The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Joseph Rotblat's Interview

Joseph Rotblat was a British-naturalized Polish physicist, 1995 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder of the Pugwash Conferences. Rotblat and his friend James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, conducted early research on the atomic bomb in England, and both joined the British Mission at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project. Rotblat left the Manhattan Project on grounds of conscience in late 1944 when it became clear Germany was not close to developing an atomic bomb—the only scientist to leave the project for moral reasons. In this interview, he discusses his personal and professional relationships with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and the Chadwick family. He also provides insight into the intense security measures in place at Los Alamos, as well as the nature of British involvement at the site. Perhaps most intriguing is Roblat’s discussion of his decision to leave Los Alamos, spurred on by his growing concern that the nuclear weapons being created were also meant for the Soviet Union, and his anxiety over a postwar arms race. In a lighter vein, Rotblat also recalls his work as a technical advisor on the 1980 miniseries “Oppenheimer.”

Marvin Goldberger's Interview

Marvin Goldberger was President of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s from his days at Princeton, after World War II. In this interview, he talks about his and his wife’s relationships with Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer. He also discusses Oppenheimer’s reputation as a physicist and personality, as well as how Oppenheimer fit into the social scene in post-war Princeton. Goldberger recounts how he first met Oppenheimer, and gives his impressions of other Manhattan Project figures including Robert Serber and Edward Teller.

Edward Purcell's Interview

Edward Purcell was an eminent physicist at Harvard who won the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics. He worked on microwave radiation at the MIT Rad Lab during World War II, and was involved in some of the Trinity test preparations. In this interview, he discusses his time with J. Robert Oppenheimer at Harvard University after the war, and the problems some tenured professors ran into after being accused of being communists. He also mentions Manhattan Project physicist Herbert York whom he praises for his own efforts to chronicle the same period as well as his work on the early American space program. Purcell recalls talking about Eisenhower’s election and the first successful hydrogen bomb test with Oppenheimer.

Verna Hobson's Interview - Part 1

Verna Hobson was an American secretary. She and her husband, the jazz musician Wilder Thornton, moved to Princeton, NJ in the 1950s. From 1954 to 1956, Verna Hobson worked for J. Robert Oppenheimer as a secretary at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. In this interview, she discusses life in Princeton during the mid-’50s, including the social scene and her personal relationships with the Oppenheimer family. She worked for Oppenheimer during his security trial hearing, and explains why she felt the legal strategy was flawed and recalls the strain the Oppenheimer family was put under. She also discusses the personalities of Robert, Kitty, and Peter Oppenheimer, and Robert and Kitty’s relationship.

Ed Hammel's Interview

Ed Hammel was a young physicist at Princeton University when he signed on to work for the Manhattan Project. Stationed at Los Alamos, he became involved with the site’s production of plutonium. He stayed at Los Alamos after the war and became involved in the hydrogen bomb program. In this interview, he discusses the early efforts to design the hydrogen bomb, the scientific innovations he and his colleagues developed at LANL, and why he decided not to work on the Ivy Mike shot.

Margaret Broderick's Interview

Margaret “Chickie” Broderick worked on the Manhattan Project as a chemist at MIT. In this interview, she describes the laboratory where she was employed and the secrecy and “tight” security that surrounded the project. She elaborates on the background check procedures required for workers. Broderick also recalls the wartime culture and environment in America, offering insight into military-civilian relations and social life during World War II.

Mack Newsom's Interview

Mack Newsom was a member of the Army’s 509th Composite Group. Newsom worked as an airplane mechanic and B-29 engine specialist. He was part of the ground crew on the B-29 Silverplate plane Next Objective. In this interview, Newsom discusses the details of his work on B-29s and what he and his fellow mechanics did to maintain the plane. He also describes the working conditions on Tinian, speaking of the climate, accommodations, division of labor, and water shortage on the island. He reflects on the use of the bomb, and how those stationed at Tinian came to learn of Hiroshima. Newsom also recalls going to Cuba when Next Objective was assigned there for temporary duty.

Louis Hempelmann Interview - Part 1

Louis Hempelmann was a doctor and radiologist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was a close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, and their children. In this interview, Hempelmann explains how and why he was recruited for the Manhattan Project. He recalls an early conference there on the bomb at which Edward Teller was criticized for his obsession with the hydrogen bomb. Hempelmann remembers going horseback riding with Oppenheimer and Kitty, and watching their children during the Atomic Energy Commission hearing that resulted in Oppie’s security clearance being revoked.

Roslyn Robinson's Interview

Roslyn D. Robinson worked as a driver and in the administration office for the Chicago Met Lab. Her husband, Sidney, was an engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, she talks about her early life, as well as her duties in Chicago and the omnipresent emphasis on secrecy. She recalls her husband’s hospitalization and quarantine after a mysterious “spill” in his laboratory at the New Chem Building. She also remembers learning about the project’s true purpose when Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, her reaction to that event, and how the Project continued to affect their lives after the war.

David Hawkins's Interview - Part 1

David Hawkins was a philosophy professor who became the administrative aide at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943 and the Manhattan Project's historian in 1945-46. In that role, he had free access to all the top people involved, including project director J. Robert Oppenheimer and physicist Edward Teller. In this interview, Hawkins describes his encounters with lawyer Cliff Durr after the war, when he, like Oppenheimer, was facing suspicion from the U.S. government for his involvement with the Communist Party. The rest of the interview is a discussion of the nature of the Communist community in Berkeley before the war. Hawkins describes a familial group of intellectuals from a plethora of disciplines, and recalls some of his friends who were Communist Party members, including Frank Oppenheimer and Phillip Morrison. He recalls ideological debates and distinctions as well as the eclectic personalities of some of the era’s key players. Hawkins also describes Oppenheimer’s remarkable ability for getting people to agree with each other, as well as his wide-ranging interests and need for one-upmanship.

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