[To see an edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995, click here.]
Roger Fulling: The DuPont Company, like many other chemical companies, was highly dependent upon the materials of construction, proper materials of construction for their facilities – equipment, piping, electrical. When materials became short, we recognized this in the DuPont Company, and we had to take steps to alleviate shortages by using alternatives.
The engineering department set up a series of seminars for the discussion of alternate materials required to keep our plants operating, as well as for new plants like Hanford and the smokeless powder, TNT, at RDX plants. All the material conferences were staffed by research scientists, in metallurgy particularly, but also other disciplines. These seminars were directed to the engineers and operating people who were responsible for running the plants.
Some of the shortages were, as I mentioned before, copper and aluminum. We had to use precious metals on loan from Fort Knox to replace or to—not replace, but to be bus bars for electrical substation points. There was not enough copper, and so [General Leslie] Groves arranged for some precious metals to come out of Fort Knox on loan to help relieve the situation.
We had to use, up to that time, unknown alloys with the aluminum for the transmission cable. This was extremely important, particularly at Hanford because we were taking some power, not all, but some power from the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams. This meant new transmission lines and extensive new transmission cable. So we had to go to the federal government and the power group in the WPA [Works Progress Administration] and get permission to use this type of cable.
S. L. Sanger: Did you use silver or gold at Hanford, do you remember?
Fulling: I believe it was silver that we used, rather than gold.
Sanger: At the substation?
Fulling: Yes. Of course, this was not universal. We had to resort to the use of wood and concrete in place of steel beams, and this meant the advent of a new type of fastenings. Today, particularly in the South, buildings are built with prefabricated roof process and beams and columns, which can be fitted together. In the past, these were either molded or nailed.
But starting in the war, some farsighted manufacturers designed and manufactured clips and angles and all kinds of gusset plates for the use in joining various types of wood structures together. We had to make do with whatever was available.
Sanger: Earlier, you were mentioning that aluminum was one of the big headache shortages.
Sanger: How did you get that solved?
Fulling: To begin with, we were asking the aluminum people, particularly the Aluminum Company of America, to extrude aluminum tubing that they had never extruded in quantity before. We were running in competition with the shipbuilding people, the aircraft. They needed a lot of aluminum for aircraft, both in sheets and tubes. They needed the tubing for struts in the wings and the fuselage, and, of course, they needed the sheets for the wings and fuselage.
In no time, it looked like we were exceeding—we did exceed the capacity of the Aluminum Company. We were in this severe tug of war with other industry for military purposes. The only way we could relieve it was by pressure. We had our expeditors and inspectors in the aluminum plants with the authority of the Manhattan District, General Groves’ organization.
When we would see that we were not getting what we thought, we raised holy hell, and calls would come in to Wilmington. They would end up with—not end up, but it would resort in coming to me as the division superintendent for the division to contact General Groves and his office. His office first and staff, and then if necessary, to General Groves personally, and outline to him what the shortage was and what we needed. In many cases, we needed some encouragement from Groves personally to the president of the major company involved. This was not solely any one industry or any one company.
When I would point out to Groves what we needed, I had better damn be sure that I had my facts, because he would quiz me up one side and down the other as to whether we had tried any alternatives. Had we run the complete gamut of alternatives? Did we need this particular item when I said we needed it?
After he was convinced that what we were talking about was required for the progress of the atomic program, he would get on the phone personally, and not rant and rave, but he would calmly point out to the corporate president what was going on. That it was an important job, the most important job, and it had the personal endorsement of the President of the United States. That it was the highest priority and that he, General Groves, as the designated authority of the Manhattan District, would request that the President look into the matter personally and call him back and tell him what amends they could do.
This we only had to do a few times, and never did we ever have any resentment or did we have anybody complain of undue pressure.
Sanger: Did it usually work?
Fulling: It worked. It worked. The situation, which was adverse to what we wanted, did not come about through lack of integrity or lack of planning. It just came about because the industry involved was overtaxed. Their facilities were overtaxed. They were working their people. They were short on people, particularly skilled people. They were having a shortage of skilled manpower. But once Groves would talk with them, with the company president or other top executive, the situation cleared up quite readily.
Sanger: In the case of aluminum, was that at Hanford? Was that mostly in the reactors, or were there other uses?
