The Manhattan Project

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

Oral Histories

Colonel Franklin Matthias's Interview - Part 1 (1965)

Colonel Franklin Matthias was the officer-in-charge at the Hanford site. In this interview, Matthias discusses his early life and his placement as the officer-in-charge at Hanford. He also talks about the relationships between DuPont and the military and the scientists, as well as how cooperation was essential. Matthias remembers the various problems that plagued the Hanford site and how he and his colleagues overcame them.

Siegfried Hecker's Interview - Part 1

Siegfried Hecker is an American scientist who served as the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. He is currently Professor (Research) of Management Science and Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. In this interview, he discusses President Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík, Iceland and the burgeoning scientific and nuclear collaboration that resulted from the 1986 summit. Hecker also recounts the story of how he came to be Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and why he did not think he was qualified for the job.

Carl Higby's Interview

Carl Higby's Interview

After graduating Washington State University in 1950, Carl Higby was recruited to work at Hanford as an operations supervisor for the reactors. Higby discusses some of the problems that arose when the reactor was online, and explains how impurities in the coolant water could plug some of the sensor tubes and force them to shut the reactor down. Higby also discusses the innovation of the Ball-3X System, a safety method that included a hopper of small boron steel balls that would be dropped into the reactor and fill up the vertical rod safety channel, shutting the reactor down and preventing a critical meltdown.

Gabriel Bohnee's Interview

Gabriel Bohnee's Interview

Gabriel Bohnee is a Nez Perce tribal member and an environmental specialist at the Nez Perce Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Office. Bohnee became involved with the effort to clean up the Hanford site after learning about the site as an intern in 1993. Bohnee discusses his tribe’s connection with the land surrounding the Hanford site and the importance of the Columbia River and its resources for the Native Americans indigenous to the area. Bohnee also explains the importance of cleaning up the Hanford area so that future generations of Nez Perce can use the land and resources like they had in the past.

Theodore Rockwell's Interview (2005)

Theodore Rockwell's Interview (2005)

Theodore “Ted” Rockwell was born in Chicago in 1923. As a graduate student at Princeton University, Ted was recruited to work as an engineer at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN in late 1943. Rockwell was assigned to the “Tiger Team” at Oak Ridge, which responded to problems that arose in the Y-12 Plant. After the war, Rockwell continued his career in nuclear technology, becoming Technical Director for Admiral Hyman Rickover. In this interview, Ted explains how the electromagnetic separation process of the calutrons worked at the Y-12 Plant and how the gaseous diffusion process at the K-25 Plant worked. He discusses his duties in the Manhattan Project and his work with Admiral Rickover in the years after the war. He also explains why he thinks safety concerns over nuclear reactors, nuclear waste, and radiation are usually blown out of proportion.

Philip Abelson's Interview (2002)

Philip Abelson's Interview (2002)

Philip Abelson first became involved in uranium enrichment while a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley, working with cyclotrons under Ernest O. Lawrence. He explains how he came up with the idea that liquid thermal diffusion could enrich uranium-238 to U-235, how this process was implemented first at a factory at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and later at the S-50 Plant in Oak Ridge, and the important role the S-50 Plant played in the uranium enrichment process. He recalls his encounters with Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer, William “Deak” Parsons, Edwin McMillan, Luis Alvarez, and other Manhattan Project leaders.

Walter Goodman's Interview

Walter Goodman's Interview

Walter Goodman was recruited into the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos in 1943. Goodman worked as an electrical engineer on the implosion bomb and helped design equipment to measure the efficiency of an atomic blast. In July 1945, Goodman deployed to Tinian Island to help prepare the Fat Man bomb to be dropped on Japan. On August 9, 1945, he witnessed the bombing of Nagasaki from the instrumentation aircraft The Great Artiste and took motion pictures of the mushroom cloud above the city. In this interview, he recounts the Nagasaki mission and describes the disagreement between American and foreign-born scientists at Los Alamos about sharing information about atomic weapons.

Jack Keen's Interview

Jack Keen's Interview

Jack Keen is the son of Lester Orlan Keen, an engineering draftsman at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. He was three when his father took the job at Hanford and spent a couple years at the Hanford site as a young child. In this interview, Keen talks about his childhood memories of Hanford and his family’s living situation at the site. He discusses his father’s work and dedication to secrecy. Keen also reminisces about visiting the Hanford site as an adult and learning about the environmental impact, as well as the sheer scale of the project.

Robert Lamphere's Interview - Part 3

FBI agent Robert Lamphere supervised investigations of Soviet atomic spies during the early years of the Cold War. He interrogated Klaus Fuchs in London in 1950. In this interview, Lamphere traces the activities of various members of the Soviet spy network in the West, including Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and the defector Igor Gouzenko. He also gives his opinion on McCarthyism and discusses why the Rosenbergs’ defenders have continued to assert their innocence.

Ruth Kerr Jakoby's Interview

Ruth Kerr Jakoby's Interview

Ruth Kerr Jakoby is the daughter of mineralogist Paul Francis Kerr, who took part in the Manhattan Project and later advised the Atomic Energy Commission. In this interview, Kerr Jakoby recalls her memories of her father’s trips to Africa to find uranium for the Manhattan Project. She also remembers her interest in the Rosenberg trial.

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