The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Norman Hilberry's Interview (1985)

Physicist Norman Hilberry was Arthur H. Compton's righthand man at the Metallurgical Project, the associate director who handled administra­tive chores. He had previously served as a professor at NYU, and went to Chicago to work with Compton. Later in the war, he would often go back and forth from Chicago to Hampton. He played a role in selecting Oak Ridge as the site for the pilot plutonium production plant and worked with Eugene Wigner and DuPont on the design and operation of the plutonium production plants. He participated in a meeting where a number of leaders of the Manhattan Project, including Szilard, Wigner, and Fermi, discussed which type of reactor would be most successful.

Miles Leverett's Interview

When World War II began, Miles Leverett was a young PhD chemical engineer working for Humble Oil & Refining Co. in Houston. One day his boss, who had recently disappeared from Houston, telephoned from Chicago and asked Leverett if he wanted to work on a war project. Leverett did, and eventually became associated closely with the helium-cooled reactor proposal at the Met Lab. In addition, he was part of design engi­neering for the mechanical aspects of the Hanford reactors, and was initially in charge of the engineering group attached to the X-10 Graphite Reactor. After the war, Leverett continued a distinguished career in nuclear engi­neering, a field he pioneered, with an emphasis on reactor safety. In this interview, Leverett describes the importance of DuPont and the relationship between the industry and the academics. He also discusses his work on nuclear-powered aircraft after the war.

Meta Newson's Interview

Meta Newson, a homemaker at Hanford during WWII, was married to the late Henry W Newson, a Manhattan Project physicist at Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford and Los Alamos, and later a professor at Duke University.

Marvin Wilkening's Interview (1986)

Wilkening, a physicist, traveled the Grand Circuit of the Manhattan Project, pursuing his specialty of measuring neutron intensity. He was at the first chain reaction in Chicago, then moved to Oak Ridge, next to Hanford, Los Alamos, and Trinity. Before the Army restricted visitors, he regularly took his New Mexico Tech physics students on field trips to Trinity. In this interview, Wilkening describes his experience of the Trinity test.

Margaret Hoffarth's Interview

Margaret Hoffarth was born in Colorado and moved west with her parents, traveling to Idaho in a wagon train. She was a forty-three year-old widow with three sons when she came to work in the Hanford Mess Hall in 1943. She recalls work, social life, and secrecy at Hanford, as well as the sudden emptiness of the site after the war. One of Hoffarth's sons was killed in action during World War II.

Luzell Johnson's Interview

Luzell Johnson joined the Manhattan Project at Hanford in the spring of 1944. Johnson worked as a cement finisher and helped with the construction of various site facilities, including the 100-F Area reactor building. As an African-American, Johnson discusses what it was like for blacks working on the project and recalls some of the illicit activities that took place in the barracks. He also discusses his experience playing center field for the Hanford baseball team, which included both blacks and whites.

Lombard Squires's Interview

Lombard Squires began work at the Hanford site in 1944 as a chief supervisor in plutonium inspections. Prior to this, he was a chemical engineer at the Chicago Met Lab working with Seaborg’s group. Squires discusses the success of reactor start up at Hanford, along with the innovation of the time period – specifically, Ray Genereaux and Handorth’s remote operated method of radioactive facility management.

Lloyd Wiehl's Interview

Lloyd Wiehl's father homesteaded a fruit and livestock ranch out of Sagebrush, Washington and later operated a ferry between the ranch and White Bluffs. When the Manhattan Project arrived in Priest Rapids Valley, Wiehl was working as an attorney in Yakima and represented affected landowners. He describes the shock of the government's seizure of land to local residents and the meager compensation offered to farmers.

Lester Bowls's Interview

Lester Bowls worked at DuPont war plants before becoming a construction expediter at Hanford. After construction was finished at Hanford, we worked in operations in the 300 Area. After the war, he worked for Boeing. At the time of this interview, he lived in Seattle's North End and ran a saw sharpening shop at his residence to make a little spending money. He called himself "a guy with a fourth-grade Arkansas education who raised seven kids, and five went to college."

Leona Marshall Libby's Interview

Leona Woods, later Leona Woods Marshall and Leona Marshall Libby, was 23 in 1942, the only woman present when Enrico Fermi's nuclear pile at the University of Chicago went critical and into the history books. She moved to Hanford in 1944 with her husband, fellow physicist John Marshall. Marshall Libby was one of the few women scientists in the Manhattan Project and probably the most well known. Even so, during an interview she laughed off questions about what it was like to be so distinctive. She did mention DuPont had been thoughtful enough to provide her with a private bathroom at the reactor buildings.