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July 2014

This summer the Atomic Heritage Foundation has been enjoying listening to interviews with J. Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Nobel Prize winners Glenn Seaborg, Harold Urey, Hans Bethe, and Eugene Wigner and many others. 

We have over a dozen new interviews on our "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website. Listening online is free but donations will help us bring more of these fascinating oral histories to you. Thanks very much and happy listening. 
In This Issue
Oppenheimer Interview Now Online
J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is pleased to announce the release of more than a dozen new audio interviews with top Manhattan Project scientists and military leaders on our "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website, including a rare, forty-minute interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.


This never-before-heard interview features some of Oppie's earliest recollections of the Manhattan Project, including his first meeting with General Leslie Groves at the University of California, Berkeley in October 1942. After the two enjoyed lunch with the President of the University, the soft-spoken physicist pulled the General aside and told him that the Manhattan Project "will never get on the rails unless there is a place where people can talk to each other and work together on the problems of the bomb...a place where people are free to discuss what they know and what they do not know and to find out what they can."


This past month, AHF added several new interviews from the Stephane Groueff Collection (1965), including a rare recording of General Groves' wife, Grace, and an hour-long interview with Chicago Met Lab Director Samuel K. Allison. We also uploaded two more interviews with General Groves, part 3 and part 4, which feature detailed accounts of his visits to Berkeley, Chicago, and Columbia to meet with some of the top scientists who would be working on the project.


The latest batch of audio-recordings from the S.L. Sanger Collection (1985) have also been uploaded to "Voices" and include interviews with DuPont construction manager Frank Mackie, Met Lab physicist Alvin Weinberg, and Hanford Site Director Colonel Franklin Matthias.

Col. Franklin Matthias



Matthias, who supervised the construction of the B reactor and the Hanford camp, praised DuPont for their contribution to the project: "They gave us the very best people they had. They did not spare any efforts to help us do what we had to do. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship that I was able to maintain, because that is not normal on a big job like that."


We have also begun to upload interviews from the Richard Rhodes Collection (early 1990s), including a 90-minute discussion with physicist Nicholas Metropolis, who led some of the earliest efforts in computational research for the bomb with fellow mathematicians Stanislaw Ulam and John von Neumann.


Rose Bethe

When the first generation of IBM card-sorting computers arrived at Los Alamos in 1944, Metropolis and fellow physicist Richard Feynman modified the machines and tested their speed by having some of the women perform the same calculations using Marchant machines: "At first, the gals were winning, but then they began to tire a little bit as the day wore on. Then the machines caught up with them and passed them. Of course when they stopped, the machines then were able to make a progress in a great way. That's how I got started in computing."


AHF has uploaded some of its own oral histories over the past month, including an exceptional interview with Rose Bethe, the wife of Nobel Prize-winner Hans Bethe. Rose, who assigned housing to incoming scientists and their families during the initial stages of the project, recalls how the secrecy of the project caused problems for many couples: "Nothing of the work that went on in the laboratory went home, and many of the women found this very difficult...because the husbands had talked about their work [before] and it had been a close relationship."

Interviews with Experts

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is also very pleased to release four new interviews with Manhattan Project historians on our "Voices" website. These experts discuss some of the most important aspects of the atomic bomb project. We plan to use their insights for interpretation in our "Ranger in Your Pocket" series on the Manhattan Project.


Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, discusses the selection of Hanford as the site for the world's first nuclear production reactor. He also talks about the legacy of the Manhattan Project, which was "absolutely revolutionary" and something that "changed that way the world has worked ever since."


Robert S. Norris, author of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, talks about the crucial role of General Groves, whose energy and determination impelled the atomic bomb project forward at an incredible pace. He also attributes much of the success of the Project to the Army Corps of Engineers, an organization that "plunged into big projects with great decisiveness, making decisions that were enormously costly, but with confidence that they could get them done."


Alex WellersteinAssistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, and author of "Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog," describes the science of nuclear fission and explains the differences between the uranium "Little Boy" bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and the plutonium "Fat Man" bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. He also provides insight into the Soviet Atomic program and offers an explanation for why Germany failed to build its own atomic bomb.


William Lanouette, author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb, talks about Szilard's contributions to the Manhattan Project, including his theory of a nuclear chain reaction in 1933. He also discusses Oppenheimer's security clearance hearing in 1954 and Szilard's failed effort to persuade fellow colleague and friend Edward Teller from testifying against Oppenheimer.


