The Manhattan Project

Los Alamos, NM

Benjamin Bederson

Benjamin Bederson, a New York native, was selected to serve in the Special Engineering Detachment during the Manhattan Project. A physicist, he was first sent to Oak Ridge, and then to Los Alamos, where he worked for Donald Hornig on designing the ignition switches for the implosion bomb. At Los Alamos, he knew Ted Hall and David Greenglass, who were secretly sending atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Bederson instructed the 509th Composite Group at Wendover and was sent to Tinian to help wire the switches for the bomb.

Esther Vigil's Interview

[Thanks to David Schiferl and Willie Atencio for recording this interview and providing a copy to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]

Willie Atencio: Okay, we’ll try to do this informally. First of all, can you tell us about where you were born and who your parents were?

Esther Vigil: I was born in San Pedro. My mother was Maria Teofila Ortiz Lujan, and my father was Pedro Jose Lujan.

Atencio: Did you go to school in the Española Valley before?

Esther Vigil

Esther Vigil was living in the Espanola Valley with her family when Los Alamos was selected as a site for the Manhattan Project. She attended school at Los Alamos for several years. Both she and her mother worked at Los Alamos, babysitting for famous scientists like Edward Teller and Stanislaus Ulam. Vigil also worked for the Supply and Property Department. In this interview, she discusses not only her experiences at Los Alamos but also her later contributions to preserving local culture, a passion her mother also shared.

Ruth Howes's Interview

Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Ruth Howes. I’m going to ask her to please say and spell her name.

Ruth Howes: I am Ruth Howes, and that’s R-u-t-h H-o-w-e-s.

Kelly: Ruth is a very distinguished historian of the Manhattan Project with a particular focus on women, women scientists. I’m going to ask her to talk about this and what she’s learned. 

Robert Howes Jr.'s Interview

Cindy Kelly: OK. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I’m with Robert Howes. Bob, can you say your full name and spell it for us?

Robert Howes: Okay. It’s Robert I. Howes, and I better put Junior. And it’s H-o-w-e-s.

Kelly: Tell us when you were born and where.

Robert Howes Jr.

Robert I. (“Bob”) Howes Jr. is an American physicist. He was a young child when his father, Robert Ingersoll Howes, was recruited to work as a scientist on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In this interview, Howes shares snapshots of daily life in the Los Alamos community from the perspective of a child. He also describes some of the interaction between the Manhattan Project and local Pueblo communities and recalls the misadventures of the family dog.

Julie Melton's Interview

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. This is Santa Fe, New Mexico, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Julie Melton. My first question for Julie is to say her name and spell it.

Julie Melton: I’ve been widowed twice, so I’ve had a lot of last names, but my maiden name was Hawkins. My father was at Los Alamos. Now my name is Melton, Julie Melton. Just to make it complicated, I’ve written books on democratization in the developing world, and I used my pen name Fisher for that. So it does get complicated.

Julie Melton

Julie Melton is an author and expert on civil society, development, and democratization. She is the daughter of Manhattan Project historian David Hawkins and Frances Hawkins, the founder of the nursery school at Los Alamos. During the Manhattan Project, her family lived in the same four-family as Victor and Ellen Weisskopf, who became some of their closest friends. In this interview, she shares her childhood memories of Los Alamos and anecdotes about prominent Manhattan Project scientists.

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