My father subscribed to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. As long as I can remember, I would look at the cover each month and see what time it was. The time was not, as my father explained to me, the current time but the time the scientists thought was left before a nuclear war. Over my childhood, I watched the clock move closer to and further away from midnight. The clock is currently set to 5 minutes to midnight.
So I was surprised to learn that the woman who had designed the clock had died. If I had thought about it, of course someone created the design. I think I’ve imagined all these years that it just appeared on the cover.
Martyl Langsdorf died at the 96. Her obituary was in the New York Times
Mrs. Langsdorf was a painter who specialized in abstract landscapes. Her husband, Alexander Langsdorf Jr., was a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb. In 1945, as preparations were being made to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dr. Langsdorf and others formed the Bulletin as debate was escalating within the group about what it had created. When the Bulletin converted from a newsletter to a magazine in 1947, Mrs. Langsdorf was hired to design the cover.
This is her 1947 cover.
The Times continues
Mrs. Langsdorf’s career designing magazine covers stopped and started with that first magazine issue of the Bulletin (which declared that it was 11:53 p.m.). She devoted herself instead to her artwork.
While this might be the only cover she designed, it has had a great impact. Many know about the Doomsday Clock, but few know it came from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist and even fewer know she was the designer. Her clock is on their website and newsletter today.
Photograph from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
- Doomsday Clock designer Langsdorf dies at 96 (japantimes.co.jp)
- Science, art, and the legacy of Martyl (thebulletin.org)
- Neurotic Armageddon Indicator: Alarming Clock (technabob.com)
- Martyl Landsdorf, Doomsday Clock creator, dies at 96 (sacbee.com)