Fulling Oh, there were other uses. We had a lot of aluminum. You would have aluminum for instrument frames, for example, electrical framing or aluminum and some still alloys. But the main problem was the aluminum for the tubing.
I did not mention to you, there was another problem that we ran head to head on. I am speaking with more than hearsay, but reliable knowledge and reports, that in the South Pacific fighting our ground troops used aluminum canisters for their rifle grenades, for both ammunition and for signaling. Our Air Corps—now our Air Force—but our Air Corps people were using their cans for the same thing. They had cans for their light bombs and things.
But the big thing was, [General Douglas] MacArthur had a shortage of rifle canisters, and he sent a senior officer to this country to see what could be done to relieve the shortage. Because the Aluminum Company and other—Kaiser were also extruding—but the Aluminum Company were working on the Hanford project with their extrusion machines. They were not getting the canisters out to the same degree that MacArthur thought it needed.
So he went to Groves and Groves sent this officer up. He talked to me on the phone, and said, “See what you can do, if you could relieve the situation. Maybe work out some sort of schedule with Aluminum Company where they would have so many hours or so many days at a time to run the canisters through,” because their quantity of canisters was not nearly to what we were requiring for Hanford. We worked it out with everyone.
Again, as I stated early, we had cooperation and understanding between the military and industry and intra-industry. But you had to tell people what was required, and in logical things. You did not get any by ranting and raving and pounding a table, although this has been done.
Sanger: But did you not mention once that you made the snowballs and Groves threw them?
Fulling: Well, that is a little farfetched, but that is true to a sense. Sure, we would go down and tell Groves what we needed. This was only in the area of equipment and shortages. But we had to make damn sure that the snowball was well packed, and that we knew why we wanted to throw it.
Sanger: Was the equipment that was manufactured generally of reasonably high quality?
Fulling: Oh, it had to be high quality. When you are dealing historically with the chemical industry and the explosive industry, you cannot have second best. After all, when you are dealing with high explosives or even with black powder and smokeless powder, which are a lesser degree of explosive than dynamite or TNT or RDX, you have got to have safety. You have got to have safety of equipment as well as safety of personnel.
Yes, we had to have top-flight equipment, and that was particularly true in Hanford. Remember, we were embarking in areas where there was no experience, no technical background that you could go to and say, “Well, we have got to do this because five years ago, this happened.” We were plowing new fields, so we could not take chances.
There may have been—I am sure there were—here may have been areas of overdesign or over-construction, but this we were challenged with by Groves early in the program. I recall in 1942 when he came to Wilmington to the DuPont Company, and he talked to the explosives department who were responsible for the atomic energy contract for DuPont. He talked to the engineering department, staff, including down to the project manager level. He challenged us and told us we not only had to do a job on time, but we had to do a quality job.
He referred to such basics as he recalled when he said when he was a company commander. The barracks toilet facilities were always being over-clogged because of overuse of toilet paper. He said, “If you need to put larger lines in to prevent this, do it.” This I recall quite vividly. So we knew that we had to do things right the first time. We did not have any second time.
Sanger: Was aluminum one of the main sticking points, as far as availability was concerned?
Fulling: Oh, yeah. Aluminum was one of the most difficult, because of the quantity and the use to which it was to be placed. The welding was intricate. You had to have the right alloy. You had to have the right temperature. You had to have the right atmosphere. You had to have the right welder behind the torch. Every welder could not do this.very few. The welders working on the aluminum cans were not the welders that you would see welding a steel plate to a steel beam, or two steel beams together. These men were really artisans. They were not run-of-the-mill welders. They were artisans. They were the top of their crafts. They were like the old goldsmiths.
So we had that problem, of the sealing of the cans. We also had problems with the availability of graphite. Union Carbide could not understand the quantities of graphite. They could not understand why anyone or any industry would require these quantities and the precision to which we expected these graphite blocks to start out with.
Sanger: I suppose the purity, too—
Fulling: Oh, purity was extremely important because if there was any impurity in the blocks when you had the atomic reaction, you could have a malfunction. You could have a poisoning of the run.
Sanger: What was graphite used for generally, in industry?
