The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

John Wheeler's Interview (1965)

John Wheeler was a theoretical physicist who joined the Manhattan Project in 1942. During the early stages of the project, Wheeler worked under Arthur H. Compton at the Metallurgical Laboratory, where he helped examine potential problems that could arise during the startup of the world's first nuclear reactor. Wheeler later became the lead physicist at the Hanford Site, where he solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. In this interview, Wheeler discusses his early collaboration with Niels Bohr on the liquid drop model of nuclear fission. He also discusses his involvement in designing the B Reactor and solving the problem of xenon poisoning that occurred during startup.

General Leslie Groves' Interview - Part 7

In this interview, Groves discusses the relationship between Harold Urey and John Dunning, the two scientists who were in charge of developing the barrier material for the Gaseous Diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN.

David Kaiser's Interview

David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of the award winning book "Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics," and more recently published "How Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival." His discussion with Atomic Heritage Foundation President, Cindy Kelly, focuses on the birth of nuclear physics and the nuclear bomb, but ranges across scientific developments in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Kelly and Kaiser also deliberate on the facets of innovation, and connect the scientific legacy of the Manhattan Project to current scientific research.

George Kistiakowsky's Interview

Dr. George Kistiakowsky was a Ukranian-American physical chemist whose contribution to the Manhattan Project included the design of the explosive lenses for the implosion-type bomb. He emigrated to the United States in 1926 and was the head of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) before going to Los Alamos as the leader of the Explosives Division. Following the war, Kistiakowsky served as a prominent scientific advisor to the White House across many administrations. In this interview, author Richard Rhodes and Kistiakowsky discuss life at Los Alamos, the relationships between many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project, and Kistiakowsky’s contributions after the war.

William E. Tewes' Interview (September 2013)

In July 1945 William E. Tewes was transferred from New York, where he was working on gaseous diffusion, to Oak Ridge. He worked on the leak testing operation at K-25. He discusses the many scientific and engineering innovations of the K-25 Plant, raising a family in Oak Ridge, and the friends he made among his fellow Manhattan Project workers.

Herman Snyder's Interview

Herman Snyder worked on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge as a soldier in the Special Engineer Detachment. He worked at the K-25 Plant for many years, and later at the Y-12 Plant. He discusses the many innovations that caused K-25 to run so smoothly and to be built so quickly. Snyder also reminisces about the sense of community at Oak Ridge, and recalls having to scrounge a pass to get his new bride through the gates into Oak Ridge.

Winston Dabney's Interview (2003)

Winston Dabney applied to be assigned to the Manhattan Project and was transferred from Camp Claiborne, Louisiana to Los Alamos in early 1944. Shortly after he arrived, Dabney was promoted to Master Sergeant, where he was responsible for sending military records to Oak Ridge, organizing payroll, and ordering military supplies. In his interview, Dabney discusses what it was like to live and work at Los Alamos. He describes working conditions, recreational activities, and housing for military members and briefly touches upon religion and the quality of food. Dabney also discusses how he met his wife, Jean, and shares several funny stories involving some of the scientists who worked at Los Alamos.

Irénée Du Pont, Jr.'s Interview (2014)

Irénée Du Pont, Jr. was a member of the DuPont Company’s Executive Committee and is the son of Irénée Du Pont, president of the DuPont Company from 1919-1925. He was also the brother-in-law of Crawford Greenewalt, who coordinated the DuPont Company’s involvement with the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Irénée discusses the history of the DuPont Company, from its early work making gunpowder to the invention of nylon. He describes how the company became one of the key civilian contractors for the Manhattan Project.

Colonel James C. Marshall's Interview

Colonel James C. Marshall set up the Manhattan Engineer District (MED), established by general order on August 13, 1942. Marshall presided over the initial stages of the Project until General Leslie R. Groves assumed control on September 17, 1942. In this interview, Marshall discusses the military's involvement in the Manhattan Project and the challenges of securing funds, choosing project sites, and collaborating with scientists and officials. Marshall also discusses navigating government bureaucracy, going back and forth between different offices, seeking approval for various actions, and dealing with superiors with whom he often disagreed.

Lawrence S. Myers, Jr.'s Interview

Lawrence Myers was a chemist who worked at the Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. In his interview, he discusses attending the University of Chicago, where he was invited to begin working on the Manhattan Project conducting experiments on uranium. He later moved to Oak Ridge along with a group of Chicago scientists. His wife joined him thanks to some chemistry coursework she had completed while in Chicago. Following the Project, Myers worked at Argonne National Laboratory before taking a position at the new medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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