The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Jim Schoke's Interview

James A. Schoke's Interview (2013)

James A. Schoke was selected to be part of the Special Engineer Detachment that worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago on the Manhattan Project. He worked for the instrument group, inventing instruments to detect uranium, alpha rays, and more. He went on to a successful career in nucleonics and instruments, and was featured in a 1949 Popular Mechanics article, “The Million-Dollar Baby of the Nuclear Age." He recalls playing tennis with Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer asking him to call him “Oppie.”

William Schneller's Interview

William Schneller's Interview

William Schneller worked for DuPont at Hanford on the Manhattan Project, and later at Oak Ridge. He recalls DuPont’s emphasis on safety, the fear that the fruit around Hanford might be contaminated with radiation, and sneaking a dog past Oak Ridge guards.

Larry O'Rourke's Interview

Lawrence S. O'Rourke's Interview

Lawrence S. O’Rourke began working on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University after he was called up from the Army Reserves in 1943. O’Rourke was among the first group of SEDs who worked at Columbia, where he helped research and develop the gaseous diffusion process for the separation of uranium. After nine months, O’Rourke’s group moved from the Pupin Physics Lab to the Nash Garage Building, where they helped develop the barrier material that would be used at the K-25 plant in Oak Ridge. In 1945, O’Rourke was transferred to Oak Ridge and continued to work on research and development of a barrier material at K-25. O’Rourke also spent time at the Houdaille-Hershey Plant in Decatur, IL where he helped install and train people on how to test the barrier material that was being developed.

John Tepe

John Tepe's Interview

Louisville native John Tepe began working for the DuPont Company in 1939 after he received his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. In 1942, Tepe was transferred to the University of Chicago where he worked on a wide variety of problems in areas such as synthesis and chemical separation that proved integral to the design and construction of the plants at Hanford. Tepe recounts the remarkable cooperation among top Manhattan Project scientists, many of whom he saw nearly every day in the halls at the University of Chicago. Tepe describes some of the chemical experiments that were conducted in the west stands under Stagg Field and alludes to the famous chain reaction that took place in the doubles squash court under Stagg Field. Tepe explains the enormous scale-up required at Hanford and describes the Manhattan Project’s revolutionary impact on industry. Finally, Tepe acknowledges the link between The Manhattan Project, private corporations (such as DuPont), and academia whose efforts combined to make the development of an atomic bomb successful.

Russell Stanton's Interview

Russell Stanton's Interview

Russell Stanton, a civil engineer, arrived at Hanford in October 1943 after working at various DuPont plants across the country. At Hanford, Stanton was tasked with constructing the 105 buildings that housed the nuclear reactors, including the B Reactor. Later, Stanton worked on making side shields for the piles and even helped construct a fish hatchery for the study of the effects of radiation on wildlife. Stanton discusses the incredible logistics required to coordinate work at the site and describes the hard-working attitude of many workers. Stanton also explains how project managers were able to meet rigorous wartime demands in such a short time.

Pat Kikorian

Pat Krikorian's Interview

Pat Krikorian arrived at Los Alamos in August of 1943, where she worked as a secretary for the Women’s Army Corps. Krikorian also worked with other WACs selling tickets and ushering patrons at Los Alamos’ movie theater. Krikorian describes some of the security measures at Los Alamos, including a run-in with a commanding officer who became suspicious about the content of letters she received from her brother who was serving overseas. Though Krikorian admits most WACs had no knowledge of what was going on at Los Alamos, she witnessed the flash from the Trinity Test and describes the celebrations after the Trinity test and after the first bomb was dropped on Japan.

Roger Hultgren's Interview

Roger Hultgren's Interview

Minnesota native Roger Hultgren worked for the DuPont Company as a chemist during the early 1940s, when he was suddenly transferred to Hanford to work on the Manhattan Project in the spring of 1944. Hultgren discusses the secrecy at Hanford and recalls not being allowed to share information with other scientists even though they were working on the same project. Hultgren also explains the importance of safety and recalls Du Pont’s strong commitment to its employees and their health.

Darragh Nagle

Darragh Nagle's Interview

Darragh Nagle graduated from Columbia University and worked with Enrico Fermi and Herbert Anderson at the Chicago Pile during the early years of the Manhattan Project. Nagle then transferred to Los Alamos, where he joined the Omega Team and conducted criticality experiments. Nagle was also responsible for collecting soil samples after the atomic bomb test at the Trinity Site. Nagle discusses his friendship with Joan Hinton, one of the few female scientists at Los Alamos, and also shares stories about some of the other famous scientists who worked on the Manhattan project.


Berlyn Brixner's Interview

Berlyn Brixner worked as a photographer and camera engineer at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. He filmed the Trinity test on motion capture cameras, and recalls the anxious setup of cameras around the site and remembers being "amazed" and "dumbfounded" by the enormous explosion. His work using cameras to photograph the implosion method showed the physicists that they were off track in their calculations, and he captured photographs and films other explosions and the dropping of dummy bombs to help the scientists better understand the science and physics behind them.


Harold Agnew's Interview (1992)

Harold Agnew worked on the Manhattan Project at various locations and served as the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970-1979. Agnew was flying above Hiroshima as a scientific observer when the bomb was dropped, and remembers “having the blast hit the airplane after the flash, the very bright flash.” He worked on the Chicago Pile-1 with Enrico Fermi, whom he calls “absolutely amazing.” He recalls how Oppenheimer’s penchant for treating everyone equally and General Leslie Groves’ incredible managing skills influenced camaraderie and the speed of the project. He defends dropping the bombs on Japan as saving many American, Japanese, and Chinese lives.