We hope you enjoy listening to these renowned historians share their insights on the Manhattan Project!


"Manhattan" Review

A new television show on the Manhattan Project, "Manhattan," premiered on WGN America on Sunday, July 27 with much fanfare. The Daily Beast proclaimed that the "compelling new period drama" is "quite possibly the best new offering this summer." The Atomic Heritage Foundation staff and friends gathered to watch the premiere and live-tweeted our responses; check out our Twitter feed here.

"Manhattan" takes place in Los Alamos, NM, opening in July 1943, "766 days before Hiroshima," and throws the audience right into what will likely be the show's central tensions: Can they succeed in creating an atomic bomb that will help end the war? Are there spies in their midst? Scientists have to constantly remind each other of just how top-secret the project is, cover for the not-so-innocent indiscretions of their employees, and lie to their increasingly suspicious wives of the true nature of their work. 

"Manhattan" hits all the right notes for a historical television drama: love and betrayal, secrecy and spies, and the incessant toll of war. Add in alcohol, the Army, and scientists suffering from nightmares, and Los Alamos becomes a powder keg. While there were certainly many tense moments at Los Alamos during the real Manhattan Project, there were also fun times, from hiking, horseback riding, and escapes to La Fonda in Santa Fe. The only tension reliever "Manhattan" has shown so far is whacking a golf ball into the inky darkness of the desert night. 


The show is a blend of fact and fiction. The primary characters are entirely fictional including the main scientist, Frank Winter, and a Chinese-American physicist, Sidney Liao. "Manhattan" does portray J. Robert Oppenheimer as the director of the laboratory at Los Alamos. While Oppenheimer could be dismissive to the point of rudeness, "Manhattan's" first introduction to Oppenheimer seems a little extreme as he ends an argument with Frank Winter by summarily dropping him off in the middle of the New Mexico desert. 

Most scientists at Los Alamos were enormously impressed by Oppenheimer's sheer brilliance and quick grasp of all aspects of the project. As Phil Morrison once said, "We were all completely under his spell. There was no one like him." Others testify to his kindness including Dimas Chavez, a young Hispanic boy who sold him newspapers. While we understand that "Manhattan" is meant to be a historical drama, not a docudrama, we assume that the show will portray other dimensions of Oppie's character in future episodes.

It can be difficult for historical purists to watch a show like this, but we really enjoyed the first episode of "Manhattan." If "Manhattan" keeps the historical atmosphere strong and does not succumb to melodrama, it may turn out to be the best new historical drama on television. At the very least, it should help introduce people around the country to the rich and complex history of the Manhattan Project.

We will be live-tweeting all 13 episodes, so be sure to follow us on Twitter! We will also post reviews after each episode and welcome your reactions.

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center Opens












The capstone of a grand opening week, on Saturday, July 5, 2014, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the new Hanford Reach Interpretive Center or the REACH. The ceremony began with a moving blessing of the building led by Armand Minthorn of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. Frederick Raab, President of the REACH board, recognized the many contributions of the Tri-Cities community and especially the tireless leadership of Lisa Toomey and the dedicated staff and volunteers who made the REACH a reality. 

The REACH's 24,000-square-foot building is a dramatic architectural statement on the shores of the Columbia River. Its undulating and striated exterior suggests the Ice Age Floods that carved the Columbia Basin over 18,000 years ago. Designed as both an interpretive center for the Hanford Reach National Monument and a place to learn about Hanford's multilayered history, its exhibits cover the gamut from the Ice Age Floods, the development of agriculture along the Columbia to the wine industry. 

For the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the museum will serve as a gateway for visitors to the B Reactor and other Manhattan Project sites. Gallery 2 is dedicated to the story of the Hanford Engineer Works including a dozen oral histories of former workers and DuPont mangers from the Atomic Heritage Foundation's collection. In the future, a new building will be dedicated to the Manhattan Project history.

Cindy Kelly and Lisa Toomey 

The REACH also promises to be an important cultural center. On Saturday night, the new outdoor theater hosted ballet and musical performances as the sun set over the Columbia River. A leaping stag and other full-sized metal critters created by high school students paraded up the river walk trail. 

