The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Walter S. Carpenter's Interview

Walter Samuel Carpenter, Jr. was a corporate executive at DuPont who oversaw the company's involvement in the Manhattan Project. In 1919, at the age of thirty-one, Carpenter was elected to DuPont's board of directors, the first member who was not from the du Pont family. Carpenter discusses how DuPont came to be involved in the Manhattan Project, and how Groves' initial request seemed to be an almost impossible task. He also discusses the expansion of the American chemical business and the corporate structure of DuPont. Additionally, he touches upon his early life and how he initially got involved with the company after quitting school in the fall of his senior year at Cornell University to manage DuPont's Chilean nitrate interests.

John Arnold's Interview

John Arnold joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 when the MED tasked his employer, the Kellogg Corporation, with developing a special barrier for the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge. Arnold discusses his role as director of research and development and process engineering at the plant, where he supervised the assembly and testing of what would become the K-25 plant. In his interview, Arnold describes the challenges of creating a suitable barrier that could withstand the corrosive effects of uranium hexafluoride gas while remaining porous enough to allow smaller atoms of uranium-235 to pass through.

Harold Urey's Interview

Dr. Harold Urey was an American physical chemist and winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Urey worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University, overseeing the development of the gaseous diffusion method. He discusses working with numerous colleagues, including Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves. He also discusses his early life, his education, and his work following the war.

George Cowan's Interview (1993)

George Cowan was a physical chemist who joined the Manhattan Project in 1942. In this interview, Cowan discusses the Soviet atomic program and their effort to build a nuclear bomb. In 1949, he helped convince U.S. government officials that the radiochemistry of air samples taken from the atmosphere proved that the Soviets had detonated their own atomic bomb, rather than what many assumed was just a peaceful nuclear reactor problem. Cowan also discusses Operation Crossroads, where he helped take air samples during atomic tests at Eniwetok Atoll in 1946.

General Leslie Groves' Interview - Part 5

In this interview, Groves discusses his administrative approach to managing the Manhattan Project. Groves talks about his early career before the Project and some of the key lessons he learned during his job as an engineer that helped him succeed during the Manhattan Project. Groves also discusses his relationship with Congress and the ways in which he was able to persuade government officials to provide the enormous funding for the Project.

Robert E. Hayes's Interview

Robert “Bob” Hayes worked as an airplane mechanic on Kwajalein Island, maintaining Boeing B-29s. He talks about life in the Pacific during World War II, being trained to use a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, maintaining complicated airplane engines, and witnessing the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests.

Glenn Seaborg's Interview

Glenn Seaborg, winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and co-discoverer of plutonium, was in charge of the separation process for removing plutonium from irradiated uranium slugs at the University of Chicago during the Manhattan Project. In his interview, he discusses the pressure to obtain high yields of plutonium, and how he eventually decided on the bismuth phosphate process, which was extremely successful. Seaborg also describes the difficulty of recruiting top scientists to work on a top-secret project, as he was not allowed to explain the importance of his work unless they agreed to join.

Hans Bethe's Interview

Hans Bethe was a German-American physicist who was head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos. He played an important role in the development of the hydrogen fusion bomb, working alongside Edward Teller. In this interview, Bethe discusses espionage and Soviet spying during the Manhattan project, as well as the post-war development of hydrogen weapons.

John Manley's Interview

Dr. John Manley was one of Oppenheimer’s principal assistants at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Manley helped Oppenheimer manage Los Alamos' laboratories and worked alongside a number of well-known scientists, including I.I. Rabi, Robert Serber, and Edward Teller. Manley helped survey the landscape around the Trinity Test site before the test and witnessed the explosion from inside a wooden bunker. In this interview, he recalls the Trinity detonation, as well as working with men like Leo Szilard and General Leslie Groves.

Vera Kistiakowsky's Interview

Vera Kistiakowsky is an American physicist and the daughter of physical chemist George Kistiakowsky, who directed the Explosives Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and later served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's science advisor. Vera, who entered her first year of college at Mount Holyoke in 1944, visited her father at Los Alamos during the summer months in 1944 and 1945. In her interview, she discusses the sense of freedom she felt in the secret city and talks about the fun she had on horseback riding adventures with her father. Following the project, Vera finished college and earned her Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry under Glenn Seaborg at the University of California, Berkeley. She joined the faculty at MIT in 1963 and spent the rest of her career advocating for the advancement of women in science.

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