The Manhattan Project

Crawford Greenewalt, Jr.'s Interview

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Crawford Greenewalt, Jr., was an archeologist and the son of Crawford Greenewalt, a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company. The elder Greenewalt was assigned to act as a liaison between the physicists at the Chicago Met Lab and the engineers at Hanford, who were constructing the B Reactor. He went on to become the President of DuPont, and was renowned for his interest in photography, birds, and other scientific endeavors. Crawford Jr. discusses his family’s lineage, his father’s education and career, and his father’s busy schedule during the war. He also recalls the comfortable family breakfasts and his parents’ love for music and dancing.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
January 2, 2007
Location of the Interview: 
Wilmington
Transcript: 

Crawford Greenewalt: Crawford Greenewalt. I’m named after my father, Crawford Hallock Greenewalt. The last name, Greenewalt, is spelled G-R-E-E-N-E-W-A-L-T. But in early years in the country, the Greenewalt’s spelled their name various ways. The present spelling may go back several generations.

My father was born in 1902, in August. His mother was Mary Hallock, that was her maiden name, Mary Hallock Greenewalt, and his father was Frank Lindsay Greenewalt. My grandmother was born in Beirut in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Her mother was Lebanese and her father was American, and at the time was the American consul in Beirut. My grandfather, my father’s father, came from a German family that had come to this country from the Palatinate in Germany in the first half of the eighteenth century. They settled in Pennsylvania and had come to live around Fayetteville, which is not far from Chambersburg. 

My grandfather was born into a farming family, and he and his older brother went into medicine and studied medicine. When my father was born, my grandfather was a doctor, practicing in Philadelphia. For a number of years he taught at Girard College in Pennsylvania and was the resident physician there.  

My grandmother, to backtrack, had become interested in music at some time in her teens, and had been sent to Vienna to study piano under a then-celebrated pianist called Theodore Leschetizky. My grandmother went sometime in the 1890s, middle of the “Gay Nineties,” to study with Leschetizky. She studied there for a year, and came back and married my grandfather at that time. My father then born in the early years in 1902. For quite a while my grandmother went on tour playing the piano in this country, and my grandfather was her manager and organized her trips and her appearances. When she stopped playing the piano I’m not sure, but maybe 1910, maybe 1915, something like that. I don’t think much later than that. I think that was the end of her professional piano-playing career. 

He [my father] started in school, at a German school, and he learned German. He had already learned German – he had a German nurse when he was a child, and he used to say that he learned German before he learned English. His parents approved of German, they thought that was a respectable language to learn, so they encouraged that. My grandfather used to read German fairy tales, Grimm’s fairy tales, to my father in German. I have the book, which was owned by my father, which they read. 

My father knew German when he went to the German school in Philadelphia, so he had that. I don’t know whether all classes were taught in German, but I think they were. He got a good education there, and he said much later that it was the education in that school which enabled him to go to Penn Charter School, and to get in at a rather early age, two years younger than the rest of his class. He studied at Penn Charter, and then from there went on to MIT in Boston. 

This picture shows my father when he was at MIT, and he enjoyed dramatic performances to some extent, I don’t know how much. He had a mentor there, slightly older than he was, called Harry Gribble. Harry Gribble probably inspired him to act in school plays, like the one you’re seeing where he’s in the chorus. I think he was not so interested that he was ever a lead in plays or musical dramas. The chorus is probably what he fitted into and enjoyed. 

At MIT he majored in chemical engineering, and he began working for the Dupont Company soon after he graduated, very soon after he graduated, I’m not sure exactly when, which would have been in 1922. He may have chosen the Dupont Company because of family connections. His aunt was married to William Kemble Du Pont, who had worked in the powder mills for the DuPont Company. He may have become interested in the DuPont Company through his aunt and uncle and their family. 

He had come to Wilmington regularly. His aunt and uncle had regularly invited him to Wilmington when he was a small child, because he had a first cousin the same age, that was Hallock DuPont. They played together. My father used to come to Wilmington regularly to see family, and saw the larger family as well. According to my mother, my father attended her first birthday party, was invited because their parents knew each other, and my mother’s mother had invited Daddy as a child. So my mother and father knew each other from a very early age.

