The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Peter Malmgren's Interview

Peter Malmgren's Interview

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.

James Hershberg Interview

James Hershberg's Interview

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 Kennedy's Interview

Mary Kennedy's Interview

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.

Jim Eckles' Interview

Jim Eckles' Interview

Jim Eckles worked for decades for the White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office, managing open houses and tours of the Trinity site, where the world’s first nuclear test took place. In this interview, Eckles describes the history of Trinity site. He discusses the ranchers who lived on it before the Manhattan Project took over, the buildings used by the scientists, and what it was like to live on the site before and during the war. He provides an overview of the Trinity Test and the “Gadget,” 100 ton TNT test, and the making of “Jumbo.” Eckles also discusses some of the key workers at Trinity site, including scientists, technicians, photographers, and MPs. He also explains some of the controversy around the site, including radiation levels, concerns over fallout from the test, and the atomic bombings of Japan.

Valeria Steele Roberson's Interview

Valeria Steele Roberson's Interview

Valeria Steele Roberson is the granddaughter of Kattie Strickland, an African American who moved to Oak Ridge from Alabama with her husband to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Roberson discusses her family's experience at Oak Ridge. Roberson comments on how Oak Ridge presented African Americans with higher-paying jobs and an opportunity for a better future with the prospect of social and economic advancement, despite pervasive segregation, discrimination, and continued inequality. She tells of how the African American community viewed themselves as equal citizens and wanted to contribute to the war effort. Roberson situates this discussion within the broader context of ongoing wartime politics in the United States. Roberson also discusses housing accommodations for African Americans, recreational activities, and the day-to-day life of residents at Oak Ridge.

Nancy Bartlit's Interview (2005)

Nancy Bartlit's Interview (2005)

Nancy Bartlit is the former president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and the author of "Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun." In this interview, she describes the Historical Society's efforts to preserve properties at Los Alamos. She also explains her support for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and her vision for the park.

Jon Hunner

Jon Hunner's Interview

Dr. Jon Hunner is a Professor of History at New Mexico State University, the author of "Inventing Los Alamos" and "J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West," and a former director of the New Mexico History Museum. In this interview, Hunner provides an overview of life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, including its takeover of the Los Alamos Ranch School and its relationship with Hispanos and Pueblos in the area. He talks about how Manhattan Project scientists and their family members would arrive in Santa Fe, and the sites in Santa Fe that are linked to the project. Hunner also discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family, and Oppenheimer’s security hearing that revoked his security clearance. He describes the devastating effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and discusses his thoughts on the influence of the atomic bombs on Japan’s decision to surrender.

Suzanne Langsdorf's Interview

Suzanne Langsdorf's Interview

Suzanne Martyl Langsdorf is the daughter of Alexander Langsdorf, a Manhattan Project physicist and one of the founders of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Martyl Langsdorf, an artist who designed the iconic Doomsday Clock. In this interview, Suzanne describes her parents’ personalities and interests, their family life together, and the homes they lived in during her childhood. She gives a closer look at the lives of her parents including how they met, their marriage, and their respective careers. Suzanne recalls her unique childhood with her thoughtful father and her independent mother. She also explains how her mother came up with the now-famous Doomsday Clock design, and her father’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Curtiss Brennan's Interview

Curtiss Brennan's Interview

Curtiss Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He and his wife Mary moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, "the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos," in the late 1970s. In this interview, Curtiss describes how he met and became friends with Dorothy. He explains how Dorothy designed the house to her unique specifications. He also discusses the restoration project he and his wife undertook when they bought the house after Dorothy's death.

Rebecca Erbelding

Rebecca Erbelding's Interview

Dr. Rebecca Erbelding is a historian of American responses to the Holocaust. Erbelding is the author of the forthcoming book, "Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe," and currently an archivist and curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this interview, Erbelding describes in great detail the challenges and difficult decisions that thousands of Jews faced when trying to immigrate from Nazi-occupied Europe to the United States, such as U.S. immigration laws and quotas, as well as financial and wartime barriers. She describes the similarities and differences between American immigration debates during World War II and in America today. She also explains the experiences and challenges of Jews living in wartime France, and how the Holocaust and immigration processes and policies affected Manhattan Project scientists.

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