The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Robert Thornton's Interview

Robert Lyster Thornton worked separating uranium isotopes as the assistant director of the Process Improvement Division of the Tennessee Easton Corporation at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Thornton talks about working under Ernest Lawrence, as well as the development and workings of the Beta plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He also discusses the challenges he faced in separating uranium isotopes and the thousands of men and women who helped in the process.

James C. Stowers' Interview

Lt. Col. James C. Stowers was an engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers and became the unit chief for the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Stowers and his staff of officers were headquartered in the Woolworth Building in New York. Stowers negotiated the divide between civilian and military contributors, and worked intimately with the Kellex Corporation, Union Carbide Company, and the Houdaille-Hershey Company to produce a suitable barrier for the gaseous diffusion project. In this interview, Stowers describes in great detail the many trials and tribulations that challenged the creation of the gaseous diffusion plant.

Harold Fidler's Interview

Harold Fidler was an Army major and a civil engineer for the Corps of Engineers. Fidler began working at the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley with Ernest O. Lawrence in the early stages of the Manhattan Project. Fiddler was responsible for sending weekly reports on the progress that scientists were making to Colonel James C. Marshall, who oversaw the Manhattan Project during its initial stages. Fiddler also ensured that the laboratory received the materials that it needed. In his interview, he discusses what it was like to work under Lawrence, along with the secrecy surrounding the cyclotron and General Groves’ frequent visits.

Eleanor Irvine Davisson

Eleanor Irvine Davisson was Ernest O. Lawrence’s secretary at the University of California Berkeley. In her interview, she discusses her impressions of Dr. Lawrence beginning with the Manhattan Project up until his death in 1958. Irvine describes the professor as an extremely personable individual whose impatience and work ethic fueled his nonstop research. She mentions that he was both a family man and a dedicated scientist.

Raemer Schreiber's Interview

Raemer Schreiber worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project and after the war developing the hydrogen bomb and the Rover nuclear rocket program. In 1945, Schreiber was transferred to the Gadget Division and was a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity Test, watching the explosion from base camp. He flew to Tinian Island with two plutonium hemispheres and helped assemble the Fat Man bomb used on Nagasaki. He witnessed the 1946 radiation accident that killed Louis Slotin, but was allowed to leave Los Alamos after being examined to go to Eniwetok for the Bikini test. He recalls the challenges that went into designing the hydrogen bomb, as well as the personalities of various scientists including Edward Teller and Norris Bradbury.

Gilbert Church's Interview

Gilbert P. Church was a civil engineer and Project Manager at the Hanford site during the Manhattan Project. In 1943, the DuPont Company selected Church to lead their Manhattan Project efforts. Church, along with Major Franklin T. Matthias and A.E.S. Hall, surveyed sites in Washington, Oregon, California, and California before choosing Hanford as the site for the world's first full-scale nuclear production reactor. In this interview, Church describes the challenges faced throughout the project, such as creating a community for up to 45,000 builders, training and providing for these individuals, and completing one of the largest construction projects of the era within tight time constraints.

Daniel Friel's Interview

Daniel D. Friel was a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company who joined the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago in 1943. Friel was assigned to design the optics for remote operations in Hanford's T-Plant, a state-of-the-art chemical separations facility. Under Charles M. Cooper and George Monk, Friel invented equipment based on preexisting military technology to see behind walls at the separation plant and the B Reactor. Friel discusses the use of television and periscopes, describing how challenging it was to create a completely new technology without any precedent to refer to.

Hugh Taylor's Interview

Sir Hugh Taylor was a British-born chemist and the first man to create pure, radioactive heavy water. He worked as a consultant for the Kellex Corporation during the Manhattan Project while maintaining his duties as a professor at Princeton University. After working on the heavy water problem in Trail, British Columbia, Taylor helped design the barrier to be used for uranium separation at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sir Hugh discusses his early work with heavy water, the difficulties in the Norris-Adler barrier for uranium separation, and the extensive industrial effort required to complete the million square foot barrier.

K.T. Keller's Interview - Part 2

KT Keller was appointed President of the Chrysler Corporation in 1935, having served as Vice President since 1926. Keller entered the automotive field as an apprentice without any previous education in engineering or mechanics. His intelligence, hard work, and mechanical skills enabled him to advance all the way to the top of Chrysler, where he guided the company through World War II. In Part 2 of his interview, Keller discusses Chrysler’s role in the Manhattan Project, including how the company solved the problem of electroplating tubes with nickel in order to prevent corrosion during the gaseous diffusion process. He also discusses his relationship with General Leslie Groves and his deputy, Col. Kenneth Nichols.

James C. Hobbs' Interview - Part 1

J.C. Hobbs was an American inventor and engineer who created a key part of the valves used in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He was a prominent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and was vice-president of the Diamond Alkali Company. Hobbs was brought on to the Manhattan Project by the head of the Kellex Corporation, Percival Keith, to improve the piping system in the K-25 plant. In Part 1 of his interview, Hobbs discuss his early career in industrial engineering and his role at Diamond Alkali, where he helped design innovative steam boilers for power plants across the country.