The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Dieter Gruen's Interview (2018)

Dieter Gruen's Interview (2018)

Dieter Gruen worked in the Chemical Research Division at the Y-12 Plant during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, he discusses his childhood in Walldorf, Germany, and how his family’s life changed as the Nazis came to power. Gruen discusses how he came to the U.S. in 1937, and his school experiences both in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at the University of Chicago. He explains how his work at Oak Ridge led him to devote his career to science and innovation. He also spends time sharing his feelings about his involvement with the Manhattan Project. Gruen discusses his views regarding climate change, and how nations can work together to resolve it.

William K. Coors's Interview

William K. Coors's Interview

William “Bill” K. Coors helped construct high-quality ceramic insulators that would be used for the calutrons in the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, TN, during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Coors discusses his upbringing, including feeling homesick while away at Philips Exeter Academy. After graduating from Princeton, he took over the Coors Porcelain Company. One day, he received a mysterious phone call Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, recruiting Coors to quickly provide insulators that would withstand the electric voltage produced by calutrons. He explains why his insulators were the only kind able to withstand the voltage. Lastly, Coors elaborates on the revolutionary practice of using recyclable aluminum cans to hold beer, a process which he helped pioneer in the 1960s.

Samuel Beall Jr.'s Interview

Samuel Beall Jr.'s Interview

Sam Beall is an American nuclear engineer. During the Manhattan Project, he worked for the DuPont Company at the Chicago Met Lab, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA. After the war, he stayed at Oak Ridge and ultimately became head of the Reactor Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In this interview, Beall discusses his involvement with various nuclear reactors at Oak Ridge and recalls his friendship with former ORNL director Alvin Weinberg. He also describes his childhood in Richland, Georgia.

Joanna McClelland Glass's Interview

Joanna McClelland Glass's Interview

Joanna McClelland Glass is a playwright best known for her play "Trying," based on her relationship with Francis Biddle, who was the United States Attorney General under FDR and chief judge at the Nuremberg Trials. Glass worked for Biddle from 1967 until his death in 1968. Glass is the author of two novels, one of which is "Woman Wanted," that was turned into a film. In this interview, she discusses her childhood and attempts to make it as a playwright, before turning to her relationship with Francis Biddle.

Theodore Petry's Interview

Theodore Petry's Interview

Ted Petry was recruited for the Manhattan Project after graduating from high school. He worked as a lab assistant at the Chicago Met Lab and witnessed the Chicago Pile-1 going critical for the first time. In this interview, Petry discusses his experience working at the Met Lab, and working under Enrico Fermi. He explains how the crew planed graphite blocks, and worked on the Chicago Pile operations. He reflects back on the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Chicago Pile-1 and meeting President John F. Kennedy at the White House at the time.

Roger Stover's Interview

Roger Stover's Interview

Roger Stover is a nuclear engineer and U.S. Army veteran. In this interview, Stover discusses his work conducting radiation tests during nuclear tests at Eniwetok and at the Nevada Test Site. He recalls the overwhelming experience of witnessing both hydrogen bomb tests and fission nuclear weapon tests. Stover also describes his nuclear reactor work with the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Division in Pittsburgh, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory, and at Hanford Site. He also comments on the lasting legacies of the Manhattan Project and the future of nuclear energy. Finally, he remembers teaching physics in Pakistan for one year.

William Nicholson's Interview

William J. Nicholson's Interview

William J. Nicholson grew up in Chicago, with a strong interest in aviation and aeronautics. During the Manhattan Project he worked as an assistant at the Met Lab. He then served in the Army Air Force. In this interview, Nicholson discusses his childhood and school years spent in Chicago. He then explains how he joined the Manhattan Project out of high school. He recalls the secrecy of the work, and describes working with and machining uranium and other metals. Nicholson remembers Edward Creutz, Enrico Fermi, Walter Zinn, and other scientists he worked with. He explains why he wanted to leave Manhattan Project work to join the Air Force, and describes flying bombers over Europe and being shot down by the Germans. He ends by discussing his life and career after the war.

Gordon Garrett's Interview

Gordon Garrett's Interview

Gordon Garrett moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1944, at the age of seven. His father worked at the Y-12 plant; his mother was active in the Oak Ridge community. In this interview, Garrett recalls his childhood in the “Secret City” and describes some of the challenges residents faced and how they overcame them. He also discusses the problems of racial segregation and tensions between Oak Ridge and surrounding areas. In addition, he talks about his career path, including his experience in the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how growing up in Oak Ridge would affect him for the rest of his life.

Harris Mayer's Interview

Harris Mayer's Interview

Harris Mayer is an American physicist. A student of both Edward Teller and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, he worked at Columbia University during the Manhattan Project. He moved to Los Alamos in 1947 to work at the Los Alamos laboratory, and his early work contributed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Mayer discusses his close friendships with other scientists and his work on the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests. He shares stories about Teller, Frederick Reines, and Richard Feynman, and recalls attempting to mediate the conflict between Teller and Hans Bethe.

Martin Mandelberg's Interview

Martin Mandelberg's Interview

Dr. Martin Mandelberg is an engineer who is writing a biography on his doctoral advisor, Manhattan Project mathematician Richard Hamming. In this interview, Mandelberg discusses his work at General Dynamics, the Naval Underwater Sound Lab, SAIC, the Defense Department, and other jobs. He provides an overview of Hamming’s life and career, highlighting Hamming’s many important contributions to computing at Los Alamos and Bell Labs, and Hamming’s passion for solving big problems. Mandelberg also praises Hamming’s mentorship of his graduate students.

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