Dorothy Ritter is the daughter of Manhattan Project veteran Francis Oley. Oley worked at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. His job required him and his family to move from New York to Oak Ridge. Ritter spent several years of her childhood in Oak Ridge. In this interview she reminisces about the simplicity of her life there, and discusses how living and working at Oak Ridge impacted her family. She recalls the strain her father was under during the project, and the house they lived in.
Oak Ridge, TN
Ed Wood: January 21, 1954 will go down as a significant day in human history. A milestone in man’s scientific progress. For on that day, at Groton, Connecticut, was launched the first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus, powered by the world’s first atomic engine designed to do useful work. With this achievement, man at last has seen the dawn of the age of atomic power.
Donald Ross: My name is Donald Ross, and I am about to begin my eightieth year on this planet. I was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and I left there with my parents at an early age. We moved to the southern tip of Texas, and had a little farm not too far from Edinburg, Texas, where I grew up.
Donald Ross worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of California-Berkeley and the Y-12 Plant for Tennessee Eastman. In this interview, Ross discusses supervising “Calutron girls” at Y-12. He explains how the electromagnetic separation process for separating uranium isotopes work, and recalls the tight security at Oak Ridge. Ross also describes the social life at Oak Ridge, meeting his wife, and the terrible food in the mess halls. He discusses his views on dropping the bomb on Japan and how his thoughts have changed over time.
Stephane Groueff: Interview with Dr. Clarence Larson—L-A-R-S-O-N—head of the Union Carbide’s operations at Oak Ridge, a chemist. Dr. Larson was connected with the electromagnetic separation process during the war, and he was a personal friend of Dr. Lawrence [Ernest O. Lawrence]. He’s married to the daughter of Dr. Stafford Warren, who was also with the project. You came in 1942?
Dr. Clarence Larson: Yes.
Groueff: From where?
Stephane Groueff: Mr. Hobbs, part three.
J.C. Hobbs: The discussion in connection with piping and all of these fancy bends. Badger Company in Boston, I think, had the contract for the copper expansion joints.
Groueff: Between pipes?
General Kenneth Nichols: —found we did not have the authority to satisfy DuPont.
Stephane Groueff: But why did DuPont challenge your authority?
Nichols: Because they had trouble, in World War I, being called munitions makers and investigated after World War I, so they are more conservative than most companies. And they wanted to have in their files copies of our authorities. And what we had, which I have shown you, and that is satisfactory to them.
Groueff: I see.
Cindy Kelly: My name is Cindy Kelly with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. It is January 8, 2016, and I am in New York City with Peter Lax. My first question for him is to say his name and spell it.
Peter Lax: Peter Lax, spelled L-A-X.
Kelly: Great, thank you. So I would love to have you talk, just a little bit anyway, about your childhood and your parents.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves.
Stephane Groueff: [Enrico] Fermi had the characteristics of a real genius.
Colonel Franklin Matthias: Almost every time you would get in contact with him, something would come up that was impressive. Physically, he was a small man, unimpressive person, but he grew real large when he started talking about things he knew.
Groueff: Was he a friendly person?
Matthias: Yes, warm; very warm, very friendly, a real nice person.