The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

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.

George Graves's Interview

George Graves was a DuPont employee working as Crawford Greenwalt’s assistant. The pair were responsible for making the decision to add ten percent more fuel slugs to the B Reactor, which helped it avoid failure when operation began. He discusses how as the assistant technical director, he served as a “sweeper” to investigate any potential problems that could hinder the reactor’s performance. Graves also touches upon his opinion of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, asserting that lives were likely saved by the bombs’ use.

Fred and Diana VanWyck's Interview

The VanWycks, Fred ("Van") and Diana ("Di"), moved to Richland (near Hanford) in 1944 from Charleston, West Virginia, where Van worked at DuPont's Belle Plant as a technician. At Hanford, Van was a plant operator, while Di raised their sons and volunteered actively in the community. In this era, Richland was a raw, new, wind-blown, almost treeless town. The VanWycks watched it change to a pretty city of more than 30,000, with shade trees in abundance and grass that halted the sand storms of the 1940s. Richland had been a government-owned town, and remained so until 1957 when the Atomic Energy Commission allowed private ownership of residences.

Colonel Franklin Matthias's Interview (1986)

Colonel Franklin Matthias, a civil engineer, was a close associate of General Groves throughout the Manhattan Project, and was asked to review sites in the West. Matthias and two Du Pont representa­tives looked quickly at possible sites in Montana, Oregon, and California, as well as Washington. Matthias decided Hanford, isolated and with a good supply of water, was the best choice. Groves appointed Matthias officer-in-charge at Hanford, granting him authority over civilian operations as well as military.

Frank Mackie's Interview

Born in 1903 in Baltimore, Mackie studied civil engineering at Union College in Schenectady, New York. In 1934 he went to work for Du Pont in construction and retired in 1968 as manager of construction. "They called me manager, now they call them directors. They give them a big title, but they gave me more money, "he said. After the war, Mackie was construction manager at Savannah River, the plant in South Carolina built by Du Pont in the early 1950s to produce material for hydrogen bombs.

Frank Buck's Interview

By 1984, at the time of this interview, the Wanapum Tribe numbered two full-blooded survivors. One was Frank Buck, 16 years old when the Army came to build the Hanford Engineer Works. He was the son of Chief Johnny Buck, who became a friend of many Hanford project people. Frank was uncle to Rex Buck, whose interview is also featured on this site. Frank worked at the Wanapum Dam information center, upstream from Hanford, talking to visitors about the history of his tribe.

Francis McHale's Interview

Francis McHale was a security and safety man, a civilian, with the Corps of Engineers. He came to Hanford from the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works to set up fire and safety and police protection for the Manhattan Engineer District. McHale retired in 1972 as director of security for the Atomic Energy Commission at Hanford. In this interview, McHale recalls arriving at Hanford, his work in security there, and briefly elaborates about life at Hanford.

Eugene Wigner's Interview (1986)

When Eugene Wigner was 17, his father asked what he wanted to be and Wigner replied, "A physicist." His father wanted to know how many physicists there were in Hungary. "Four," Wigner replied. Following that conversation, Wigner studied chemical engineering and after getting his degree worked in a tannery for a time before going to Berlin to teach. Because his mother was Jewish, Wigner was fired from his Berlin position in 1935, after which he became a professor at Princeton. In 1939, Wigner and fellow Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard went to Albert Einstein and convinced him of the need for America to develop an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany. Einstein's concerns eventually reached President Roosevelt and helped spark government interest and research which evolved into the Manhattan Project. After the Manhattan Project was underway, Wigner, who had done important work earlier on neutron absorption, moved to the Met Lab in Chicago as head of the theoretical physics group. In 1963, Wigner was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics.

Harry Petcher's Interview

Harry Petcher's flat feet meant he couldn't be drafted, but still had an obligation to work for the war effort. After working as a Signal Corps clerk in Chicago, Petcher moved to Hanford with his wife, where they found jobs in the mess hall. Petcher soon became head of Hanford's massive box lunch department, where he oversaw tens of thousands of box lunches being made every day. In twenty months at Hanford, the staff served 3,088,480 box lunches.

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