shifted to civilian control.  The K-25 plant produced U-235 for weapons and nuclear power plants until 1985.  The Y-12 became, and remains, a high security nuclear material storage facilty. The X-10 Reactor produced radioactive materials for use in nuclear medicine until 1963 and is now also the site of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  In 2012 it became home to the world’s fastest supercomputer.