Fulling: Graphite was used in the chemical industry. Builders, your brushes, brushes on your motors. Oh, there were all kinds of graphite. I guess there were graphite—the electrical industry were the greatest users of it. It was used for lubrication, too.
Sanger: Yeah. Of course, nothing on the scale that DuPont was buying for, right?
Fulling: Oh no, they could not understand it. They could not understand it. Most industries could not understand it.
Sanger: I suppose that the aluminum industry must have wondered why, because they manufactured the tubes themselves, diameter, etc.
Fulling: Oh yeah, these were extruded.
Sanger: Yeah, at great precision, I suppose.
Fulling: Yeah. Extrusion is an art. It started out with a stock and a die, and you would extrude and you had to have right temperatures and cooling. Atmospheric conditions had to be just right. Extrusion is an art.
Sanger: They had to fit perfectly with the graphite, right?
Fulling: Yeah, we learned this. We have to doff our hats to the aircraft industry, because the aircraft people needed tubing and they did a lot of work on extrusion and on the welding of aluminum tubing.
Sanger: Now you also mentioned that Vermont Marble was big in the—
Fulling: Vermont Marble machined several of the blocks of the reactor. There were very few people in the country that could machine, mostly milling, to the precision required of the laminated blocks.
Sanger: So that includes drilling the holes for the tubes?
Fulling: No, they were prefabricated. They were inserted. I would rather not get into the block program. At one time, this was highly classified. I just do not want to skate into that.
Fulling: Although I will say this. Vermont Marble had a challenge which, like the Aluminum Company, they could not understand until they were told that we knew what we were doing, we, the engineering specifiers, of why we had to have these. They did not know what they were making. Other industries did not know what they were doing because of the very strict departmentalization invoked by General Groves, and he was a 100 percent stickler on departmental security.
Vermont Marble, like Aluminum Company, had to do precision work that they had never done before, and in a timeframe. We had people leaning over their people day and night. This was one of the programs that General Groves followed personally. He was on the phone two or three times a week to me asking, “How is the block program coming? I want to know when the first block is put on a flatcar.”
Sanger: Yeah, you mentioned that.
Fulling: “I want a picture of it. I want a picture of the block.” Because he knew the importance. That was one thing about Groves. Some people thought that he nitpicked. He did not. But he had the ability and the talent to sense out a problem. And once he smelled a problem, he would dog it until it was solved, and his staff knew this.
Sanger: Did he have a very big personal staff?
Fulling: No, considering the enormity of the job, he did not have a very large staff. I do not know it in numbers. Of course, we all knew Colonel [Kenneth] Nichols, and there were others. There were some majors, whom I contacted on day-to-day problems. But Groves and Nichols ran the show and they had a very small staff. Of course, Nichols acted as his Chief of Staff , and Nichols handled the contractual and the financial end. Well, I guess Nichols handled the contractual ends pretty much, but of course with a staff of attorneys, both on their side and our side.
Sanger: Could you recount that visit by [Eugene] Wigner again, when you showed him around? That was kind of amusing.
Fulling: Well, I will be very careful of what I say on this, because I certainly do not want to cause any slightest breach of even minute security. I certainly do not want to reflect unfavorably on any personality of anyone.
It was in December of 1942, Ray Genereaux, who was a top engineer and designer, and I, along with one of the senior design men who did not stay on the program very long because he was about to retire. He was a much older man and not in good health. But Genereaux and I were sent out with this man. General and I were the real emissaries to the University of Chicago to meet with the scientists, the physicists at the Met Lab.
At that time, Crawford Greenewalt was there heading the staff of scientists and engineers from the DuPont Company who were working with the physicists on the creation of the skeleton for developing the basic data and so on for the program. In that group, there were chemical engineers, electrical engineers, metallurgists, and instrument people. These were all top technical people.
Well, Genereaux and I were on a particular assignment, which I am not at liberty to mention why or what it was. But during that period, I was privileged to spend at least three days and nights with the top people. The Comptons [Arthur and Karl] were there, and [Eugene] Wigner, and [Enrico] Fermi, and [John] Wheeler, those people were all there at that time. They were interested in developing the atomic program on their own. This was no reflection on them or reflection on industry, or reflecting on Groves’ judgment. But as history has proved, Groves’ judgment was the proper one, and his decision was proper.