Located at 1943 Columbia Park Trail in Richland, the REACH is a great addition to the Tri-Cities. Its educational programs for students, teachers, and adults offer a wide variety of options from solar system projects for middle school students to yearlong oenology and viticulture courses for adults. Kudos to all involved in its creation!

Last Member of Enola Gay Crew Passes Away


Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, the navigator and last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, passed away at the age of 93 on July 28. 


Van Kirk was just in his early twenties when he was selected by Col. Paul Tibbets for the 509th Composite Group. He was selected as navigator for the mission to drop the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima.


Van Kirk's navigation skill was such that, according to the New York Times, he "had brought the Enola Gay to its target only a few seconds behind schedule at the conclusion of a six-and-a-half-hour flight. He later recalled, 'The plane jumped and made a sound like sheet metal snapping. Shortly after the second wave, we turned to where we could look out and see the cloud, where the city of Hiroshima had been.'"


Van Kirk retired from the military in 1946 as a major. He went on to become a marketing executive with DuPont.


Manhattan Project Park Update

On July 16, AHF staff and representatives from the Energy Communities Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the local Manhattan Project communities met with Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Republican and Democratic staff to discuss moving the Manhattan Project Park bill forward. Both Republican and Democratic staff expressed their support for the bill and reiterated that they are "cautiously optimistic" that the bill will pass this year.

In August, Congress will be in recess. There is a chance the Senate could move on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, in September. It is more likely, however, that the NDAA will be voted on after the November elections. We will keep you updated! 

Trinity Test Anniversary

The only color photo of the Trinity test, taken by Jack Aeby

July 16 was the 69th anniversary of the Trinity test. On July 16, 1945, at 5:29:21 MT, Manhattan Project scientists conducted the world's first atomic bomb test at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The purpose of the test was to confirm that an implosion assembly method device with a plutonium core would set off a nuclear chain reaction. The bomb, called the "Gadget," worked, setting off an explosion equal to about 18 kilotons of TNT. Around 260 scientists and soldiers witnessed the test, in addition to some scientists and their families who went up into the mountains to view the explosion.

Thomas O. Jones: My role in the Trinity test was to see whether this bomb went "pfump" or whether it took half of the state of NM into the air and perhaps into flights around the world.
Lilli Hornig: Sort of boiling clouds and color-vivid colors like violet, purple, orange, yellow, red. It was fantastic. We were all shaken up. We waited for the shock wave to come, which it did, fifteen minutes later.
Norris Bradbury with the "Gadget" on top of the Trinity test tower

Berlyn Brixner: I was just so amazed that I was essentially dumbfounded by the explosion. I knew immediately that the explosion had exceeded the greatest expectations and that essentially we had won the war because that bomb would soon be used on Japan. And it was.

Felix DePaula: This older man, name was Pop Borden, had worked with dynamite in his days before he got into the service. I recall three, maybe four days after the detonation, that man still couldn't eat; he still couldn't get over the detonation. He'd go around and he'd say, "That's the most terrible thing I've ever seen in my life."

Groves's Oak Ridge Home Damaged in Fire

The Luther Brannon House. Photo from Oak Ridge Today, courtesy of Don Raby.


The Luther Brannon House in Oak Ridge, which served as a home and headquarters for Gen. Leslie R. Groves during the Manhattan Project, was damaged in a fire on Monday, July 7.


The Luther Brannon House was bought by the US government in 1942. As of 1991, it was one of only three pre-World War II dwellings left in Oak Ridge. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the first home in Oak Ridge to be privately owned. Gen. Groves lived at the house when he was visiting Oak Ridge and kept his headquarters there until the administration buildings were built.


For more information about the home and the fire, visit Oak Ridge Today, which also has historic photos of the house. 

Thanks to Our Summer Interns
Owen Pagano, Charles Lehman, and Nicolo Marzaro


We would like to thank our terrific summer interns for their great work editing and adding oral histories to our "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website, writing scripts for vignettes to be produced on Hanford's history, and working on our new website.

  • Owen Pagano is a 2014 summa cum laude graduate of the George Washington University in history and wrote his thesis on George Koval, an alleged Soviet spy at Oak Ridge and Dayton during the Manhattan Project.   
  • Charles Lehman is a junior at Yale University studying history.
  • Nicolo Marzaro is a sophomore at the University of Pennyslvania majoring in history.


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