2015 New Year

This month we have added over 20 oral histories to "Voices of the Manhattan Project." Be sure to watch the interviews with esteemed Princeton professors Val Fitch and Freeman Dyson

We have also added dozens of profiles to our Manhattan Project Veterans Database.  One is for Abe Spitzerpictured here in front of the 509th Composite Group sign on Tinian Island in 1945. A radio operator, Spitzer served on Great Artiste and Bockscar on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing missions.
In This Issue
The Making of the Manhattan Project Park

The restored V Site at Los Alamos

The Federation of American Scientists has published an article written by AHF President Cindy Kelly, The Making of the Manhattan Project Park. She notes, "The making of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park took more than five times as long as the making of the atomic bomb itself (1942 to 1945)."


Kelly begins the story in 1989, when Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to clean up decades of contamination at its nuclear production facilities. Along with dozens of other Manhattan Project properties, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) slated the V Site buildings for demolition. Luckily, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation determined that the V Site would not only qualify as a National Historic Landmark but as a World Heritage Site similar to the Acropolis in Athens or the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

AHF President Cindy Kelly


In 1998 DOE was awarded a Save America's Treasures grant to restore the V-Site. In order to match the grant with the required non-Federal funds, Kelly left DOE and founded the Atomic Heritage Foundation in 2002. Since then, AHF has worked in partnership with the local communities and other organizations to preserve historic Manhattan Project sites around the country and to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.


For more about Manhattan Project preservation efforts and the road to the park, read the article here.


AHF 2014 Annual Report

The Atomic Heritage Foundation's 2014 annual report is now online. The report includes information on the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park; updates on our oral history project and historic preservation efforts; and more. To download the report, click here.


If you would like a hard copy, please email us at info@atomicheritage.org with your address and we will be glad to mail you one. 


Manhattan Project Spotlight: The Groves Family

Grace and Gwen Groves reading about the bombing of Hiroshima

Most days from September 1942 until August 1945, Manhattan Project Director

General Leslie Groves would leave his modest brick home located on 36th St., NW in Washington, DC's historic Cleveland Park neighborhood at 6:15 AM. He would climb into his green 1942 Dodge four-door sedan, and make the fifteen minute drive to his office at the New War Building at 21st and C St., NW. There he oversaw the secret project to build the world's first atomic bomb.


Groves and his wife, Grace, had moved to the neighborhood in August 1939 to be near the National Cathedral School for Girls where their daughter, Gwen, attended school. Their son, Richard, was at West Point Academy during the War and stayed in the fourth bedroom during visits home.


Now you can hear interviews with each member of the Groves family on the "Voices of the Manhattan Project" website. Stephane Groueff recorded more than twelve hours of conversation with the General in 1965 for his book, The Manhattan Project. Groueff also recorded an interview with the General's wife, Grace, who admired her husband's determination and ability to make tough decisions. "I think that he's quite unusual. I've always thought so. I admire him more than anyone I've ever known."


Richard Groves
at West Point

Groves' commitment to his family meant keeping some things secret, namely his work on the atomic bomb. Grace, Richard, and Gwen were shocked to learn about their father's involvement on the project when the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. "It was on the radio--that is where we first heard about it," recalls Gwen. "It was a big bomb, and there was my father--he had done all this work. My mother was truly astonished."


Groves, who passed away in 1970, had no regrets about his role in building the atomic bomb. "He was intensely proud of the Manhattan Project and proud of the people that worked on it," said Richard. "All 200,000 of them, not just the 'fancy dans' that wrote books, but the people that were out there doing the mucking around in the mud."

Next Steps in K-25 Preservation Project


K-25 before demolition

In December 2013, the Department of Energy completed its demolition of the historic K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, once the largest roofed building in the world. In an August 2012 "memorandum of agreement" with preservationists and other parties, DOE promised to "mitigate" the demolition of the building by creating a history center, building a viewing tower of K-25's original footprint, and developing exhibits on the site's role in the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.


Inside K-25

Gregor Smee, Smee + Busby Architects, and Gerald Hilferty, Hilferty & Associates, have developed a concept design of the interpretive exhibits and observation tower. However, there is no money at the moment to go forward with implementing the project. The Office and Management and Budget removed the requested $8 million for the K-25 interpretive project from the budget for FY 2016. DOE Oak Ridge has $2.1 million in 2015 to complete the design activities, but it will be difficult to make progress with construction in 2016 without a Congressional appropriation. For more information, see Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Frank Munger's article, Will K-25 preservation project live up to promise?


If and when the exhibit does open, it will include small historic artifacts used at K-25 during the Manhattan Project, such as bikes and signs. But DOE has determined that original K-25 equipment "could not be appropriately cleaned to free-release standards," according to Mike Koentop, executive officer at DOE's Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge. Instead, DOE proposed to replicate equipment such as compressors and convertors. 


In Memoriam: Val Fitch and Ralph Nobles


We are sad to report that two prominent Manhattan Project veterans passed away in February, Val Fitch and Ralph Nobles.