But these scientists wanted to—a group of them, not all, but some of them—wanted to run the program themselves. Of course, under the jurisdiction of Groves, they had already engaged a top-flight outstanding engineering firm to do some basic work for them, of course under contract through Groves’ office. But they were doing some basic work, and they wanted to expand that beyond the capability of this company. They wanted to do this on their own, instead of bringing industry into the act, or specifically DuPont, because we had been selected at that time. The DuPont Company had been selected to be the contractor for development, design, construction and operation of the Hanford works. They wanted to do this themselves without going through industry, and at this particular time, the DuPont Company. There was no resentment to the DuPont Company. It was their idea, their desires versus using the experience and capability of American industry.
Wigner was one of the ones who, as I recall, and I could be corrected on this. As I recall, Wigner was one of the ones who advocated doing it through the scientists. He recognized that a research scientist, being a physicist, a metallurgist, a chemist, is a different breed of cat than the layman hardnosed engineer. It is not what is right and what is wrong. Their training is different. They think differently. The physicist scientist did not understand, because they were never exposed to such mundane things as procurement or expediting or pouring concrete. All of these things were important factors in the culmination of a project.
Wigner wanted to come to Wilmington. I guess he wanted to come, but I do not know. Anyhow, Groves arranged for Wigner to visit Wilmington, to visit the explosives department and the engineering department. I was assigned by Granville Read to escort Wigner through the engineering department and explain to him the evolution of an engineering project. I escorted him to the design group and showed him the design based on how basic data came in to the chief designer, who was probably a technical graduate. That design man would instruct a draftsman to put it on paper and so on.
Then from there, we would design the equipment and the whole gamut of what a design organization did, ending in the procurement. Then we had the mundane task of taking that design tracing and reproducing it, and we microfilmed all tracings. Every night—I can tell you this—all tracings were microfilmed and two copies, one for the government and one for safekeeping, and I cannot tell you where, but in DuPont. Then the tracing would go to a reproduction area, where it would be run through reproducing machines. In those days, it was blueprints. We did not have the copying capability that we have today. But the blueprints were made, and then they were folded. Of course, before it left the design office for duplication, they had to be approved by—if it were a specification, they had to be approved by DuPont and by a representative of Groves, if it were of significance. If it were a foundation drawing, that would definitely be so.
But anyhow, there would have to be copies made for mailing to the plant site, namely Hanford. We had a copy organization and we had this programmed in proper methods, because we had methods. Study engineers working out how these things should be done. We had our engineers design equipment. There was a particular piece of equipment for folding the drawing, which was a large drawing probably—oh, I forget the exact dimensions. But ultimately, it was to be folded into 8.5 by 11 for mailing in conventional mail.
This particular operation intrigued Wigner very much. He thought this was rather unusual. Then I took him to the construction management offices, showed him our timing and scheduling charts and explained to him why we had to have expeditors and inspectors in the plants. At one time, we had 500 men, most of whom were graduate engineers, in the plants throughout the United States for expediting and inspecting equipment and facilities, but ultimately it would go to Hanford and other military construction plants.
We had a control engineer. I explained to him how we had a control engineer who was in daily communication with his counterpart in Hanford. They would talk about labor levels, what the shortages were, what equipment and deliveries were in arrears, where the sore spots were or the hot spots. This control engineer was again a qualified engineer and had field construction. He was not somebody we picked off the shelf. He was a construction engineer. This accelerated the job, and it saved money and time. Of course, we were interested in money, sure, but the most important element was time. Anything we could do to save time.
Then I took him from our engineering offices out to what was known as the Wilmington shops where, since the DuPont Company was operator and building, the DuPont Company has always designed and constructed its own plants, back to the black powder days on the Brandywine in the early 1800s. The Wilmington shops were set up to manufacture equipment for proprietary secrecy, as well as quality of manufacture and for timing. We wanted to keep everything—not we, the DuPont Company historically—wanted to keep everything under control if we possibly could.
