The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Ruth Kerr Jakoby's Interview

Ruth Kerr Jakoby is the daughter of mineralogist Paul Francis Kerr, who took part in the Manhattan Project and later advised the Atomic Energy Commission. In this interview, Kerr Jakoby recalls her memories of her father’s trips to Africa to find uranium for the Manhattan Project. She also remembers her interest in the Rosenberg trial.

Robert Lamphere's Interview - Part 2

FBI agent Robert Lamphere supervised investigations of Soviet atomic spies during the early years of the Cold War, including David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and the Rosenbergs. He also interrogated Klaus Fuchs in London in 1950. In this interview, Lamphere explores the Soviet espionage network in the U.S. and the roles of the various spies. He also shares his thoughts on J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security hearing, and recalls his collaboration with cryptanalyst Meredith Gardner to break the Soviet code.

Dorothy McKibbin's Interview (1979)

Dorothy McKibbin was known as the “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” Everyone and everything who worked on the Manhattan Project at the site had to pass through her office at 109 East Palace in Santa Fe. Her important position as well as her friendly disposition helped her form lasting relationships with many Manhattan Project workers. In this interview, McKibbin discusses what happened to the scientists after the project, and details some of the stringent security procedures at Los Alamos. She also characterizes Oppenheimer as a charismatic and kind leader beloved by the community, who did not deserve the harsh treatment he was subjected to during his security hearing. She also describes how many of those who worked with Oppenheimer supported him, and some even tried to intervene during his hearing to no avail.

Hans Bethe's Interview (1982)

Hans Bethe was a German-American physicist and Nobel Prize winner who was head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos. He played an important role in the development of the hydrogen fusion bomb. In this interview, Bethe discusses the decision to develop the H-bomb in a starkly different context compared to the A-bomb. He recalls the debate over MIRV, the rise of the nuclear race, and missed opportunities to promote nuclear nonproliferation, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bernard Baruch's plan.

Ted Taylor's Interview - Part 2

From 1948-1956, Ted Taylor worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, developing fission bombs of minimal size and maximal capacity. Later in life, while working for the Defense Department, Taylor began to realize the real-world implications and consequences of the bombs he developed. In this interview, he discusses the team feeling of developing the H-bomb after the war and during the Cold War arms race, and the role of people he terms “weaponeers” had in driving the development of the H-bomb. Taylor then turns his attention to discussing how his mindset changed in the 1960s and why he began to support the total abolition of atomic weapons. He explains why he thinks nuclear weapons should be globally outlawed, much like chemical and biological weapons.

To Fermi ~ with Love - Part 4

The fourth and final part of the program details Fermi’s postwar work with the Institute of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, and describes his outrage over the revocation of J. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance. Friends and colleagues recall his teaching style and boundless energy, and reflect on his character and personality. For his closest friends, his legacy extends beyond his remarkable scientific contributions. They remember his gift for teaching, simplicity, honesty, and lack of conceit. The program narrates the end of Fermi’s life, and concludes with an excerpt from his speech at the tenth anniversary of the operation of Chicago Pile-1.

Marshall Rosenbluth's Interview

Marshall Rosenbluth was an American physicist who worked in the theoretical division at Los Alamos from 1950 to 1956. In this interview, Rosenbluth addresses the theoretical issues involved in designing both the atomic and hydrogen bombs. He discusses how the pressure to create a nuclear bomb before the Soviet Union affected work in the laboratory, especially in performing and checking calculations. Rosenbluth also recounts his experiences during the nuclear weapons tests at Los Alamos and Bikini Atoll. He recalls the roles of top scientists, like Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, and Carson Mark, in the building of the hydrogen bomb. He also explains how funding and other external factors affected the hydrogen bomb’s design.

Robert Nobles and William Sturm's Interview - Part 2

Robert Nobles and William Sturm were physicists at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory. They contributed to the creation of experimental nuclear reactors, including the world’s first heavy water reactor, the Chicago Pile-3. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sturm and Noble discuss the security of the bomb project in Chicago, and the movement of scientists between the different sites. They also recall Eugene Wigner’s graciousness, Leo Szilard’s excitability, and Walter Zinn and Enrico Fermi’s leadership styles. They praise the scientific community for its embrace of international cooperation and respect.

Frank G. Foote and James F. Schumar's Interview

Frank G. Foote and James F. Schumar were metallurgists who worked on the Manhattan Project. Foote worked in metallurgy at the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago, while Schumar developed procedures for cladding metallic uranium fuel rods with aluminum for Hanford’s B Reactor and Chicago Pile-3. They discuss the challenges of working with uranium metallurgy, from safety issues to the strange properties of uranium metal. They explain their involvement in designing the slugs used in early nuclear reactors. They also explain how they designed a method to extrude and machine uranium.

David P. Rudolph's Interview

David R. Rudolph was an administrator in charge of inventory at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. In his interview, he discusses how he was one of the few individuals to be present at both the startup of Chicago Pile-1 and the Trinity test. Rudolph recalls the process of reactor construction, along with the disassembly of CP-1 for the construction of CP-2. He explains the importance of inventory control when it came to the uranium and graphite blocks used in CP-1, and how he helped discover that a section had not be stacked with enough blocks.