Edwin and Elsie McMillan were among the first people to arrive at Los Alamos. Edwin, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was involved in the initial selection of Los Alamos. In this lecture, Edwin describes visiting Jemez Springs and Los Alamos when he, Oppenheimer, and General Groves were deciding on the site for the weapons laboratory. McMillan also discusses his involvement in the implosion research, the gun program, and recruiting scientists including Richard Feynman to the project.
[Many thanks to Thomas Scanlan for recording and donating this interview to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Thomas Scanlan: —Is part of an interview, which I held with Professor Marvin Wilkening at his home on Socorro, New Mexico on July 15, 1995.
Now, I was reading that you had worked at four different places associated with the Manhattan Project.
Marvin Wilkening: That’s right.
Scanlan: Was your first work with [Enrico] Fermi at Chicago?
Martin Sherwin: Okay, this is the middle of an interview with Norris Bradbury.
Norris Bradbury: The fact that I wasn’t particularly involved in these discussions, of the type which the Federation of Atomic Scientists started—they started here, of course. I suppose I was committed to running a laboratory and trying to get people to stay here, while I was not uncommitted to international control of nuclear weapons, for heaven’s sakes. No one could be.
Louis Hempelmann: He [J. Robert Oppenheimer] just told me what the situation was. He did not ask me, which is the same thing when he got sick because I was in the radiology department here and I knew something about it. He would call me up, tell me what he had done, and then say “What do you think of it?” By that time, the only thing I could say was, “That was fine.”
Martin Sherwin: Martin Sherwin, I am about to interview Dr. Hempelmann at Strong Memorial Hospital.
You know, simply from all of the Los Alamos records, but who told me you were at Strong? That was, I think, Dorothy McKibbin.
Louis Hempelmann: Oh yeah.
Sherwin: No, she confirmed it. She said you were coming out to Santa Fe.
Martin Sherwin: This is an interview with John DeWire at Cornell University in his office at Newman Hall 228, Newman. Today is May 5, 1982.
You were with Robert Wilson’s group from Princeton that was recruited by [J. Robert] Oppenheimer in ’43, right? Late ’43, was it?
John DeWire: Early ’43.
Sherwin: Early ’43.
DeWire: I went to Princeton in February ’42.
Sherwin: From where?
John De Wire was a physicist who was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. In this interview, De Wire discusses how he was recruited, the move to Los Alamos, the organization and administration at Los Alamos, and the unusual speed with which scientists could procure items. He explains how he came to work at Princeton, and his involvement after the war in opposing Lewis Strauss’s nomination for Secretary of Commerce. He recalls what made Oppenheimer such an effective leader.
Hans Bethe: The other was M - A - D, MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction], which essentially says that nuclear weapons make sense only as a safeguard against nuclear weapons. As [Wolfgang] Panofsky has said recently, and there is actually an article by him, "It is not a doctrine. It is a fact of life. Nothing else is possible, whatever you might wish.” So I think you should not present it as something really unavoidable, without any movements in the opposite direction.
Harry Allen: Mr. Wilson and company set us up a purchase request for a barber chair, because they couldn’t get off work in time to get their hair done.
Robert Van Gemert: There was only one man cutting hair, I think, up there.
Allen: The barber service was extremely limited, and we just happen to know where there was an old barber chair down in the old engineers’ warehouse. So we sent the truck driver down, and we delivered one barber chair down to the cyclotron building.
Harry Allen and Robert Van Gemert worked in procurement at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, the pair discusses getting ready for the Trinity test, the challenges of using Jumbo, and how materials were transported safely and secretly in and out of Los Alamos. They remember helping to acquire the lead-lined tanks used to transport scientists to the blast zone after the Trinity test. Allen and Van Gemert also discuss the dormitories at Los Alamos, how the Town Council handled problems, and the secrets of PO Box 1663.