The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

K.T. Keller's Interview

KT Keller was appointed President of the Chrysler Corporation in 1935, having served as Vice President since 1926. Keller entered the automotive field as an apprentice without any previous education in engineering or mechanics. His intelligence, hard work, and mechanical skills enabled him to advance all the way to the top of Chrysler, where he guided the company through World War II. In Part I of his interview, Keller discusses his childhood and how he became involved in the automotive industry. He also discusses Chrysler’s involvement in the war effort and recounts a visit from President Roosevelt, who took a tour of the company’s tank facility.

Kenneth Nichols' Interview - Part 1

General Kenneth David Nichols was a US Army Engineer who served as Manhattan District Engineer in the Manhattan Project, overseeing the uranium and plutonium production at Oak Ridge and Hanford. He worked underneath and alongside General Groves, and collaborated with a number of well-known scientists. He discusses what it was like to work with scientists like Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, Arthur Compton, and others, as well as some of the project’s conflicts among scientists. He also discusses the complex administration of the Manhattan Project, and why he get along better with scientists than General Groves did.

Emilio Segrè

Emilio Segrè was an Italian-American scientist who won the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to the discovery of antiprotons, a subatomic particle. Earlier in his career, he was an integral member of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos as head of the P-5 Group, which focused on radioactivity. It was Segrè’s discovery of the high rate of spontaneous fission in plutonium—a discovery that he discusses in this interview—that forced the Project to abandon a plutonium-fueled, gun-type bomb. In this extended discussion, author Richard Rhodes asks Segrè about his close relationship with Enrico Fermi, his decision to return to academia rather than work on a thermonuclear weapon, and his opinion on the storied career of Edward Teller.

General Leslie Groves' Interview - Part 8

In this interview, General Groves discusses his relationship with Vannevar Bush, the head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development [OSRD], and James B. Conant, the President of Harvard and a member of the National Defense Research Committee [NDRC]. Bush and Conant both played key roles during the Manhattan Project, acting as liaisons between Groves, the physicists, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Rosemary Lane's Interview

Rosemary Lane was the Head Nurse at the Oak Ridge Hospital during the years of the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lane provides a detailed account of the wartime rise of Oak Ridge, Tennessee from a small military outpost to a town of over 70,000. She discusses the social life of Manhattan Project workers, what it was like to meet General Leslie Groves, and the moment when she found out that Oak Ridge was helping to manufacture an atomic bomb.

John Wheeler's Interview (1965)

John Wheeler was a theoretical physicist who joined the Manhattan Project in 1942. During the early stages of the project, Wheeler worked under Arthur H. Compton at the Metallurgical Laboratory, where he helped examine potential problems that could arise during the startup of the world's first nuclear reactor. Wheeler later became the lead physicist at the Hanford Site, where he solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. In this interview, Wheeler discusses his early collaboration with Niels Bohr on the liquid drop model of nuclear fission. He also discusses his involvement in designing the B Reactor and solving the problem of xenon poisoning that occurred during startup.

General Leslie Groves' Interview - Part 7

In this interview, Groves discusses the relationship between Harold Urey and John Dunning, the two scientists who were in charge of developing the barrier material for the Gaseous Diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN.

Dorothy McKibbin's Interview

Dorothy McKibbin was responsible for welcoming new recruits to the Manhattan Project. Known by many as the "gatekeeper" to Los Alamos, McKibbin ran the Santa Fe office at 109 East Palace for the Los Alamos National Laboratory during World War II. She checked in the many scientists who came through Santa Fe on their way to work on the development of the atomic bomb, issuing passes and briefing them about life in the Manhattan Project. In this interview, McKibbin recalls the strict security measures in place in Santa Fe and Los Alamos and also discusses Klaus Fuchs. She also speaks about day-to-day life at Santa Fe, including the women who came to work on the Manhattan Project.

David Kaiser's Interview

David Kaiser is the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of the award winning book "Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics," and more recently published "How Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival." His discussion with Atomic Heritage Foundation President, Cindy Kelly, focuses on the birth of nuclear physics and the nuclear bomb, but ranges across scientific developments in the early-to-mid 20th Century. Kelly and Kaiser also deliberate on the facets of innovation, and connect the scientific legacy of the Manhattan Project to current scientific research.

George Kistiakowsky's Interview

Dr. George Kistiakowsky was a Ukranian-American physical chemist whose contribution to the Manhattan Project included the design of the explosive lenses for the implosion-type bomb. He emigrated to the United States in 1926 and was the head of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) before going to Los Alamos as the leader of the Explosives Division. Following the war, Kistiakowsky served as a prominent scientific advisor to the White House across many administrations. In this interview, author Richard Rhodes and Kistiakowsky discuss life at Los Alamos, the relationships between many of the scientists of the Manhattan Project, and Kistiakowsky’s contributions after the war.