The shops were equipped with all types of modern machine tools, large welding machines, acres of lathes, drill press. We had our own forger, our own foundry and forging. That has all gone out the window now. But we had our own foundry with our own patterns. Because again, in the explosives days if we had a blow at an explosives plant, the explosive department would get in touch with one of the shops and say, “I need such and such a pattern, such and such a piece of equipment.” We would cast right there in the shops and if necessary, forge and machine the parts. So he was interested in that. Then I took him into what was our mechanical development, what became our mechanical development laboratory. This particular facility was in an area of the Wilmington shops under the technical management of our mechanical genius. This is what he was. He was a man, Charles Johnson, Charlie Johnson. He was head of the mechanical development group in our industrial engineering division. Johnson had two—he had many, several—but he had three top men. I may be neglecting others, but there were three. I mentioned two of them to you yesterday. There was Nat Wyeth, who was the son of N. C. Wyeth, the artist, and the brother of the current Wyeth, a contemporary painter, Andy. Then the second one was Edgar Schmidt, a typical fat German engineer of great imagination and high integrity and drive. Then the third man was Royal Balder, who was an older man.
These three men backed up Charlie Johnson, but Johnson was the imaginative one. He later headed the group, which really developed the automatic and equipment for our Remington Arms operation, and for modernization of our textile fiber equipment for manufacturing nylon and dacron, and our activities for photo products. All of these required highly precision automatic and semiautomatic equipment. Johnson was the brains of this.
We developed in that small mechanical laboratory the telescope that was used at Hanford in the reactor area. Some of the sensing devices, the control mechanism for the rod control, which was extremely important for the operation and safety of the program. With cooperation and the great brains of RCA and their support, we installed which I believe was the first use of in-house television. This came out of cooperation and understanding from other industry. As I mentioned, RCA was not the only major industry which had inputs in new technology. We received the full support of others. The automobile industry were of great assistance to us in some of their technology.
Sanger: They were?
Fulling: This was more evident on the hydrogen bomb program at Savannah River. [Eugene] Wigner was impressed with what we were doing at the shops and this mechanical development area. We returned back to the engineering department, and I think in all he understood what we were trying to do and the importance of it. I never seen or talked to him since that visit, so I do not know what his reactions were or are. Maybe sometime when you are talking with him, you will ask him if he remembers the visit. I am sure he does not remember me, that is not important, but did he remember the visit to the engineering department of DuPont.
Sanger: He does not remember a lot. He does not remember much about Hanford at all. He was out there a couple times. He frankly said he did not remember very little about it, except that it was big and it was busy. He said he frankly thought he was invited mostly out of politeness.
Fulling: What you just told me supports what I said earlier, that the scientists, physicists have a different scope of life then the layman engineer.
Sanger: I think that there was a tendency for them to think too that—in fact, [Norman] Hilberry mentioned this, that the physicists there thought that they were to make enough plutonium for one bomb, and that was all. So then they were amazed when they found out that that was not the way it was going to be.
Fulling: I know nothing about that.
Sanger: That sounds kind of naïve. But this fellow named [Colonel James] Marshall, who was before [General Leslie] Groves sort of a temporary guy as head of the Manhattan District, he told the physicists that his feeling was that after listening to them, they thought there was going to be just one bomb, and that was not the way it would be. That apparently upset them.
Anyway, I did ask Wigner what he thought of DuPont after his complaining off and on. He said, “Well, they did it. It worked. They learned quickly,” I think is what he said.
Fulling: I had a little incident I did not mention to you. We returned to Wilmington by rail. I had some drawings and some specifications in certain facilities that were important to our mission out there. I remember I had a roomette on the Pennsylvania Railroad. I slept that night with these drawings wrapped around me.
Sanger: You did?
Fulling: Yeah, all night long.
Sanger: Did you ever go armed on those trips?
Fulling: No. That was not our category. In fact, we were discouraged and instructed to under no circumstances.
Sanger: It seems like [Glenn] Seaborg may have mentioned once that he had carried some plutonium with him once when going to Los Alamos, and he carried a pistol. That may be somebody else, I cannot remember.
Fulling: We did not do that.
Sanger: I know.
Fulling: None of us were ever armed. I know at the Savannah River Project, we had some businesses where we had armed guards. I will tell you sometime about one of the secretary’s and her confrontation with an armed guard.
Sanger: I cannot wait to hear about it. Incidentally could you repeat that harmless, irrelevant but funny anecdote about Groves and his wife and the bicycle? I have never heard that one before.
