The Manhattan Project

In partnership with the National Museum of Nuclear Science & HistoryNational Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

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.

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