The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Leon Overstreet's Interview

Oklahoma-born Leon Overstreet went into construction in 1941 after he learned a little pipefitting with American Can in Kansas City. He retired in 1979 after helping build the Fast Flux Test Facility and Washington Public Power Supply System No. 2, both at Hanford. During the interview at his Richland residence, he was especially amused by his recollection of an outhouse scrawl he read at Hanford in 1944. "Come on you Okies/Let's take Japan/We took California/And never lost a man." In this interview, Leon Overstreet talks about how he got involved at the Manhattan Project at Hanford. He discusses working conditions, the process of building the barracks and reactors and some project accidents. He also goes into his career in pipefitting after the war.

Kathleen Hitchock's Interview

White Bluffs, Washington, located a few miles upriver from Hanford and considered one of the prettiest towns on the Columbia River, was yet another casualty of the 1943 government invasion. Kathleen Hitchcock was the daughter of Tom and Jane O'Larey, owners the local newspaper, "The White Bluffs Spokesman."

John Wheeler's Interview (1986)

John Archibald Wheeler was the leading physicist in residence at Hanford. He solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. Early in his career at Princeton, in 1939, Wheeler and Danish physicist Niels Bohr collaborated to develop the first general theory of the mechanism of fission, which included identifying the nuclei most susceptible to fission, a landmark accomplishment that helped make Wheeler, at age 28, world fa­mous among nuclear physicists. After the war, at Los Alamos, he directed the group which produced the conceptual design for the first family of thermonuclear weapons. He became interested in astrophysics and coined the term "black holes." In 1976, Wheeler joined the department of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was interviewed.

Joe Holt's Interview

They called him "Honey Joe" because of his bee business, which he went into after he left Hanford. DuPont transferred Holt from a construction job in Indiana to Hanford in 1943. At Hanford, Holt worked building the B reactor and laying graphite. Holt settled with his wife Lois in a large and handsome brown house on the side of a hill above the Yakima River on the west edge of Richland. The other big construction job of Holt's life was the Golden Gate Bridge. He quit the bridge in 1937 before completion because he didn't like the foggy, cold weather and he got nervous after ten bridge workers died when a scaf­fold collapsed and they fell into the Golden Gate.

Jess Brinkerhoff's Interview

In 1943, Jess Brinkerhoff was working at Du Pont's Remington Arms ammunition plant in Salt Lake City as a warehouse and shipping foreman. The plant was shut down and he transferred to Hanford as a fireman. His wife soon joined him, and they raised six children in an original Richland pre-fab; Brinkerhoff was still living there at the time of this interview in 1986.

Jerry Saucier's Interview

Jerry Saucier came to Hanford from Lowell, Massachusetts in 1943. Originally an inspector in charge of maintaining the barracks, he later became an operator at various Hanford reactors, including B Reactor. After the war, he settled in Richland. In this interview, Saucier describes his duties during the Manhattan Project, which involved working long hours. He explains some of the hardships of working at Hanford, describes what workers would do on weekends, and recounts a police riot squad breaking up a fight at the beer hall. Saucier also opines on the decision to use the atomic bombs against Japan.

Jane Jones Hutchins's Interview

Jane Jones Hutchins moved from small-town Kansas to Hanford to work as a secretary. She recalls social life at Hanford, a Christmas tree made of sagebrush, and an empty Hanford after the war.

Jack Miller's Interview

Jack Miller came to Richland, Washington as an employee of Remington Arms, a munitions manufacturer operated by the DuPont Company. In 1944, he was assigned to work in the control room at Hanford’s B Reactor and was eventually promoted to the rank of Chief Reactor Operator. His position required both confidence and an acute attention to detail, as his work was often measured in tenths of inches. Over the course of his time at Hanford, Miller became intimately acquainted with the reactor and its inner workings. He shares this knowledge in his interview, specifically focusing the design and engineering of the reactor itself, the water cooling system, and the transportation process by which irradiated rods were moved for plutonium extraction. He explains the elaborate safety procedures reactor operators and others working close to the B Reactor underwent to avoid radiation.

Hope Sloan Amacker's Interview

Hope Sloan was 25 in 1944, a dark-haired WAC corporal and secretary in military intelligence. In July, she joined the construction camp's morale-building effort by entering a beauty contest, part of an "exposition "promoting safety on and off the job. Miss Sloan, already Sweetheart of the Hanford Engineer Works, won the exposition's Queen of Safety title. Exposition entertainment included a jitterbug contest, the Hanford Engineer Works' Railroad Quartet, a concert band, an appearance by Jan Garber's band, and an amateur show featuring men dressed in women's underwear.

Herbert Anderson's Interview (1986)

Herbert Anderson was completing his graduate studies in physics in 1939 at Columbia University when he began a close scientific and personal asso­ciation with Enrico Fermi that was to continue until Fermi's death in 1954. Anderson assisted Fermi in early research on nuclear fission, including Fermi's direction of the first chain reaction. Anderson himself early in 1939 at Columbia, performed the experiment which resulted in the first observa­tion of fission in the United States. The two men worked together at the Argonne Forest near Chicago on design features of the Hanford reactors.

Pages