He moved to Wilmington and lived in what was then the Vicmead Hunt Club, which is not in the same place where it is now. It’s now the house where Jamie Wyeth lives, if that’s of any interest. He may have lived in the YMCA, too. 

He started very early at the Experimental Station at the DuPont Company, but I don’t know whether he began there or not. I don’t know that. When his courtship began, I don’t know. But he became very interested in my mother. According to him, later on, he proposed to her many times before she accepted, but she finally did. 

There’s a little story about that too, because they were testing and counting milk, which was produced on my maternal grandparents’ farm. My grandmother didn’t believe in homogenizing milk, so it was raw milk which she produced, and it had to be watched very carefully.  

My parents were involved in testing the milk, and counting the parts, making sure it was all right, when for the umpteenth time, my father popped the question, and to his astonishment, my mother accepted him! Well, there’s that story. It took place in the basement of my grandparents’ house. I was just down in that basement yesterday, and my uncle confirmed that’s where the engagement took place.

My paternal grandparents had a summer house in Wildwood, in New Jersey, and my maternal grandparents used to go to Cape May, and they used to see each other in the summers at that time. The families independently would go there. It was a place that was nearby, by the ocean, in the summers. They must have seen each other there, but I don’t know how often. 

Some time later, in the late ‘20s, they [my parents] started going to Bermuda, and they liked it very much. They would go by ship, because that was the only way to get to Bermuda. There were no plane flights at that time. They rented various places to stay, various cottages to stay. They probably stayed for two weeks, because I think my father didn’t get any more vacation. On up until the 1950s, it was a two-week vacation for him. 

They enjoyed it. They enjoyed the lack of motor vehicles. They liked to ride around on bicycles together. They enjoyed the quiet life in Bermuda. They liked swimming, they liked goggling, looking at the fish under the water, the tropical fish. They liked to go dancing, and there were places in Bermuda where you could go out and dance. They enjoyed ballroom dancing very much. That was their vacation in Bermuda. They sometimes went down with friends of theirs, too. As time went on, married couples that they enjoyed, close friends would go down with them and they would have a kind of house party.

He [my father] enjoyed playing with his children and figuring out what they were interested in and what they would enjoy. He was very good at figuring that out. He made a set of building blocks for me, which still exist, and they’re largish blocks of white and dark wood, and you could build all kinds of things with them. He cut the blocks himself, and smoothed them and trimmed them, and put them in a little chest that he made, and put my name on the top. He thought out what his children would be interested in, and he enjoyed seeing them develop and grow.  

As far as I know, my father never played a musical instrument as a child, although his mother was a concert pianist. I don’t know that he was given lessons in any instrument as a child. But his engagement present, or maybe his wedding present, from my mother was a clarinet, and he learned to play it. And within two or three years, he had begun to play the cello. He enjoyed both of those instruments, and he enjoyed playing. He and my mother and friends, a couple who were good friends, used to play string quartets together in their early marriage. My father used to say, “We were just terrible, but we had so much fun!”

Kelly: That’s great. Hopefully we can find a “quiet evening at home” film.

Greenewalt: He had a good ear for music. He really enjoyed music. Having played it, he was, of course, able to judge any number of things which people who haven’t played music, like myself, don’t know how to do. 

He very much enjoyed the cello, and he very much enjoyed the playing of Pablo Casals. To the extent that in 1950, when Casals agreed to perform—he was very much anti-Franco, Casals was—agreed to hold a series of concerts in southern France, in a small town in the Pyrenees called Prad, my mother and father went there to hear that concert and they had a wonderful time. They liked what my father used to call the “Zing” and the “Nyuh” of Casals’ playing. 

Similarly, they enjoyed musicians who played in the same kind of way, and one of them was Fritz Kreisler on the violin. Then, there’s a clarinet player, Reginald Kell, the clarinet player. He had the same kind of somewhat romantic way of playing, which appealed to both my parents. They enjoyed that. They said, “Yes, we know that Fritz Kreisler sometimes makes mistakes when he plays. We don’t mind that. He has this quality of playing which appeals to us.” 

I think those three musicians, Reginald Kell and Pablo Casals and Fritz Kreisler, played their instruments in the same kind of way. They were great favorites of my parents, those three musicians and their way of playing. My mother took me to hear a concert, a clarinet concert by Reginald Kell. I did hear him play. He was the only one of the three that I actually heard myself.

