The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Lee DuBridge's Interview - Part 2

Lee DuBridge is a prominent American physicist whose work at Caltech, Rochester, and MIT and the Atomic Energy Commission led to interactions with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview, he discusses how the AEC felt about testing the hydrogen bomb in context of the nuclear arms race, explaining why many members of the AEC’s General Advisory Committee were initially against moving ahead with a crash program on the hydrogen bomb. He also explains the confusion over using nuclear weapons tactically versus strategically. DuBridge recalls his efforts to support Oppenheimer during Oppie’s security hearing. Most notably, he remarks that as early as a year before the charges were brought against Oppenheimer, people were aware of trouble brewing for Oppie. DuBridge also remembers a visit he made to NATO headquarters with Oppenheimer, and how warmly Oppie was welcomed.

Norris Bradbury's Interview - Part 2

Norris Bradbury worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project and served as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1945-1970. In this interview, he recalls the challenges of running LANL and how he admired the way J. Robert Oppenheimer had managed it during the war. He explains the decision behind moving ahead with developing the hydrogen bomb, and why Oppenheimer opposed it. Bradbury recalls how the transfer of nuclear weapons control from military to civilian hands went, and how he and his staff interfaced with the Atomic Energy Commission. He also discusses the personality and legacy of Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, and Edward Teller.

Louis Hempelmann's Interview - Part 2

Louis Hempelmann was the director of the Health Group at Los Alamos. He and his wife Elinor became close friends with J. Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer. In this interview, Hempelmann discusses the lives of Peter and Toni Oppenheimer, Robert and Kitty’s children. He recalls visiting the Oppenheimer home on St. John’s in the Caribbean, and explains that all the Oppenheimer homes were decorated in a rather focused, austere manner. He remembers Oppenheimer’s concern that he was being followed or secretly recorded after the war, as well as Oppie’s incredible ability to speed read. Hempelmann also recalls going horseback riding with Oppie and having dinner at Edith Warner’s home by Otowi Bridge.

Verna Hobson's Interview - Part 2

Verna Hobson worked as a secretary to J. Robert Oppenheimer during his time as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Her tenure as secretary coincided with Oppenheimer's security hearing by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In this interview, she discusses the impact of Oppenheimer’s AEC hearing on his life at the Institute. She expresses frustration with the strategy adopted by his legal team, which she felt was far too lax. Hobson recalls how Oppenheimer navigated the often heated internal politics at the Institute, and his relations with the Institute’s professors and fellows including Albert Einstein, Oswald Veblen, and André Weil. She also gives her account of Oppenheimer’s distinctly poetic writing style.

Jean Bacher's Interview

Jean Dow Bacher was born in 1907, and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married fellow Ann Arbor native and leading Manhattan Project scientist Robert Bacher in 1930. Jean was a “computer” at Los Alamos during the Project. In this interview, she describes the friendship her and her husband shared with the Oppenheimers, and their interactions with other scientists and their families at Los Alamos. Bacher recalls how observers who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “appalled and stunned” at the destruction there, and explains how J. Robert Oppenheimer and others at Los Alamos tried to come to terms with their work on the bomb. She recounts Oppenheimer’s anxiety about being under surveillance in the lead up to his security hearing. She also recalls Edward Teller’s habit of playing the piano late at night, and shares her impressions of Kitty Oppenheimer.

Haakon Chevalier's Interview - Part 2

Haakon Chevalier was a French literature professor, author, and close friend of J. Robert Oppenheimer beginning at Berkeley in 1937. In this interview, Chevalier discusses aspects of Oppenheimer’s personal life, including his romantic relationships, hobbies, and religious views. He explains his own involvement in the Communist Party and Oppenheimer’s work on left-wing issues, and gives his thoughts on Oppenheimer’s security trial in 1954. Chevalier recalls first meeting Kitty Oppenheimer, and remembers her as a warm and friendly woman.

David Hawkins's Interview - Part 2

David Hawkins served as an administrative aide at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1943 and as 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, he discusses the nature of Communist activity among the intellectual community in Berkeley California—a community that included a number of future Manhattan Project scientists. He describes his experiences working directly under Oppenheimer during his stint at Los Alamos, noting his charisma as well as his hubris. He describes that work; the copious and all-encompassing research that was required from his position as project historian. Finally, he concludes by discussing the years after the war, and his and his wife’s relationships with Clifford and Virginia Durr.

Robert Bacher's Interview - Part 1

In 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer recruited American physicist Robert Bacher to join the Manhattan Project as head of the experimental physics division at Los Alamos. Bacher directed the bomb physics division at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1945, helping oversee the design of the implosion bomb, known as “Fat Man,” that was dropped on Nagasaki. In this interview, Bacher recalls the initial conference of Los Alamos laboratory leadership in 1943 and describes Oppenheimer’s relationships with Enrico Fermi and General Leslie Groves. He recounts how Oppenheimer improved as a lecturer, and remembers the excitement caused in the physics community by the development of quantum mechanics and the discovery of the neutron.

Robert Serber's Interview (1982)

Robert Serber was an American physicist. He was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project. Serber was tasked with explaining the basic principles and goals of the project to all incoming scientific staff. Moving to Los Alamos in 1943, he gave lectures to members of the Manhattan Project about the design and construction of the atomic bomb; these lectures came to be known as the “Los Alamos Primer." In this interview with Martin Sherwin, Serber talks about Oppenheimer and the physics community at Berkeley before the war. He recalls Oppenheimer’s relationships with his graduate students, and his own friendship with Oppie. Serber also gives his thoughts on Oppenheimer’s relationship with Jean Tatlock and Tatlock’s psychological issues.

Dorothy Ritter's Interview

Dorothy Ritter is the daughter of Manhattan Project veteran Francis Oley. Oley worked at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, TN. His job required him and his family to move from New York to Oak Ridge. Ritter spent several years of her childhood in Oak Ridge. In this interview she reminisces about the simplicity of her life there, and discusses how living and working at Oak Ridge impacted her family. She recalls the strain her father was under during the project, and the house they lived in. She also explains how the excellent teachers she had at Oak Ridge influenced her to become a teacher.