The Manhattan Project

Newton Stapleton's Interview

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Newton Stapleton worked for the legal department at DuPont when he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project. He became responsible for security and secrecy at Hanford, WA. He describes the security procedures in place, including how background checks were conducted and badges were issued. He discusses the emphasis on secrecy and how DuPont’s leaders urged workers to keep quiet about their work. Stapleton recalls the challenge of getting a four-bedroom home in Richland and bringing his family out to Richland.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
1965
Location of the Interview: 
Wilmington
Collections: 
Transcript: 

Stephane Groueff: It is working. Mr. Stapleton, you were with security during the Hanford period, or you were already here with security in DuPont in Wilmington?

Newton Stapleton: I was in the security prior to Hanford. At the beginning of the war, DuPont got involved in building a plant for the French and British down at Memphis, Tennessee. Then as our country became more involved, we got involved in trying to please or satisfy the government from the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard and everything.

 In trying to get started, they were quite confused, a lot of lost motion, because they assigned this security function to whoever or whatever arm of the government had a major contract. So we would have plant in north [New] Jersey that came under the Air Force. Then we would have a plant also in [New] Jersey that came under the Army and another one under the Navy and we were getting visits from all of these services. They all wanted you to do something, and it did not make a lot of sense.

At that time I was in the legal department of the DuPont Company being a lawyer by training. I was moved over into the Central Employee Relations Department in order to try to coordinate the company’s activity. In other words, we could not see some of the things they were going overboard on in a plant that was not really so important. It was important to that particular branch of the service, but in the overall war effort, it was not too important. So the company was trying to get some coordination. Because of my background and having spent time in the FBI from being a lawyer, I think it was a natural that I got moved into this area.

Groueff: You were with the FBI before?

Stapleton: Before I came to the legal department

Groueff: In what city did you work in? Washington, DC?

Stapleton: Washington, DC. I started out there training and after the period of training, I got moved to Seattle and Kansas City.

Groueff: Where are you from originally?

Stapleton: Georgia, South Georgia.

Unidentified Male: He sure is not from Maine, I will tell you that [laughter].

Stapleton: Then I went to New York City, New York to Birmingham; Birmingham to Washington, DC; Washington, DC to Roanoke, Virginia; Roanoke back to Washington to the seat of the government. First time I was in what we called a field office. The second time I was in the headquarters as an administrative assistant, supervising the field activities. Then I got moved to Charlotte to take charge of a field office there. Then following that, I was in charge of offices in Nashville and Memphis.

Groueff: FBI offices?

Stapleton: FBI offices. Memphis, Buffalo, Cleveland. I resigned in Cleveland to come to DuPont in 1938, the first part of 1938.

Groueff: In the legal division?

Stapleton: Right.

Groueff: And who first contacted you with this new job? Who gave you the job? How were you briefed about this?

Stapleton: You mean, the new job in DuPont in the legal department?

Groueff: No, the new job with the Manhattan Project, with Hanford.

Stapleton: You see, I had been in the company’s central security agency coordinating this activity all over all of these war plants. Then when we finally got around to the Manhattan Project, which came towards a latter state—you probably already found out or will find out.

Groueff: Yes.

Stapleton: We were cleared to get discussions about security, insofar as we could help plan and coordinate activity with the Manhattan District. Now, we were not in on the real inside as to what the hell they were trying to do. But we were just on the general planning. We knew it was a classified project and so forth.

Groueff: You did not know it was about an atomic bomb?

Stapleton: No. However, as soon as this thing got started, I had a man working for me in the security setup who was taken out with construction or the engineering department on the site. He was one of the first ones to arrive on the site.

Unidentified Male: Where was Willard Hill? Was he in this picture at all?

Stapleton: No, he could have been in the Manhattan picture, but he was not in the security picture. This was a fellow named Highsmith, and Highsmith moved out on the site, there at Pasco. He stayed with engineering department as its security officer until they pulled out of there.

Groueff: I see. You were not in the field in Hanford yourself? You worked out of Wilmington?

Stapleton: At the early stages.

Groueff: At the early stages, yes.

Stapleton: They got a group together and—I get mixed up with the Manhattan District and the AED [Atomic Energy Commission]. The Manhattan District crowd—TNX, as we called them—was the explosives department, the operating side. They pulled in these key people, particularly the department heads. I am talking about the operating people, getting ready and start planning and so forth to go out there. Of course, engineering is already out there. TNX is still here. I forget the exact the date that the operating crowd moved out, but it seems to me that it would be about the first part of—

Groueff: 1943?

Stapleton: ’43. That’s the operating crowd. We got into the July of 1944. I will go back to June. In June of 1944, I went out there on a visit.

Groueff: For the first time?

Stapleton: For the first time. This visit was for the purpose of seeing what was being done and where we need to help them, if any, and any assistance we could render from the overall point of view here, you might say the top level security position. Although the job itself to be done was out there and with the management. I was out there maybe a week or ten days, and arrived back here like this morning at ten o’clock. I was called in by the top management of the TNX project, Mr. Roger Williams and Mr. [E. B.] Ted Yancey, and I was told they wanted me out there yesterday.

Unidentified Male: What was Yancey then? He was general manager?

Stapleton: He was general manager of explosives department, and Roger Williams was head of the TNX. This move was kind of natural. At that stage, we had gone through all of these war plants and here was one real big assignment confronting us. While they had people locally that had good qualifications, sound qualifications, it was thought that I might be able to help coordinate the company’s efforts with the Manhattan District—I mean the Corps of Engineers or the Manhattan District.

Groueff: They had their own security also?

