January Newsletter
AHF Releases 2012 Annual Report
Legislative Update
A Historic Loss
New Additions to "Voices of the Manhattan Project"
Remembering Don Hornig
January History Updates
Quick Links

With the youngest Manhattan Project veterans turning ninety, the Atomic Heritage Foundation is working hard to capture more oral histories of our Manhattan Project veterans before it is too late. Now is also the time for the new Congress to move forward with the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. Carpe diem!
Is that a weapon in Oppenheimer's hand?
Photo by Ethan Frogget, courtesy of LANL.

AHF Releases 2012 Annual Report


The Atomic Heritage Foundation is pleased to announce the release of our 2012 Annual Report. The 112th Congress came close to enacting the Manhattan Project National Historical Act, and we are optimistic that the 113th Congress will pass the legislation. Our cover features Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) who is a champion of the bill.
Although we lost the entire mile-long K-25 plant to demolition, a silver lining was that the historic Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge will be preserved.
In 2012, the new Voices of the Manhattan Project website received terrific reviews in the nationwide press. Other initiatives include creating interpretive vignettes and models for the B Reactor in Hanford; being awarded a National Science Foundation grant to host a workshop on the impact on science on society with the Manhattan Project as a case study in February 2013; and using social media to educate the public about the history of the Manhattan Project.

For this and more, please download a copy of our 2012 Annual Report, or call our office at 202-293-0045 for a hard copy. 


Legislative Update


What can we expect from the 113th Congress? Once again, we are guardedly optimistic. Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) returns as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. Hastings is a vigorous champion and vowed to enact the legislation this Congress.


Rep. Doc Hastings

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) takes over from Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) as Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has indicated his support for the legislation. The Manhattan Project delegation will be well represented committee with Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM). All three have been very supportive of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.


Senator Ron Wyden

Sam Offerdahl, press assistant for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently told Oak Ridge Today editor John Huotori, "As you know, Sen. Bingaman sponsored the bill to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park with components in New Mexico, Washington, and Tennessee, because one of the areas to be included (Los Alamos, N.M.) was in his home state. We expect the bill to be reintroduced early this year, likely with a member from one of the states that is home to the proposed parks as lead sponsor (following Senate custom)." Offerdahl continued, "[Senator Wyden] has been supportive of park proposals in the past and has said he is eager to see the committee move through the gridlock that held up many of the public lands bills from the last Congress."


In the last Congress, staff spent nearly 18 months drafting the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act before the House and Senate bills were introduced in June 2012. This time the committee staff can move much more quickly. Ideally, the differences can be ironed out before the bills are reintroduced.  

The control room of the B Reactor at Hanford, one of the sites which would be included in the new park.


With their leadership and the continued support of the Departments of Interior and Energy, the Manhattan Project communities and many others around the country, the prognosis is very good that the 113th Congress will enact the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.


A Historic Loss 

The magnificent and massive K-25 plant, whose demolition was recently completed.

Historic properties are important tangible links to the Manhattan Project. Sadly, on January 23, 2013, we lost the entire K-25 gaseous diffusion plant despite ten years of effort to save a representative sliver. John Huotori of Oak Ridge Today was present at K-25's final moments and captured the final collapse of the last remaining piece of the North End.


As the National Park Service's report on March 23, 2012 stated: "The K-25 building has no substitute....[The] historic structure gives visitors of all levels of knowledge a sense of "being there" that reproductions cannot fully emulate...Thus, while the present physical condition of the building may argue for its total demolition, the tremendous historical significance of K-25 argues for the opposite."


Production floor of the K-25 plant.

As part of the agreement to proceed with the destruction of the entire K-25, the Department of Energy provided a $500,000 grant for the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance (ETPA) to purchase and partially stabilize the Alexander Inn, also known as the Guest House. Built in 1943 to accommodate visiting dignitaries, the property was closed in the mid-1990s and rapidly deteriorated. Fortunately, it will be restored as a senior living center, saving at least one of Oak Ridge's iconic Manhattan Project properties.


New Additions to 
"Voices of the Manhattan Project"

We added several fascinating new oral histories to "Voices of the Manhattan Project" in the last month.


Physicist Benjamin Bederson was selected to serve in the Special Engineering Detachment during the Manhattan Project. He was first sent to Oak Ridge, and then to Los Alamos, where he worked for Donald Hornig on designing the ignition switches for the implosion bomb. At Los Alamos, he knew Ted Hall and David Greenglass, who were secretly sending atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Bederson instructed the 509th Composite Group at Wendover and was sent to Tinian to help wire the switches for the bomb. He recalls the feeling of expectation just before the bombing of Hiroshima and his jubilation at Japan's surrender. Bederson's story is currently featured at the New-York Historical Society exhibition WWII & NYC.


Gordon Knobeloch worked on the RaLa Experiment at Los Alamos, which was crucial to developing the spherical implosion necessary for the plutonium bomb. In his oral history, he recalls arriving by train in Lamy, the low average age of the scientists at Los Alamos, and presents a defense of the use of the atomic bomb in World War II. 