Fulling: As I mentioned earlier, my first contact with General Groves was in the spring of 1942, when we were working initially on the smokeless powder TNT, RDX, and chemical warfare plants, of course leading into and after Hanford. After the war, General Groves was directed to write a book, which has been published, Now It Can Be Told. Then he had a lot of other things to clean up—not clean up, but to complete the administrative part of the Manhattan District and pass the program over to the Atomic Energy Commission. That took some years and when he retired, he was employed by Remington Rand to be their Director of Research and Development.
Groves went with Remington Rand, who were the manufacturers under the license for the UNIVAC. The DuPont Company had good foresight to procure one of the first UNIVAC’s for commercial use. As I told you, the UNIVAC was developed by the University of Pennsylvania, Moore School of Electrical Engineering, via an Army Signal Corps contract. Marchant [misspoke: John Mauchly] I think was one of them; I forget the other. There were two electrical engineering scientists that put this thing together at the University of Pennsylvania.
This continued my relationship with Groves, because the UNIVAC program was under the auspices of the engineering department. Then, I continued my relationship with Groves through Washington contacts on technical matters and saw him from time to time. Then Savannah River came on and he talked to us occasionally about it.
Sanger: He had nothing to do with that?
Fulling: He had nothing to do with that, that is, that I know. I do not whether the Atomic Energy Commission ever used him as consultation. But he had nothing to do with us, because our contract was with the Atomic Energy Commission.
Then in the 1950s, I was requested by the Department of Defense to become a part of Secretary [Charles E.] Wilson’s staff as Director of Construction for the Department of Defense worldwide for the programming design and construction for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Groves knew of this and wrote a letter to the Corps of Engineers introducing me to the current Corps, because many of my contacts would be with the Corps of Engineers.
Then I saw Groves from time to time when I was in Washington during that period. Then later, after my tour in the Department of Defense where I was on loan—you know the background of that, I was on loan from the DuPont Company as Director of Construction and later acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Properties and Installations.
I returned to DuPont and was assigned to engineering research, and again DuPont continued its relationship with Groves through the engineering department on the UNIVAC. Later, in 1959, I was transferred from engineering to the development department, now known as the corporate planning department of DuPont with a specific assignment. There were other assignments, but specifically to be the liaison on a corporate basis between the DuPont Company and Washington, particularly the Department of Defense and NASA. During the next thirteen years, I traveled to Washington extensively, and attended research and technical meetings directed to NASA and the Department of Defense on their programs. During this time, I would come in contact with Groves.
Sanger: What would he be doing by then?
Fulling: He had retired.
Sanger: Retired by then.
Fulling: He had retired, but he was still interested in Remington Rand as a consultant on the UNIVAC and their other follow-on equipment.
Sanger: Remington Rand, what is the Remington connection?
Fulling: That is no connection.
Sanger: No connection.
Fulling: That is no connection, that is a different corporation entirely. Remington Arms was a wholly owned subsidiary of DuPont and is now division of DuPont, completely integrated. It is no longer a corporation.
Sanger: I did not think there was any connection.
Fulling: It is phased out as a corporation, and is a division.
Sanger: In Groves’ later years, did he change in personality at all?
Fulling: No, not so much. I do not think he changed. He may have mellowed just like other people as they add years. But I think he was still a bouncy person, very much interested in everything. He was always interested in knowing what his former associates in the DuPont Company were doing. I saw him more often in Washington, I guess, than anyone in DuPont. He would always ask me how Granville Read was and Mel Wood and particularly Gil Church, because he had lots and lots of contact with Gil at Hanford. He was interested in knowing what I was doing and why. He wanted to know why certain people were in certain slots.
Sanger: Did he ever talk much about the Manhattan Project years, in any kind of philosophical or thoughtful ways?
Fulling: Yes, he did. Along the line, I think it was in the 1950s, I think I was still in the engineering department. As always, I was interested in the engineering as a profession. At the National Engineers Week, I invited General Groves to be the speaker to our state engineering conference, which he accepted.
Sanger: That’s right. Where is that speech, anyway?
