The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Robert S. Norris' Interview

In this interview, Robert S. Norris traces the chronology of the Manhattan Project from its inception in 1942 through the early years of the Cold War. Dr. Norris talks about the crucial role of General Leslie Groves, whose energy and determination impelled the Project forward at an incredibly quick pace. Norris also discusses the controversial decision to drop the bomb on Japan and the Soviet atomic program that developed shortly after the end of World War II.

Richard Rhodes' Interview

In this interview, historian Richard Rhodes discusses the selection of the Hanford site and explains DuPont’s important role in the Manhattan Project. Rhodes provides a brief history of the Alsos Mission, detailing the capture of German physicists and their reactions to the news that the United States had created and used an atomic bomb. He also discusses the rationale behind using the bomb, adding how its creation was inevitable due to the principles behind scientific research.

Alex Wellerstein's Interview

In this interview, historian Alex Wellerstein discusses the basic science behind the atomic bomb and explains the difference between the uranium "Little Boy" bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and the plutonium "Fat Man" bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945. He also discusses Britain's contribution to the Manhattan Project and provides a brief history of the German and Soviet atomic programs. Wellerstein also discusses the effects of nuclear bombs, including the short and long-term threats posed by radiation.

General Leslie Groves's Interview - Part 3

In this interview, General Groves describes his first few weeks as the director of the Manhattan Project. He discusses his visits to the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University to meet with some of the top scientists who would be working on the project.

Nicholas Metropolis' Interview

Nicholas Metropolis arrived in Los Alamos in 1943. Shortly after receiving his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago, Metropolis was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to lead efforts in computational research for the bomb. Working under Metropolis’ supervision were John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam. Metropolis recalls collaborating with von Neumann and Ulam and developing the Monte Carlo method. The Monte Carlo method is a statistical approach to solve many-body problems. Metropolis also recalls contributing to the development of the MANIAC I computer. Metropolis shares many stories regarding his research and his personal relationships with his colleagues.

J. Robert Oppenheimer's Interview

In this interview, Robert Oppenheimer talks about the organization of the Manhattan Project and some of the scientists that he helped to recruit during the earliest days of the project. Oppenheimer also talks about some of the biggest difficulties that scientists faced during the project, such as developing a sound method for implosion.

Herbert Anderson's Interview - Groueff

Herbert Anderson worked with Fermi on the Chicago Pile-1. He grew up during the Depression, accepting a scholarship to study electrical engineering before he transferred to physics. Anderson recalls meeting Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi at Columbia. He discusses how he ran the night shift putting together the CP-1, and how he felt the night the reactor was completed. He also talks about Fermi’s high level of competence, demonstrated by his accurate predictions at every step of the experiment.

Samuel K. Allison's Interview

Dr. Samuel Allison was director of the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. He worked on the development of the Chicago Pile-1, and remembers working alongside Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Enrico Fermi. He discusses military-scientist relations, and day-to-day life and work in the lab.

Elliot Charney's Interview

In this interview, Elliot Charney discusses his involvement in developing the barrier material for the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Charney worked with Norris and Adler at Columbia University to develop a barrier that would be suitable for the separation of U-235 from U-238. Charney describes some of the problems that arose during the project and explains the urgency of his work.

Lester Tenney

Lester Tenney served in the Phillipines during World War II and was captured at Bataan by the Japanese. He was held on the Bataan Death March, and forced to labor for a Japanese company. Many years after the war ended, he wrote My Hitch in Hell about the death march, and worked to reconcile veterans and the Japanese community.