Bill Wilcox is currently the Official Historian for the City of Oak Ridge. A chemistry graduate from Washington & Lee University in 1943, he was hired by Tennessee Eastman on a "Secret, secret, secret!" project. He recalls the amazing construction activity going on at Oak Ridge when he arrived at the site in October 1943. He worked with uranium, which was referred to only by its codename "Tuballoy," under threat of imprisonment. Wilcox worked at Y-12 plant for five years and then at the K-25 plant for 20 years, retiring as Technical Director for Union Carbide Nuclear Division. 


Remembering Don Hornig


On January 21, 2013, Manhattan Project veteran Donald (Don) Hornig passed away at the age of 92. He received a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1943, and one year later was recruited to join the laboratory at Los Alamos. A visionary scientist and educator, what we remember is his wonderful creativity and humor, designing the electrical switching device for the implosion bomb, and babysitting the bomb the night before the Trinity test. During his distinguished career, he served as professor at Brown and Harvard; science advisor to President Lyndon Johnson; and president of Brown University (1970-1976).


His wife, Lilli, was a chemist. They married in 1943 and were together until his death, for 69 years. They had four children, nine grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. We send our deepest sympathies to Lilli Hornig and her family.

Don Hornig and LBJ. Photo courtesy of the LBJ Presidential Library.

In an interview with WUNC, Hornig remembered the night of July 15, 1945, as he was stationed on top of the tower with the "gadget," anxiously waiting for a storm to pass over the Trinity site. But he was most worried that his contribution, the electrical switching device, might not work. 

Gadget at the base of the Trinity test tower.


"Oppenheimer was really terribly worried about the fact that the thing was so complicated and so many people knew exactly how it was put together that it would be easy to sabotage. So he thought someone had better baby sit it right up until the moment it was fired. They asked for volunteers and as the youngest guy present, I was selected. I don't know if it was that I was most expendable or best able to climb a 100-foot tower!


"By then there was a violent thunder and lightning storm. I climbed up there, took along a book, Desert Island Decameron, and climbed the tower on top of which there was the bomb, all wired up and ready to go. Little metal shack, open on one side, no windows on the other three, and a 60-watt bulb and just a folding chair for me to sit on beside the bomb, and there I was!"


All I had was a telephone. I wasn't equipped to defend myself, I don't know what I was supposed to do. There were no instructions! The possibility of lightning striking the tower was very much on my mind. But it was very wet and the odds were the tower would act like a giant lightning rod and the electricity would just go straight down to the wet desert. In that case, nothing would have happened. The other case was that it would set the bomb off. And in that case, I'd never know about it! So I read my book."


January History Updates


On AHF's Facebook page and Twitter feed, we daily post "On This Day" in the history of the Manhattan Project, nuclear history, and World  War II. Here are some crucial Manhattan Project and nuclear science anniversaries that occurred in January:


January 1, 1947: The Atomic Energy Commission replaces the Manhattan Engineer District as the governmental organization controlling atomic energy.


January 11, 1944: An implosion theory group at Los Alamos is set up with Teller as head.


January 13, 1939: Otto Frisch observes fission directly by detecting fission fragments in an ionization chamber. With the assistance of biologist William Arnold, he coins the term "fission."


January 16, 1943: Groves selects Hanford, WA as a site for plutonium production.
Hanford from the air.



January 18, 1945: The dangerous Dragon experiment is successfully conducted by Otto Frisch, giving direct evidence of an explosive chain reaction. Richard Feynman described the experiment as "tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon," hence the name. In the experiment, a U-235 hydride slug is dropped through a barely subcritical U-235 hydride assembly, creating the world's first assembly critical through prompt neutrons alone (prompt critical).


January 19, 1942: Arthur Compton creates the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago to act as a consolidated research center. He transfers work on "uranium burners" (reactors) to it. Oppenheimer organizes a program on fast neutron theoretical physics at Berkeley.


January 23, 1911: Despite having received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband for their radioactivity research, the French Academy of Sciences rejects Marie Curie's membership application. Emile Hilaire Amagat, a member of the Academy, declares, "Women cannot be part of the Institute of France."

Marie and Pierre Curie

January 24, 1946: The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission is established "to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy."


January 26, 1939: Niels Bohr publicly announces the discovery of fission at an annual theoretical physics conference at George Washington University in Washington, DC.


To receive our daily posts, "Like" us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @AtomicHeritage. We take most of our daily history updates from our Atomic Timeline on our Atomic Wiki.


We are looking forward to the NSF-funded workshop on February 14 and 15, 2013 in Washington, DC on interpreting the Manhattan Project and its legacy for history, science and society. We plan to record the entire session and will put the presentations and highlights on our website.


In addition, on February 13, 2013 we will be recording interviews with historians Robert S. Norris, Richard Rhodes, and Alex Wellerstein, as well as Dimas Chavez. Chavez was 5 years old in 1943 when his father started working at Los Alamos and his family moved to a two-room log cabin there; decades later, he worked for Los Alamos laboratory director Harold Agnew. 


Thank you for your interest in the Manhattan Project and support for our continuing efforts.



Atomic Heritage Foundation