The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

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.

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2002)

Robert S. Norris's Interview (2002)

Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, "Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man." In this interview, Norris provides an overview of how the Manhattan Project began, how the project sites were selected, and the role of British scientists in the project. He discusses the fear that many Manhattan Project scientists felt that Germany would develop an atomic bomb first. He explains Groves’ background, why he was the perfect leader for the project, and how he involved industry, especially DuPont, to help with the project. Norris contends that the Manhattan Project was a unique program in American history and would be difficult to replicate today.

Victor Kumin's Interview

Victor Kumin was a young scientist when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. In September of that year, he was transferred to Los Alamos, where he was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, courtesy of the Story Preservation Initiative, Kumin discusses his time as a Chemistry student at Harvard and joining the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He recalls the secrecy of the project and how he felt about the decision to use the atomic bombs.

Krik Krikorian's Interview

Krik Krikorian's Interview

Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was born in Turkey in 1921. He was brought to North America at the age of four, escaping the aftermath of the Armenian genocide. After graduating from college, Krikorian worked for Union Carbide in Niagara Falls, NY during World War II. In 1946, he was approached to work at Los Alamos to build polonium initiators for one year. He ended up staying in Los Alamos and even helped to write the charter to govern the town. In this interview, he remembers his childhood and experiences as the eldest son in an immigrant family. He also discusses his work at Los Alamos and his involvement in laboratory-to-laboratory cooperation with the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.

Philippe Halban Final Cut

Philippe Halban's Interview

Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.

D.M. Ellett's Interview

D.M. Ellett's Interview

D. M. Ellett is a mechanical engineer who joined the Manhattan Project after the end of World War II. He was a member of Z Division, which was assigned to Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1945. In the interview, Ellett recalls his arrival in Albuquerque and shares stories from his long career at Sandia (today, Sandia National Laboratories). He describes his years as a docent at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, and recalls witnessing a nuclear test in Nevada.

Mary Brennan's Interview

Mary Brennan's Interview

Mary Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her husband, Curtiss, moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” In this interview, Mary discusses her memories of Dorothy, how Dorothy ended up in New Mexico, and Dorothy’s relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. In addition, she explains the specificities of the house and how it was a social destination for members of the project. The Brennans are the current owners of McKibbin's house and still reside next door.

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