The Manhattan Project

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

Oral Histories

Bill Wilcox

William J. Wilcox, Jr.'s Interview (2006)

Bill Wilcox, the late Official Historian for the City of Oak Ridge, discusses the origins of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. A chemistry graduate from Washington & Lee University in 1943, he was hired by Tennessee Eastman on a "Secret, secret, secret!" project in an unknown location he and his friends nicknamed "Dogpatch." He recalls the amazing construction activity going on at Oak Ridge when he arrived at the site in October 1943. He worked with uranium, which was referred to only by its codename "Tuballoy," under threat of imprisonment. Wilcox worked at Y-12 for five years and then at K-25 for 20 years, retiring as Technical Director for Union Carbide Nuclear Division. Wilcox has actively promoted preservation of the "Secret City" history through the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association and by founding the Partnership for K-25 Preservation. He also published several books on Oak Ridge, including a history of Y-12 and "Opening the Gates of the Secret City."

Gordon Knobeloch

Gordon Knobeloch's Interview

Gordon Knobeloch worked on the RaLa Experiment at Los Alamos, which was crucial to developing the spherical implosion necessary for the plutonium bomb. He recalls arriving by train in Lamy, the low average age of the scientists at Los Alamos, and presents a defense of the use of the atomic bomb in World War II.

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Lawrence Denton's Interview

A native of Northern Idaho, Larry Denton was recruited by his father to work on the B Reactor in Hanford, Washington. At the age of twenty-one, Denton served as a shipping clerk, where he received and issued welding gases. Later on, Denton worked as a reactor operator at B Reactor. In his interview, Denton discusses everything from safety measures to recreation activities to segregation, and offers his opinion on the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Veronica Taylor

Veronica Taylor's Interview

Veronica Taylor is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and grew up along the Columbia River near the Manhattan Project site at Hanford. Taylor discusses some of the unique aspects of Nez Perce life and describes some of the customs practiced by the tribe. She also discusses some of the side-effects that have resulted from the radiation in the area, including its impact on wildlife and also the Indian people themselves. Taylor describes some of the programs designed to help future generations rediscover some of the land and cultural traditions that were lost as a result of the Manhattan Project.

Jerry Roensch

Arno Roensch's Interview

Arno Roensch, a glass blower in the Army, worked at Los Alamos. He met his wife after catching her eye while playing in the band at a dance. He talks about military-civilian relations and the time he helped Enrico Fermi change a tire.

ArnoRoensch

Eleanor Roensch's Interview

Eleanor Roensch worked as a telephone operator in Los Alamos. She remembers a fire breaking out in one of the technical buildings and the concern over coded telegrams, sent by scientists like Rudolf Peierls.

Kay Manley

Kay Manley's Interview

Kay Manley’s husband was personally called by Leo Szilard and asked to move from the Met Lab at Chicago to Los Alamos. She herself worked on calculations at Los Alamos, although she left after six months to focus on raising her children. She talks about how Pearl Harbor galvanized the nation and the responses she and her husband received after the war from soldiers who would have been involved in the invasion of Japan if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.

Felix De Paula

Felix DePaula's Interview

Felix DePaula talks about his role as “garbage man” at Los Alamos and witnessing the Trinity test. He discusses everyday life at Los Alamos, from water problems to adopting a pet crow, and General Groves’ insistence that everyone work seven days a week. DePaula tells a funny story about accidentally flinging a snake right into the Mess Hall.

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Jay Wechsler's Interview

Jay Wechsler, who enlisted in the Army in 1943 and spent several months at Oak Ridge working as an Army construction engineer, was suddenly transferred to Los Alamos in the winter of ‘43 where he began working directly with Otto Frisch. Wechsler helped Frisch work on a large fission chamber that Frisch had originally designed in Denmark and later shipped to the United States. He recalls Frisch’s brilliant intellect and knack for solving problems, and discusses their long-lasting friendship over the years. Wechsler also discusses his role as an explosives expert at Beta Site, testing what would later become the implosion system for the plutonium bomb. Wechsler also recounts details of Trinity Test and discusses his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb on Japan and the lasting impact of atomic weapons. After the war, Wechsler continued his weapons work for the government throughout the Cold War.

George Cowan

George Cowan's Interview (2006)

George Cowan joined the Manhattan Project in 1942 at the Met Lab as a chemist for Enrico Fermi’s group, and also worked for Columbia University. Cowan describes his experience working with famous scientists, such as Chien-Shiung Wu and Eugene Wigner, and gives a detailed account of his role in Operation Crossroads, the first military test of the atomic bomb against Navy ships. Cowan shares some funny stories about his interaction with Arthur Compton at Oak Ridge and also recounts his meetings with Leo Szilard.

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