The Manhattan Project

Y-12 Plant

Bert Tolbert's Interview

Kelly: This is Cindy Kelly, and I am in Boulder, Colorado. It is June 25, 2013, and I am going to be interviewing Bert Mills Tolbert. And the first question for Bert is to say his name, and then spell it?

Tolbert: My name is Bert Mills Tolbert, spelled T-O-L-B-E-R-T.

Kelly: Why don’t you start at the very beginning, and tell us when you were born and where, and then a little bit to lead up to your education and the Manhattan Project?

Bert Tolbert

Bert Tolbert joined the Manhattan Project in 1944 while completing his PhD in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. In April, Tolbert began working for the Radiation Laboratory under E.O. Lawrence and was tasked with separating and enriching small samples of uranium-235 that were used by physicists for various experiments. Tolbert and his team of chemists eventually developed a machine for separating uranium that was so efficient it was shipped down to Oak Ridge to be tested at the Y-12 Facility.

Norman Brown's Interview

I was in the SED, the Special Engineer Detachment and I worked in what was then called D-Building and with my college James Gergen I purified all the plutonium that went in the Nagasaki bomb.  That’s what I did.

The purification that we used was purely in the liquid phase. We worked with solutions of plutonium nitrate and put it through a series of chemical processes to get out all the impurities.  But I want to go back because I think more interesting than the chemistry of plutonium is the whole process, the procedures that we went through.  

Norman Brown

Norman Brown was just a sophomore at MIT when he left to work in the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos. There, Norman worked with transuranic elements essential in developing the atomic bomb. Norman discusses working in Los Alamos and shares his opinions about the development of nuclear weapons.

Theodore Rockwell's Interview (2002)

 

Well I was very young at the time. I went down there in 1943, down to Oak Ridge, TN.   They were interviewing at Princeton where I was going to school. They guys said that they had a very important war project going on down there. And I said, “Oh what’s it all about?” 

And they said, “Oh, we can’t tell you what it’s all about.”

So I said, “Gee, why should I go at a place if you can’t tell me what it’s all about.”  

Theodore Rockwell

Ted Rockwell arrived in Oak Ridge in 1943 after graduating from Princeton with a degree in engineering. After three months, Rockwell joined the "Process Improvement Team", a group of engineers tasked with monitoring and fixing problems at various plants across the site.

Gladys Evans

 

 

Gladys Evans, who worked as a “Calutron” or “Cubicle” girl at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, talks about her experience working in the plant and the ever-present security and concerns with secrecy. She recalls the mud that plagued every Oak Ridger, and on a more fun note, the tennis court dances where couples could enjoy a date. She speaks with pride about their participation in the war effort.

Reba Holmberg

 

 

After studying at the University of Tennessee, Reba Holmberg went to work at the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge. The government evicted her family from their farm to use the land for the Manhattan Project, and she describes the situation of the people dispossessed following the government’s land seizure. She discusses working at the Y-12 plant and living in the “Secret City.”

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