Kelly: That’s interesting. The film “A Scramble of Eggs”—let’s talk about that. Because we do have that film. You can talk about how that was organized, and your dad, how much he liked or didn’t like playing the villain, or whatever you want to say.

Greenewalt: The film was organized by some younger aunts, some younger sisters of my mother and their friends. There was a series of films, of which this was one, and this one was the only one in which my father appeared. He played the role of the villain, which I think he enjoyed. My mother, so I’m told, was very pleased that her younger siblings and their friends had invited my father to play in this movie. He never played in any others, and I’m not sure that he wanted to, in particular, but he enjoyed that part. 

He and his friends made one home movie, which was a whodunit. That’s the only other film of that kind that I know of in which my father acted. My father didn’t actually act in that one, he ran the movie camera.

Kelly: So how elaborate was this? Maybe you can talk a little more about this film. I haven’t seen it. How elaborate was it? 

Greenewalt: Not terribly elaborate. It is set in modern times. Some things look very antiquated now, of course, because it was filmed in whatever it was, the late 1920s or early ‘30s, probably late 1920s. So the automobiles are of that vintage. But not terribly elaborate, not terribly elaborate. There’s a sequence of canoeing, where the heroine’s canoe is overturned and my father swims out to try and get her. I forget what the denouement is. I think he’s bashed over the head with a canoe oar until he stops his pursuit. But it’s not a terribly elaborate film.

Greenewalt: My parents loved to dance. They loved to dance, and they were very good at it. This was ballroom dancing. Their idea of fun for a weekend was to go to New York, and see a play one night and go dancing, have dinner and go dancing the second night. They enjoyed that very much. Throughout their life, they enjoyed dancing. Their idea of a good party was to go to a dinner dance or to give a dinner dance. Rolling back the rug after dinner and putting on the phonograph, that was part of their lives. Growing up in the ‘20s, that was the thing that people did. They were both very good at dancing.

He [my father] would be photographing hummingbirds in the summer outside his house in Delaware. These would be still pictures, not moving pictures, with the strobe lights, which were to stop the image of the bird with its wings fully stopped so that you could see individual feathers. That was the objective of my father’s photography of hummingbirds, to have an image which showed clearly the bird in mid-flight with its wings absolutely still. Since the hummingbird has a very rapid wingbeat, it was very difficult to do that, to achieve that.  That was one of the challenges that led my father from photographing songbirds in the winter to hummingbirds, with their much faster wingbeat.

The hummingbird interest drew him geographically to other parts of this country and to South America, because on the East Coast of the United States, there is only one kind of hummingbird, as I understand, the ruby-throat.  Whereas there are many more varieties on the West and in South America. He began to go to South America to photograph hummingbirds in Ecuador and especially in Brazil. He and my mother made many trips together to do that. 

My mother always accompanied my father and helped him out whenever she could, let him alone when he wanted to be alone to photograph, but was always there to help and he always traveled with her. 

Kelly: Now remember the very cute picture of the two of them, where he’s reading in the chair. Maybe you can talk about that. 

Greenewalt: The picture is probably a publicity picture. It’s one of a series. But this is a very natural picture, with my father in his reclining chair, reading some kind of business report. My mother would come into the room, and he would say, “Oh, come over here and sit next to me.” They were very affectionate. So, this is a very typical kind of picture, even though it may have been taken for publicity purposes. It’s the kind of thing that happened regularly, my mother coming to sit on the edge of the chair where my father was, and he’s obviously looking up at her with delight. 

He always seemed very relaxed, although he had a lot of pressure from business, and yet he managed to find time to attend to other interests. One of my father’s friends said to me that my father worked hard and he played hard. 

My father was not an avid sports fan, and he did not play golf, although the sweater may seem to suggest that. The game that he really liked to play was tennis. He and my mother both played tennis a lot. They enjoyed that. Into their sixties, they continued to play tennis. 

My parents went to Bermuda, and at that time, in the late ‘20s and through the ‘30s, there were no motor vehicles in Bermuda, except I think for the fire engine. There was a train, but otherwise people went by horse carriage or by bicycle. My parents enjoyed bicycling together. They used to say it was so nice, you could ride side by side and talk. That was in reference to the motorbikes, which became popular after the war, which of course make a lot of noise and you can’t hear each other talk.