Fulling: Right there. Be sure to read that, because it is philosophical. Read accepted and of course, we invited Mrs. [Grace] Groves. I mean, General Groves accepted and Mrs. Groves was invited and accompanied. He had a conference party dinner and a cocktail party and so on. We had DuPont social events, he naturally wanted to talk with some of his former friends in DuPont, so we had some social dinners and so on. Mrs. Groves accompanied my wife—not Isabelle, my wife at that time—and Mrs. Read entertained Mrs. Groves.
She told some stories about Groves’ activities. One of the stories that I got from General Groves and Mrs. Groves was that during the hectic time of the dropping of the bomb, General Groves had the same domestic problems as the rest of us. His family had grown, his son Richard “Dick” was a senor cadet at West Point, his daughter was in college somewhere, so there was just Mrs. Groves and General Groves. They were living at that time in the apartments on Calvert Street, which have since been torn down, which is now the property of the Sheraton. This was between the Shoreham and the Sheraton on Calvert Street.
Like all American families, they had equipment of the teenagers, and Mrs. Groves was trying to rid of some of it. She put a classified ad in the Washington papers for two bicycles. General Groves and Mrs. Groves were always under security surveillance, which was necessary, and particularly at this time because of what was going to happen. There was a security man in Mrs. Groves’ apartment. The telephone kept ringing and ringing and ringing, and it was people wanting to buy bicycles. Mrs. Groves laughed, because the security man got a little bit exasperated because he was answering the phone for somebody wanting to buy a bicycle.
That day, the General called Mrs. Groves and said, “Now something momentous is going to happen. You keep listening to the radio.”
She said, “Leslie, I have no time to listen to the radio.” She said, “I am rearranging our household, I am trying to sell bicycles, and I do not have time.” And this was when they were going to drop the bomb! He could not tell her why.
Sanger: That is ironic.
Fulling: One thing I mentioned yesterday, so you do not forget. Groves said one of the toughest things he had to do was to brief President [Harry] Truman on the background of the bomb. Of course, Truman knew the treaty agreements that we had with Canada and England, the United Kingdom, before they went to advise and so on. Of course, the Russians were not part of this.
Truman knew of the program—again, this is hearsay, what I have read. Truman knew of the program, but did not know the details or the intricacies of it. It was up to Groves, he was designated by the head of what was then the War Department—of course, this was before the creation of the Department of Defense. He was designated by the Secretary of War to brief the President. I am not sure, but probably the Secretary of War [Henry Stimson] accompanied him on this thing. He had to brief President Truman on this, and he said that was a very difficult thing to do.
Sanger: Now is that because Truman did not know about it?
Fulling: I do not know. It was my understanding—and I cannot put any credence on this in support of this statement—but it is my understanding that he knew about the program. But [President Franklin] Roosevelt ran this program with an iron hand, and Truman was not privy to the day to day operation of it. Certainly, he knew about the treaty, he knew that he had to make the decision, that there were certain things that he had to do.
Sanger: Did Groves ever talk in any way that he had even the slightest misgiving about his role with the bomb? Did he maintain his steadfast obvious feelings that it was a good thing?
Fulling: Oh yes, I know he has written this, I think his speech will show that. Until his death, I think he believed it was a humanitarian thing to do. It certainly saved lives of many, many Americans. And the casualties to the Japanese, while not desirable, there was great grief to the Japanese people. But you had to equate the bomb versus the casualties that would have been on the battlefield.
Sanger: Is that your view of it too?
Fulling: Very definitely. I guess I am still a hardnosed patriot, but I think the bomb was necessary. It was “a humanitarian thing to do.” A bit on the vindictive side. The Japanese were playing damned dirty to us, but you should not be vindictive. I think it was right. We tried the firebombing; that did not slow them up, the bombing of the buildings.
Incidentally, as a little sideline on that, I showed you the picture and pointed out Russ Ames. Russ Ames was my boss at one time, and I later became his assistant. During the early part of the war, he was the manager of the general construction division, the commercial construction end. We had two construction divisions up until the declaration of war: the regular construction division under Ames, and then the defense construction division under Read and Wood. Then when the war came they were consolidated in one division, but Ames continued as the head of the commercial work. For a short period of time, I went over to be his assistant.
