The Manhattan Project and Trinitite

The Manhattan Project was a top secret research and development project during World War II. It began in 1942 and produced the world’s first nuclear weapon. It was led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom and Canada. The Project employed more than 130,000 people and cost 2.2 billion dollars in 1945 money. History was made on July 16th, 1945. At the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, the world’s first Atomic Bomb was detonated. The bomb, a result of the Manhattan Project, was named “Gadget.” When it was detonated, it created a vortex which sucked up all the desert sand/earth, vegetation, animals, insects, the 100 foot steel tower and anything else in its path into the fireball/mushroom cloud. The air temperature around the blast rose instantly to over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat generated inside the fireball reached tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit. Hotter than the core of the sun. It formed a mushroom cloud 38,000 ft. high and was the equivalent of 22,000 kilotons of TNT. Everything pulled into the cloud was turned to liquid/gas and rained down onto the desert floor. As it cooled, it formed a glass never before seen on earth, later named, 'Trinitite.' This all took place almost the instant the bomb exploded. All the trinitite you see today was created in less than 15 seconds.

Trinitite is all that is left of the first atomic bomb. This historic material is now preserved at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and various museums throughout the world. In 1965, the site was declared a national historic landmark and removal of trinitite prohibited. Most of the material that is still available is in the hands of a few collectors. The best documented collections are the Wallace T. Smith collection, the Ralph E. Pray collection, the R. Harold Draeger collection and the Lincoln LaPaz collection. All the specimens in these collections were removed from the site before it was re-mediated in 1953. Photos and information about these collections can be found in the book, Trinitite, The Atomic Age Mineral, by W. M. Kolb.

History of the Collections

In March of 2019, I began working on a museum display featuring the Manhattan Project. I had started off buying a silver workers pin at a gem show in Asheville, NC and later purchased a faceted piece of leaded viewing glass used during the development of the plutonium core used in the bomb. During my research, I discovered the trinitite and was drawn into a whole new world of collecting. I set out to find the known, verified collections and hopefully add a few of these historic pieces to my own collection.

As a gem and mineral collector, buyer and seller for almost 40 years, one thing I have learned is that when collecting, buying or selling a specimen, a well documented piece is ten times more valuable than a random specimen offered with no history or information as to its origin. Since I was new to the trinitite world, I did what I always do and began researching everything I could find. I learned that there are not many people out there selling trinitite and that only a few of them offer any information as to the origin of their trinitite. Many offer no collection name, where the pieces came from or when or where they were obtained. I had heard that many people sell fake trinitite and was worried about buying something that was not real. I have since learned that it is almost impossible to fake trinitite. Its value lies in its history and the documentation of the origins and original owner/collector information that people can provide. 

In my opinion, trinitite is more valuable than gold historically. It is becoming extremely limited in its availability. Pieces larger than 3-5 grams in size are becoming increasingly rare. Trinitite was created on July 16, 1945. The trinitite created that day is the only in existence and can never be re-produced. It was a onetime test of the world’s first atomic bomb. The historical value is immeasurable. Basically, once it is gone, it is gone.

Being a mineral digger all my life, it was weird for me to try and collect something that I could not go out and find myself. The specimens I was looking for were all found by people in the 1940s and 1950s before it became illegal to remove the material from the Trinity site. This meant finding out where these collections are today, if they were still available to buy a few pieces for my collection, or if they were lost to history forever. I started with eBay and eventually made contact with a woman who had inherited the last remaining trinitite from the Wallace T. Smith collection.

My web site has been up for four years now and I have continued to add pieces to my collection while offering nice pieces to others who are interested in this historic material. In December of 2020, I was contacted by a woman from Arizona who was in charge of liquidating the estate of Erich Draeger.

I have devoted this site to being not only a selling location where you can obtain top quality, documented specimens, but as it develops, it will be a permanent historical reference for anyone who wants to learn more about trinitite. Once all my excess material is gone, this web site will remain. I have now acquired trinitite from the: Wallace T. Smith, R. Harold Draeger, Ralph Pray, Nathan Voss, Ken Kyte and Lincoln LaPaz collections. I will only sell specimens from the collections that can be documented and authenticated.

Every piece of trinitite I sell comes with a printout of the test results and a history of the collection and collector. I hope that you, as a buyer, will keep this information with your specimen to keep track of this limited historic material. As I said before, once it is gone, it is gone.

