The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Los Alamos Rolodex


CLUI photo

The Los Alamos Rolodex display, which opened on December 18, 2015 at CLUI Los Angeles, featured hundreds of business cards mounted on the wall, and four of the seven rolodexes in a vitrine in the middle of the room. CLUI photo

THE LOS ALAMOS Rolodexes continue rolling around the globe, making a stop in Los Angeles long enough to be displayed at the CLUI, and to celebrate a book, titled Los Alamos Rolodex: Doing Business with the National Lab 1967-1978, just published by Blast Books.

The rolodexes’ journey began a few years ago, when they were discovered in a pile of old office equipment for sale at the Black Hole, a legendary surplus store in the town of Los Alamos, which sold used equipment and cast-offs from the famous national lab next door.

The rolodexesactually “Dial-A-Card” devices, not the more famous “Rolodex” brand that came to define the genre of rotating desk top business card storage devicescontained thousands of business cards from the period of 1967 to 1978, arranged alphabetically by company name, in seven separate rolodexes. They came from some unknown office within the lab, and collectively describe the relationship between the lab and the business world that provided the goods and services to build and maintain America’s nuclear might.

Once acquired by the CLUI, the rolodexes were stored at the CLUI’s compound in Wendover, Utah, with the rest of the Center’s Atomic Archive. They soon found their way into an exhibit called Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing, which traveled around Europe for more than a year. After that, the rolodexes were shown in other exhibits, and are on their way to more.

For the exhibition at the CLUI’s Los Angeles location, almost 500 cards were selected and mounted on business card shaped panels on the wall, shown in chronological order, from 1967-1978.

A public talk, held in January 2016 at the CLUI, was an informal slide show run-through of more than 100 of the cards, where the audience was encouraged to speak up with their comments and any knowledge they had about the companies or individuals associated with each of the cards.  

The book features around 150 of the business cards, reproduced at actual size, with an introduction by Matthew Coolidge, the director of the CLUI. The cards were selected to show the range of business types, from janitorial supplies to advanced materials engineering, and to feature the most interesting graphics and logo designs on the cards.

The publication of the book prompted deeper research into the companies, and the individuals whose names are on the cards. In most cases, calling the phone numbers on the cards led to a recording saying the number was no longer in service. Web searches showed that the companies were often renamed or acquired. Searches of addresses on Google Streetview often found buildings in business parks, especially around Albuquerque, Denver, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley, with different names on them now. The publication of the book also created a flurry of press attention, and resulted in cases where the children or former associates of the people on the cards have gotten in touch. Each card is a potential human interest story, and the tip of an iceberg. Or, in some cases, just the tip of an ice cube. ♦