After the war, the War Department had assessment teams sent to Europe and the South Pacific. The assessment teams looking at ordnance, chemical warfare and structural, to see what damage—Ames was a member of the assessment team that went to Japan and came back. Of course, he had formal reports. But he was privileged to share some of his observations with us at DuPont, showing the damage of the firebombing as well as Nagasaki.
Sanger: He did?
Sanger: There is an account—have you ever read those? I think they are called the U. S. Bombing Survey.
Fulling: I have not read them.
Sanger: One thing I was going to ask you is—we can do it now or later—if you remember any comments that Groves may have made on his reasons for recommending DuPont. Did he ever talk about that?
Fulling: Oh, yes. Steve, in response to your question as to whether to not I ever heard of the public reasons of why General Groves wanted the DuPont Company to participate in the atomic energy program, specifically Clinton Engineer Works and Hanford Project. To the best of my knowledge, Groves has made many public statements and in writing has doffed his hat to the capability and integrity of the DuPont Company for the activity that they performed across the board for the defense munitions program, namely smokeless powder, RDX, TNT, chemical warfare materials. All of which, since starting in 1942 spring, Groves had direct supervision—not just surveillance—but direct supervision, authority, and contractual relations with the DuPont Company representing the United States government via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Military Construction Office.
I have heard Groves say, and I have read, where he advocated the DuPont Company because of— number one, the performance of the DuPont Company for engineering development, design and construction of the several smokeless powder, TNT, etc. plants. Incidentally, including the DDT plant at Griselli, New Jersey, where he awarded an Army/Navy “E” for construction. The first Army/Navy “E” to be awarded in this country was by Groves at the Wabash River near Terre Haute, Indiana. There were others to follow to other companies, and the DDT plant program at Griselli, New Jersey, was one of the recipients of this award.
Groves stated that the atomic program required capability of engineers of design, construction, research and development to provide facilities for the production of atomic products under the jurisdiction of the explosives department, Atomic Energy Engineering Division, of DuPont. As I mentioned before, the major contract, the base contract was between the United States government then the DuPont Company with the explosives department as the prime contractor, and the engineering department and other departments of DuPont working under the authority of the explosives department.
Groves stated that this program required large groups of personnel experienced in the operation of large chemical operations. It required the backup of research and development personnel from the explosives department, our central research department, and the engineering department. Specifically, he was interested in the engineering department capability under the leadership of Granville Read, due to the successful completion of construction projects for the Army ordnance and Corps of Engineers at the various locations throughout the United States. Groves realized that an engineering project was akin to the logistical project of a military program, and required the same type of organization and personnel dedication and—not to use a Boy Scout phrase—but he was looking for patriotic participation as well as industrial participation. I believe that answers your query, probably in more detail than you sought.
Sanger: Also, was there a safety factor record—
Fulling: Yes. Groves recognized not only the construction and the operating safety requirements for the atomic program, but he was a very, very strong advocate of on-the-site construction safety. Anyone in industry who are involved in safety work realize that the safety programs run from the grassroots at the lowest level of any company organization under the sponsorship of all of the supervision management up to the chairman of the board of a company.
DuPont is very proud of its many years of safety performance, particularly in construction. The records indicate that under the statistical umbrella of the National Safety Council that the construction division engineering department of DuPont have led the list for many years on safety performance. This did not happen overnight. It did not happen at the advent of the military construction program. It goes back to the early 1800s, when the Du Pont family started construction of the first black powder plant on the Brandywine Creek outside of Wilmington. Safety is foremost in the minds of anyone who is involved in explosives materials, and more recently chemical materials and certainly the atomic aspects.
Safety is started on the first day an employee at any level engaged in DuPont. On the construction site, there are daily discussions at the foreman level to the crews of construction personnel. There are group meetings, there are safety posters throughout the plant, there are posted records of the number of days worked without a major injury, worked without a fatality. Construction is a hazardous business. It must be recognized that you can take all the precautions in the world, provide the personnel with all the latest equipment and facilities, but it comes down to the individual as to how he is indoctrinated and made safety conscious.
Surely, there are dangerous operations. We are all subject to acid exposure, possibilities of fire, and unfortunately exposure to explosive conditions. We have all learned from the very start of our career in DuPont to recognize safety. Groves was a strong advocate of the safety program. He talked about it not only to DuPont but to other military contractors, this I know.