The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

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.

Richard Garwin's Interview

Richard Garwin's Interview

Richard Garwin is an American physicist. In this interview he begins by discussing his work with Enrico Fermi after the Second World War. He then discusses the development of the hydrogen bomb and the role he played in its design. He also talks about his work at IBM in the 1950s, specifically IBM's research on radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). Garwin concludes the interview with a discussion on nuclear security. He shares his views on nuclear arms reduction and how to create a nuclear-free world.

John Ruminer's Interview

John Ruminer's Interview

John Ruminer is a Board Member of the Los Alamos Historical Society, a docent at the Los Alamos History Museum, and the author of 109 East Palace Avenue: A Microcosm of Santa Fe’s Four Hundred Year History. He previously worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In this interview, Ruminer explains some of the fascinating history of the Plaza of Santa Fe. He provides detailed descriptions of the property’s history, and the Manhattan Project’s offices at 109 East Palace. Ruminer also describes how the Los Alamos Historical Society and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation are working to preserve history and to date historical buildings and sites.

Elspeth Bobbs's Interview

Elspeth Bobbs's Interview

Elspeth Bobbs grew up in England. During World War II, she relocated to Santa Fe. There she became friends with Joseph Rotblat, a Polish-born physicist who was part of the British Mission at Los Alamos. Bobbs recalls her friendship with Rotblat, his personality, and how pleased she was to learn that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonproliferation work in 1995. She also describes her love of Santa Fe and gardening.

Al Zeltmann's Interview

Alfred Zeltmann's Interview

Al Zeltmann grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After being drafted into the Army during World War II, he was assigned to the Special Engineer Detachment and arrived at Los Alamos in 1944. After the war, he stayed at Los Alamos, and worked as a physical chemist at the Los Alamos laboratory for nearly 40 years. In this interview, he recalls his Manhattan Project work, including on the “RaLa” experiments with Gerhart Friedlander, and describes the relationship between the military and civilians on “The Hill.” He also remembers receiving some unusual instructions from a mail censor after his wife complained he “wasn’t very warm” in his letters.

Charles Yulish's Interview

Charles Yulish's Interview

Charles Yulish has devoted his career to nuclear and environmental science. From an early age, Yulish fell in love with nuclear energy and set up a lab that received radioisotopes from the Atomic Energy Commission—who did not initially realize their samples were being sent to a high school student and his classroom lab. In this interview, Yulish remembers his teacher, who instilled in him a curiosity towards all things nuclear. He talks about his career in nuclear research—both public and private—throughout his 50 year career. He worked for many years for the United States Enrichment Corporation and its “Megatons to Megawatts” program. He also consulted with the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico, who wanted to set up a nuclear storage waste site on its land in the 1990s when the US government was considering such a program.

Margaret Norman's Interview

Margaret Norman's Interview

Margaret Norman is the eldest daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest O. Lawrence. In this interview, Norman describes her father’s childhood, including the importance of her father’s Norwegian heritage and values, and how her parents met. She recalls what it was like to grow up as the eldest daughter of six children, and how Ernest passed his values on to them. She describes visiting the laboratory at Berkeley where her father worked, and finding out about the atomic bombs and Ernest’s involvement. Margaret also recalls her father’s friendship with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and other scientists, and explains that he could never really relax because he was always thinking about science.

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