Holman Hallock was my father’s great-grandfather, and he was a member of the American Missionary Board, which ultimately established schools in the Middle East, in Istanbul and in what is today Lebanon, but at that time was the Ottoman Empire. He was a printer in the United States and he was charged with printing books in Arabic and finding a way to create Arabic type. He did figure out a way of doing that, and the picture shows him with the instrument, which is a kind of pentagram, which was used, and continued to be used for many years thereafter for printing the Arabic script. 

That is about all I can say. There is more information about what that script was called, and it had a special name, and I don’t know that. But that’s in the article back in Berkeley. It might be interesting, and that explains more of it. You can read the article and see if you want it or not. 

Holman Hallock’s son, Samuel Hallock, was also involved with the American Missionary Board. He was also the American consul in Beirut, where he married his second wife, from whom my father is descended. He married a Lebanese girl called Sara Tabet, and their eldest child was my grandmother, Mary Hallock. She lived in Lebanon until she was eleven, and then came to the United States for the first time. So she was brought up in the ambience of a Christian-Arabic home.

Kelly: Interesting. We have a picture of Henry Clay Greenewalt. Why don’t you say a little bit about him?

Greenewalt: I wish I knew more. This is Henry Clay Greenewalt, who was my father’s grandfather, the father of his father. He lived in Chambersburg and Fayetteville, and was a farmer basically, but I think was also involved in local politics. There’s more to it than that one could easily find out, but I don’t know what it was. 

Kelly: Do you remember your dad going back and forth on the train?

Greenewalt: I don’t remember much. He would go away, come back, I would be farmed out to my grandparents many times, but I thought this was what life was like, father away a lot and so forth. I don’t remember enough before that for it to have made much of an impression. We get into the war in ’41.

Kelly: Do you want to say something about his becoming the president of DuPont? Do you remember that? 

Greenewalt: I do remember that, but I can’t really say much about it. I remember that happening. He became the vice president, and shortly after he became president in the summer of 1948, I think, but I really can’t tell you much about that. 

Kelly: Now, do you have any comments more on the plant-growing and all his contraptions that he used to capture the growth of the plants? Do you remember anything about that? 

Greenewalt: I do remember that, but not very well. He was taking time-lapse pictures of plants, when I was a kid, taking these time-lapse movies in color, but I don’t remember much about that. My sister, Nancy may know more. 

Kelly: One thing your siblings talked about was about how much he liked his work. He told David actually, one piece of his advice was “Find out what you would like to do and do that.” Can you remember any advice your dad gave you?

Greenewalt: He did say exactly that to us. He said, “I don’t care what you do, but find something you want to do and then do it, and work at it.” That was his advice. He said, “I don’t care what you do, what kind of subject you choose. Choose something you want to do, and then work hard at it.” “Work at it” was what he said. He didn’t say “Work hard,” that was implied. 

Kelly: Did he encourage you to study hard? How did he value education, your education? 

Greenewalt: He did encourage that, to work at it, and finally it sunk in. He spoke quite severely about my grades, which were poor, and indicated in a completely unthreatening manner that the objective was to learn something and that I should be doing that. My mother made the same point, and that point sunk in. There was nothing about, “We’re doing a lot for you to send you to a good school and hope to send you to a good college,” there was no reference to that at all. It was just the responsibility that people have to work at what they’re doing and their courses. 

He was also very good at explaining things clearly. My sister maybe could explain this better. He had a very – what’s called an incisive mind today. He saw things very clearly.  He immediately saw the essence of a problem. He got that very quickly. He could speak to that issue in a discussion. Where many people have difficulty finding out what the core of the problem is, that wasn’t difficult for him. He saw it instantly, and that’s the essence of the difficulties. Once you have that core, you can begin to work on it. He had that ability. 

An offshoot which we all benefited from was that he could explain things very well. So when we didn’t understand something, we could ask. He could either explain it very clearly or he could use examples and models that we would get. When he saw we didn’t understand, he had a way of explaining and making it simple. Very good at that. He would have been a great teacher. He taught informally with people, and he was a great teacher. 

