The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Jimmy Vale

Jimmy Vale joined the Manhattan Project in 1943, where he helped operate calutrons as part of Ernest O. Lawrence’s particle accelerator team. Vale shares his recollections about Lawrence and discusses their time traveling together and the quirks of Lawrence’s personality.

Wallace Reynolds's, Duane Sewell's, and Elmer Kelly's Interview

In this interview, Wallace Reynolds, Duane Sewell, and Elmer Kelly recount their Manhattan Project experiences at Berkeley and Oak Ridge. This trio was part of the first group to arrive at Oak Ridge. They discuss the difficulties and obstacles that surrounded the cyclotrons and isotope separation, remarking that there was never a doubt that the job could be done. They also talk about Ernest Lawrence’s role, describing him as a natural leader completely dedicated to the project.

Lauchlin Currie's Interview

Dr. Lauchlin Currie, a chemical engineer, worked in barrier production at the Houdaille-Hershey plant in Decatur, IL. He also worked on graphite production in West Virginia and North Carolina. He discusses a number of the other companies involved in the Manhattan Project, including Kellex and Union Carbide. He also discusses the people he worked alongside, and how their temperaments came together to make the Project run.

Percival Keith's Interview

Percival Keith was the head of the Kellex Corporation. In his interview, he discusses the recruitment of top scientists and engineers, including George Watts, Manson Benedict, and Ludwig Skog. He was tasked with constructing the gaseous diffusion plant for uranium isotope separation. Keith focuses on the decision to abandon the flat barrier design for the tube model, and how doing so was instrumental in finishing the project.

Phil Gardner's Interview

Phil Gardner was in charge of labor recruitment for the Hanford site in a region comprising seven states. He discusses how he worked nonstop to hire workers from of all fields across the country for a project he was told nothing about. Gardner recalls travelling over 100,000 miles by planes, buses, trains, and cars. He worked around bureaucratic obstacles in an effort to satisfy ever-increasing quotas.

Rose Bethe's Interview

Rose Bethe and her husband, Nobel Prize winner Hans Bethe, moved to Los Alamos in early 1943 when Hans was appointed leader of the Theoretical Division for the Manhattan Project. During the initial stages of the Project, Rose worked in the housing office, where she assigned incoming scientists and their families to houses and showed them where site facilities were located. When Rose became pregnant with her first child, Henry, she resigned her position to help physicist Bruno Rossi wire electronics boards. Mrs. Bethe recalls raising her children at Los Alamos and some of the relationships she developed with many of the project’s most famous scientists. She also discusses her childhood years in Germany and how the rise of Hitler forced her and many of her close friends to leave the country.

Robert S. Norris' Interview

In this interview, Robert S. Norris traces the chronology of the Manhattan Project from its inception in 1942 through the early years of the Cold War. Dr. 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 Project forward at an incredibly quick pace. Norris also discusses the controversial decision to drop the bomb on Japan and the Soviet atomic program that developed shortly after the end of World War II.

Richard Rhodes' Interview

In this interview, Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," discusses the selection of the Hanford site and explains DuPont’s important role in the Manhattan Project. Rhodes provides a brief history of the Alsos Mission, detailing the capture of German physicists and their reactions to the news that the United States had created and used an atomic bomb. He also discusses the rationale behind using the bomb, adding how its creation was inevitable due to the principles behind scientific research.

Alex Wellerstein's Interview

In this interview, Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and founder of "Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog," discusses the basic science behind the atomic bomb and explains the difference 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 discusses Britain's contribution to the Manhattan Project and provides a brief history of the German and Soviet atomic programs. Wellerstein also discusses the effects of nuclear fallout, including the short and long-term threats posed by radiation.

General Leslie Groves's Interview - Part 3

In this interview, General Groves describes his first few weeks as the director of the Manhattan Project. He discusses his visits to the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University to meet with some of the top scientists who would be working on the project.