Robert S. Norris is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, "Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man." In this interview, Norris provides an overview of how the Manhattan Project began, how the project sites were selected, and the role of British scientists in the project. He discusses the fear that many Manhattan Project scientists felt that Germany would develop an atomic bomb first. He explains Groves’ background, why he was the perfect leader for the project, and how he involved industry, especially DuPont, to help with the project. Norris contends that the Manhattan Project was a unique program in American history and would be difficult to replicate today.
Victor Kumin was a young scientist when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. In September of that year, he was transferred to Los Alamos, where he was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, courtesy of the Story Preservation Initiative, Kumin discusses his time as a Chemistry student at Harvard and joining the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He recalls the secrecy of the project and how he felt about the decision to use the atomic bombs.
Nerses “Krik” Krikorian was born in Turkey in 1921. He was brought to North America at the age of four, escaping the aftermath of the Armenian genocide. After graduating from college, Krikorian worked for Union Carbide in Niagara Falls, NY during World War II. In 1946, he was approached to work at Los Alamos to build polonium initiators for one year. He ended up staying in Los Alamos and even helped to write the charter to govern the town. In this interview, he remembers his childhood and experiences as the eldest son in an immigrant family. He also discusses his work at Los Alamos and his involvement in laboratory-to-laboratory cooperation with the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
Philippe Halban is a European biologist. His father, Hans Halban, was an eminent physicist who conducted nuclear research with Frédéric Joliot-Curie in France in the years leading to World War II and then in England and Canada as part of the Anglo-French nuclear effort. In this interview, Philippe provides an account of his father’s life, including Halban’s family, education, and love of science. He discusses his father’s relationships with fellow scientists, including Francis Perrin, Lew Kowarski, and Joliot-Curie. He also describes how his father and Kowarski fled France for England in June 1940 with France’s supply of heavy water to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis.
D. M. Ellett is a mechanical engineer who joined the Manhattan Project after the end of World War II. He was a member of Z Division, which was assigned to Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1945. In the interview, Ellett recalls his arrival in Albuquerque and shares stories from his long career at Sandia (today, Sandia National Laboratories). He describes his years as a docent at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, and recalls witnessing a nuclear test in Nevada.
Mary Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her husband, Curtiss, moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” In this interview, Mary discusses her memories of Dorothy, how Dorothy ended up in New Mexico, and Dorothy’s relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. In addition, she explains the specificities of the house and how it was a social destination for members of the project. The Brennans are the current owners of McKibbin's house and still reside next door.
Clifton Truman Daniel is the grandson of President Harry Truman. In this interview, Daniel discusses what it is like to be the grandson of the president. He recalls his relationship with his grandparents and his mother, Margaret Truman Daniel, and how he learned that “Grandpa” had been president. In addition to discussing the work that he does on behalf of the Truman Presidential Library, Daniel also speaks about the more recent trips he has made to Japan and meeting with survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He describes his friendships with survivor Setsuko Thurlow and with the family of Sadako Sasaki.
Peter Malmgren, an oral historian and cabinet maker, is the author of "Los Alamos Revisited: A Workers’ History," which uses oral histories to tell the story of Los Alamos National Laboratory from the perspectives of the people who helped build and maintain it. Malmgren has been a resident of Chimayo, New Mexico since 1971. In this interview, he discusses some of the oral histories from his book and what he has learned about Los Alamos in the process. Malmgren describes interviewees’ perspectives on discrimination, health and safety, and working conditions. He also describes how the interviews have informed his own views of the Los Alamos laboratory.
Dr. James Hershberg is a leading scholar on Cold War history. In this interview, Hershberg explains in great detail the complex history of the Manhattan Project. He explores the scientific and political climate leading up to the Project, the symbolism and implications of the atomic bomb, and the feelings of various Manhattan Project scientists. He also explains the debate over developing the hydrogen bomb, different historical perspectives for explaining the Manhattan Project, James B. Conant’s recollections of witnessing the Trinity Test, and U.S./Soviet Union relations throughout the Cold War. Hershberg ends the interview by discussing how various nations have become nuclear powers, and how the Cold War and nuclear history are relevant today.
Mary Whittlesey Kennedy moved to Oak Ridge as a teenager in 1943 when her mother took a job there. In this interview, Mary discusses her years at Oak Ridge including her high school, school dances, and her involvement in clubs such as “the Penguin Club.” She fondly recalls her time in Oak Ridge. She also remembers her mixed reaction to the news of the atomic bomb and how her opinion has changed over the years.