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Colors of Trinitite

Trinitite is mostly light to dark green in color. I have also seen and acquired red, black, blue, brown, white, gray and silver trinitite. Other special features of trinitite include: Spheres, fallout activity, black crust from the specimens collected near ground zero, magnetic specimens and feldspar inclusions, all described below.

Green trinitite: Classic trinitite is a light to dark green color, with varying shades of green in between. The green color is caused by a fused combination of iron and other minerals that were present at the test site at the time of the detonation.

Red trinitite: Red is rare and has copper in it from the wiring and cables that were used at the site and from the bomb itself.

Black trinitite: Black is rare, and it is still being studied to determine what gives it the black color. It may have iron in it from the 100 ft. tall steel tower that was erected to suspend the bomb over the test site.

Blue trinitite: I have two specimens with blue in them. One piece has a deep glassy blue color core in the center of a green trinitite specimen. The other has a 1.5 cm. diameter spot of robin’s egg blue. As far as I know, blue is the rarest color in trinitite. One theory I heard from a very reliable source on the formation of trinitite, is that the blue color and other such colorful inclusions are examples of more complete melting that may have taken place when a small mineral grain or bit of 'trash' at the site reduced the melting point of the mixture and caused a better grade of glass to form.

New Discovery!

Silver Trinitite: I first discovered this new and unusual coloring in a specimen of trinitite back in 2019. I was examining a piece from the Wallace Smith collection when I noticed what appeared to be silver spray paint on the specimen. I tried to scratch it off with no success. I did not think much more about it until a few days later when I found another piece. To date, I have found five specimens of this silver colored trinitite. Two from the Wallace Smith collection, two from the R. Harold Draeger collection and more recently (2023), I found one in the Lincoln LaPaz material I had acquired. I sent samples to Bill Kolb and Nelson Eby to be tested. We have determined that the silver color is not on the surface of the trinitite, but inside the glass. More extensive testing is needed to try and determine the cause for the silver color. I will note that I have found two specimens where the silver is mixed with red trinitite from two different collections, Draeger and LaPaz. This leads me to believe the color may be from parts of the electronics that were fused into the trinitite, like the copper caused the red color in trinitite.

I will post more about this unique new trinitite as I learn more from the testing. I am currently looking for a source for X-Ray Diffraction for more precise testing.

Other Trinitite Features

Spheres: You will see in trinitite many cavities or rounded holes, mostly in the sides of a specimen. These are exploded gas pockets that formed when the trinitite was cooling. Rarely, you will find a piece with a rounded, spherical formation attached to the specimen. These are bubbles that did not explode or burst during the event. They are very fragile and rare.

Feldspar inclusions: Feldspar is a mineral that was common in the surrounding environment at the test site. Feldspar is a igneous/metamorphic mineral. Some of it survived the blast and imbedded itself into the fused glass trinitite specimens. It presents itself as white, sometimes blocky inclusions.

Metallic trinitite: I have numerous specimens from the Wallace Smith collection that are very magnetic. These may have iron in them from the steel tower, but this has not been confirmed. I believe they are somewhat rare.

Black crust: Some specimens of trinitite have a thick black crust on the bottom side of the specimen. This black crust is not the same as the black colored trinitite formed by iron present in the glass. This crust seems to appear on pieces that formed closest to ground zero.

Fallout: Some specimens have a fine layer of light colored sandy material on the top surface that is more radioactive than usual. You can feel this coating by rubbing your finger over the top of the specimen. It reminds me of a sugar coating on a cookie!

Trinitite Care and Safety

Trinitite care and safety: Trinitite is legal to own and safe to handle. Keep away from pets and small children. Do not eat! Wash your hands after handling. I get a lot of questions about radiation in trinitite. Trinitite has a half life of 30.1 years. They say you get more radiation from eating a bunch of bananas. I have specimens in my collection that register anywhere from 200+ CPM to a red specimen that registers over 14,000 CPM. With proper handling and care, you will enjoy your specimen(s) for many years, and, it an important piece of history that you own!

Trinitite is a form of glass. It can be very fragile and if not handled properly, can break. Do not apply pressure to the trinitite. Normal handling is fine. When mounting in a display, be sure that the trinitite is mounted snugly so it does not move around. But, do not apply pressure to any part of the piece as this can cause it to break. If possible, use a cotton mounted display container so that there is a slight bit of give when pressure is applied, so that when the lid is attached, there will be no pressure on the specimen.