The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

J. Robert Oppenheimer's Interview

In this rare interview, J. Robert Oppenheimer talks about the organization of the Manhattan Project and some of the scientists that he helped to recruit during the earliest days of the project. Oppenheimer discusses some of the biggest challenges that scientists faced during the project, including developing a sound method for implosion and purifying plutonium, which he declares was the most difficult aspect of the project. He discusses the chronology of the project and his first conversation with General Leslie Groves. Oppenheimer recalls his daily routine at Los Alamos, including taking his son Peter to nursery school.

Herbert Anderson's Interview (1965)

Herbert Anderson worked with Enrico Fermi on the Chicago Pile-1 at the Met Lab at the University of Chicago. He grew up during the Depression, accepting a scholarship to study electrical engineering before he transferred to physics. Anderson worked alongside Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi at Columbia and helped run the night shift when physicists were putting together the CP-1.

Samuel K. Allison's Interview

Dr. Samuel Allison was director of the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. He worked on the development of the Chicago Pile-1 alongside Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Enrico Fermi. He was also the "countdown man" at the Trinity test. He discusses military-scientist relations, and day-to-day life and work in the lab.

Elliot Charney's Interview

In this interview, Elliot Charney discusses his involvement in developing the barrier material for the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Charney worked with Norris and Adler at Columbia University to develop a barrier that would be suitable for the separation of U-235 from U-238. Charney describes some of the problems that arose during the project and explains the urgency of his work.

Lester Tenney's Interview

Lester Tenney's Interview

Lester Tenney served in the Phillipines during World War II and was captured at Bataan by the Japanese. He was a prisoner on the Bataan Death March, and forced to labor for a Japanese company. Many years after the war ended, he wrote "My Hitch in Hell" about the Death March, and worked to reconcile veterans and the Japanese community.

George Allen's Interview

George Allen's interview

George Allen flew B-29s during World War II. He was in Alamogordo, New Mexico, when the Trinity test was conducted, and witnessed the explosion from far away. He shares his thoughts on the Manhattan Project’s effects on the war, as well as the difference in attitudes about war between then and now.

Grace Groves's Interview

In this interview, Grace Groves discusses her relationship with her husband and director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves. Grace describes her husband’s early life, his personality, and what characteristics made him the right man to lead the project to develop the world’s first atomic bomb.

Philip Abelson's Interview (1966)

Dr. Philip Abelson was a physicist on the path to discovering fission when Otto Hahn and Lisa Meitner discovered this process first. Abelson worked at the Navy Research Laboratory in Philadelphia, where he designed pipes to enrich uranium. He discusses how he was also the first in the United States to manufacture large quantities of uranium hexafluoride. Abelson’s technology was reviewed by General Leslie R. Groves, Edward Teller, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. His research led to the rapid construction of the S-50 Plant in Oak Ridge, the liquid thermal diffusion plant. He recalls the challenges of designing pipes for uranium enrichment.

James B. Conant's Interview

Dr. James B. Conant, a chemist and a President of Harvard, served on various committees overseeing the Manhattan Project. He was a key player in pushing the Manhattan Project forward early on. He discusses the S-1 Committee’s recommendation to President Franklin Roosevelt to pursue all possible methods of enriching uranium. Conant stresses the importance of the AAA priority rating for materials and manpower for the Manhattan Project, and argues that getting the AAA rating was one of the turning points for the project. He also explains his role as a scientific advisor for the project.

Jack Hefner's Interview

Jack Hefner joined the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge in 1943. Hefner was a reactor engineer and helped supervise the construction of the X-10 Graphite Reactor. Later, he transferred to Hanford and worked as a shift engineer, where he monitored the B Reactor. Hefner also helped maintain Hanford’s sprawling facilities, including office buildings and houses in the 700 Area.