Crawford Greenewalt: Right after the war, Enrico Fermi asked my father if he would be interested in working with him at the University of Chicago.  My father was apparently very interested in doing that.  He greatly admired Fermi as a scientist and as a person and was very interested in the possibility of working with him. According to my sister, he was torn whether to go or to stay, and eventually decided to stay with the DuPont Company, where he began his work.

At that time it was not at all clear that he was going to continue to be promoted in the DuPont Company, nor was it clear that Enrico Fermi was not going to live very much longer. If he had gone to work in Chicago with Fermi, Fermi wouldn’t have been there to work with. For soon thereafter, he died of cancer.

Kelly: That’s a good story. One of the things that Judge Adams commented onwas that he entertained him with a series of records, primarily Cole Porter. Do you remember Cole Porter as somebody he loved?

Greenewalt: No, no I don’t.  But that’s the era that my father liked. That’s the era.  I’m surprised. Of the music that my parents played, they played Broadway shows. I remember the ones that came out during the war and right after the war: “Annie Get your Gun, and Oklahoma,” and ones that followed on, “Kiss Me, Kate,” and “South Pacific.” They liked those. My parents both liked those, and they liked classical music. But I don’t remember Cole Porter songs or Irving Berlin songs being played at all. 

I may have written to you earlier about family breakfasts in the 1950s. When I was in school, before I went away to college, and indeed after that too, and when my brother and sister were away. Breakfasts were always a family affair. We always ate together, so I very often had breakfast with my mother and father. It always was a breakfast of conversation; no one read a newspaper. My parents talked about their common interests or problems that they had, and what they had to deal with. They talked about everything in front of me, and involved me very often. My father talked a lot about his interests at that time. 

It was a wonderful beginning to the day.  I thought at the time that if I ever have children, I want to raise them with this kind of beginning of the day, this kind of breakfast, where it’s a family gathering and it’s conversations. 

That was true also of dinner. We always had dinner together. When we were around, we had lunch together. But those breakfasts together at the beginning of the day with conversations were a very wonderful part.  

My parents often talked about their uncertainties, “Should we do this, should we do that, I wish we hadn’t done that, we made a mistake when we did that.” A lot of that rubbed off. I think it was a more effective way of communicating moral issues than if they’d sat me down and lectured me about the same subjects, because they shared their own experience and were not talking directly to me. I don’t think they were trying to give me a message. I think they were honestly talking back and forth about their problems and issues in their lives.  

Those breakfasts were wonderful.  It was a wonderful part of our life, and we very much shared.  So that my parents, although they were talking to each other, they weren’t talking over us. They weren’t talking over me at all. I was very much a part of this conversation, even when I just sat quietly and didn’t contribute anything on my own. That was a wonderful part of the home life.

Well, from my own professional interests, my father was very supportive of my interests in archaeology. It was not an interest that he had. He was interested in Roman history and he used to read Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, from time to time. He was not particularly interested in archaeology, but he very much supported my interest. He urged my mother to take my older brother and myself to Rome, because I had never been abroad when I was fifteen, so I could see one of the great cities of antiquity and ancient sites around about. That was my father’s idea. He didn’t go on that trip. He couldn’t. He couldn’t take the time off, but it was his idea.

When I was taking my general exams at the University of Pennsylvania. At that time at Penn, we had three days and you wrote an exam all day long, three days in a row. I was very nervous about the exam, and I was partly living in Philadelphia and partly living at home. Although I didn’t talk about it with my parents, it must have been very obvious that I was nervous. 

When I got through the exams, my father went to a local bookstore and bought a book on ancient Greek history, as it turned out, and gave it to me as a present. I was delighted and also very surprised. I didn’t realize that he was thinking that much about my situation. So he gave me this book, which was a treasure under the circumstances.  

At one time, there was some mild difficulty, some problem that I was having, and I talked it over with my father. I was very reluctant to talk about it, but somehow the subject came up. We discussed it and I said, “I’m really terribly sorry to bother you with this, because I know you’re busy and have all kinds of much more important things and this is so trivial.” 

My father said, “It’s not at all. This is a problem that you’re going through, and of course it has to be resolved. It’s not silly. It’s not trivial. This is part of your life at this time.”  I can’t remember what it was, but it certainly was very trivial.  I was embarrassed to talk about it, and he was so nice about it, so decent about it.