Val Fitch was drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment in 1943. He was sent to Los Alamos, where he worked with Ernest Titterton on signals for the detonation of the "Gadget" in the Trinity test. He was also sent to Wendover to observe the dummy bomb tests. Fitch won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980 "for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons." He was a professor at Princeton for many years.

In a 2008 interview with AHF President Cindy Kelly, Fitch remembered witnessing the Trinity test: "It's hard to overstate the impact on the senses of something like that. First the flash of light, that enormous fireball, the mushroom cloud rising thousands of feet in the sky, and then, a long time afterwards, the sound. The rumble, thunder in the mountains. Word's haven't been invented to describe it in any accurate way." 


Ralph Nobles. Photo courtesy Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group
Ralph Nobles was one of three brothers to work on the Manhattan Project; he and his brother William worked at Los Alamos, while brother Robert was at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory. During the Trinity test, Ralph helped operate data recorders. Ralph married Carolyn Fisher, who worked as a secretary at Los Alamos. He went on to earn a PhD in physics and worked for many years at Lockheed Missiles and Space. He was also heavily involved in efforts to preserve San Francisco Bay.  

Article on Deaths during the Manhattan Project


WWII poster

At the Atomic Heritage Foundation, we receive many inquiries about the history of the Manhattan Project. One question we get asked a lot is, how many people died during the Manhattan Project?


Historian Alex Wellerstein has discovered a list of all the fatal accidents that occurred at Los Alamos in 1943 through September 1946. There were 24 deaths during this period. They include the criticality accidents that killed Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin, but other deaths included a child who drowned in the pond and several construction, driving, and horse riding accidents.


The total number of fatalities at Hanford and Oak Ridge from 1943-1945 was 62; 54 were construction employees. 3,879 workers at the sites also suffered disabling injuries. (See page 78 of Manhattan District History, Book 1, Volume 11, Part 1, General Safety Program, Appendix B-3.) Wellerstein notes, "At Oak Ridge and Hanford, they claimed an exceptional occupational safety record - their injury rates were (they claimed) 62% below those of private industry." Many Manhattan Project veterans recalled the strict safety regulations enforced by DuPont at Hanford. 


Recent Additions to "Voices of the Manhattan Project"


Thanks to hard work by our interns, Caitlyn Borghi, Anna Frenzilli, and Emma Schaff, we are making great progress in uploading more interviews from the AHF, Groueff, Sanger, and Rhodes Collections to the Voices of the Manhattan Project website. Here is a selection of the 20+ interviews we added in February. For more, visit Voices.

Nancy Bartlit is the former president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and co-author of Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun. Her father worked on the Manhattan Project in New York City, Oak Ridge, and Canada. Bartlit talks about how her experiences teaching in Japan and living in Los Alamos influenced her work as a historian. She discusses Japan's surrender, the internment of Japanese Americans, Navajo Code Talkers, and how Japan remembers the bombings today.


Freeman Dyson is an esteemed mathematician and theoretical physicist at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. Dyson discusses his work at England's Bomber Command in World War II. He explains the importance of scientific innovation in wartime, the effectiveness of strategic bombing campaigns, and why civil defense worked better in Germany than in Britain. Dyson later worked with Manhattan Project veterans Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman, and Robert R. Wilson, and recalls how they felt about the project. He discusses what methods he thinks would work best to further nonproliferation efforts today. Dyson remembers visiting Oak Ridge, and explains Oak Ridge's important role in building innovative nuclear reactors and conducting biological experiments.


Tom Gary headed the design division in the engineering department at the DuPont Company and served on the committee which decided among the proposed fissionable material production and purification processes. He discusses his time on the review committee, including Ernest Lawrence's effective salesmanship, and what it was like to work with a young Crawford Greenwalt.


Martin Skinner worked in the Beta 3 Building in the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Skinner elaborates on his role as a troubleshooter for the Calutrons in the Beta 3 Building. He also highlights the degree of the secrecy involved in working on the Manhattan Project. After the war, Skinner returned to Oak Ridge to continue working on a project researching the stable separation of isotopes. He concludes by stressing the need to preserve the memory and importance of atomic history.


Adrienne Lowry arrived at Los Alamos in 1942 after her husband, radiochemist and co-discoverer of plutonium, Joseph W. Kennedy, was selected by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead the chemistry division at Los Alamos. Lowry recalls the early days of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, when construction was just beginning and housing remained scarce for many of the workers who had just arrived. Prior to the birth of her first child, Lowry carried mail between Los Alamos and Santa Fe. 


Julius Tabin was a physicist and a member of Enrico Fermi's team at Los Alamos. Tabin, working alongside fellow physicists Herbert Anderson and Darragh Nagle, carried out experiments under Fermi. In July 1945, Tabin witnessed the Trinity Test and afterwards went into into the crater left by the blast, riding in a specially modified lead-lined tank to collect surface samples at ground zero. In this interview, Tabin describes in great detail the personalities of Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer. He further elaborates on how the scientists at Los Alamos got along and the problem-solving strategies they used. Tabin finishes with a reflection on technological progress since WWII and his family.