Stapleton: The Corps of Engineers, the Manhattan District, of course they worked through the military entirely. They had their intelligence, G2 men assigned to them, part [00:09:00] of the project. They also had some GIs out there, and they assumed responsibility for their outer periphery, anything beyond the limits of the plant proper. In other words, good God, you got out there in that desert and you would get across the river and out in that sagebrush, we took the position—DuPont did—that is not our responsibility, we are not equipped to do this. We will handle the area around the plant operating part, but this periphery and all of this, we leave to the military.

Groueff: You were in charge with all the personnel, for instance, the forty-five thousand workers on the construction?

Stapleton: No, no. This may be a little confusing, but the engineering department and the construction group had their own people.

Groueff: You worked for the operations?

Stapleton: I worked for operations side.

Groueff: I see. Once Hanford was built and they started this secret operations, then you moved in.

Stapleton: Right. In other words, I got there the first part of July, and it seems to me we started up and I got dates to show that.

Groueff: Yes, 1944.

Stapleton: We started up the pile along about September. I remember when that thing started up, and this was a great day, and then it shut itself down, it died.

Unidentified Male: It blew up.

Stapleton: This was an [inaudible] and this was a dim view. Of course, at that time I had been brought in on what was going on. After getting there in July of 1944, representing operations, it was then agreed, in order to make things work smoothly and to minimize contacts that the Manhattan District or their security people had to make, everything should come under me. So all of the personnel involved in security—

Groueff: Was under you.

Stapleton: —was under me.

Groueff: How many people more were working on security at Hanford?

Stapleton: I would say around—at the maximum peak00would have been about fourteen hundred.

Groueff: Fourteen hundred, all in security?

Stapleton: All in security, yes.

Groueff: It is an enormous force.

Stapleton: Oh yes. You had the Hanford village.

Groueff: Yes.

Stapleton: With the people living there, which peaked up about forty-five thousand, I guess. And then you had the town of Richland down there with the operating people, because they had not built up full strength. This got up down here at Hanford, up to this forty-five thousand. Then this started coming up, this started to come down, as you completed and they got out.

Groueff: Were some of them in uniforms?

Stapleton: Oh yes.

Groueff: And civilians?

Stapleton: Well, the major part of them was in uniforms.

Groueff: Uniform.

Stapleton: You would have a regular police force. We divided security up into three parts. We had what we called an investigative section, a security section, and a patrol section. The investigative section was to—I guess you would say investigate the background of all employees on the project.

Now, construction could not do this, with the construction people coming in and out. They did some of it. As they would get to what you would call a restricted or classified area of development in construction, they would fence this off. Then the only people that would be allowed to go in there who had been investigated and given clearance. In other words, people would be cleared to go in a classified area.

Down in operations, our investigative unit would follow the same procedure. Only we would have a lot of the people they are using down there, the mechanics and all those, we would get from construction, we would transfer over. We would take his folder, his application blank and all the information, we would take that, look through it and see if there is anything missing in the way of his personal history and background, and try to complete that before we would give him clearance into an operating area after we took it over.

Now, downtown in the village, we also had to do maintenance work for the homes. People get locked out. In the city, I guess you call a locksmith, but out there it was just plain confusion. We had one number, and this number meant “Trouble.” People would call the number.

Usually if you could not think of it, you would always call patrol. In the City of Richland, we had a patrol group or a police force, starting with a Chief of Police, and a Captain, Lieutenant and right on down to police the whole village. We had driver’s licenses, driver’s tests, and all this. The State of Washington could not furnish the manpower to do all this, so they said to us,
“We will come down and in effect clear you or deputize you to do this.” We had our own people doing this.

Our investigative section would investigate the personal history and background of every man working for operations. The extent of that clearance would depend on the particular access he was going to have. The security part of it, had the charge of the check-in on the folders that investigation people had cleared, to see that it was properly done. Then security would give them clearance for admission; they would issue a badge. It would establish measures, practices, and policies and so forth to try to maintain security. The patrol then would execute or implement the security policies and measures.

Groueff: You were heading the three branches?

Stapleton: This is right.

Groueff: Where were you offices? In Hanford?

Stapleton: In Richland.

Groueff: In Richland.

Stapleton: In Richland, yes.

Groueff: You lived where?

Stapleton: In Richland.

Groueff: What kind of room or apartment or house or trailer?

Stapleton: Well, very fortunate, I did not get there, as I had mentioned, in the earliest days. I got there in July. They had a Transient Quarters. I moved into the Transient Quarters because of this urgency with which I was wanted back out there. The company did not want more slack than possible. At the time, my wife and kids were down in Georgia.

Groueff: You did not move them to Hanford?

Stapleton: Oh yeah, yes, but I am talking about when I first got there. I had a home, residence out here. They had gone down to Georgia to visit the grandparents. I got back from this trip, and I called up to tell my wife that we were transferred to Hanford. Of course, she gets on the phone, I get her, and she wants to talk about everything but this. I listened about how the grass was and how the flowers were and all this.

When I could finally break in, I said, “We are transferred to Hanford.”

The operator said, “I am sorry, but we will have to cut you off.” At that time, they rationed these phone calls.

So she is in Georgia. Anyway, she could not go out with me, but when I got out there, they had a house. We had operations and the service end of the business. They had a man signed in real estate. You would go in there, just like you would go into a real estate office, and they would have maps and they would show you the different houses available, and you would select a house. They had different rents and different size houses. Now, they had some restrictions on this. When it came to four bedroom houses, they did not have too many of those. They were trying to hold those for the larger families.

I got out there and I knew this, having been out there on a visit. This is a just sidelight. When Mr. Yancey and Roger Williams was talking to me about going out there—obviously, more than talk. They were putting it on voluntary basis, of course. I said, “There is only one thing I want and that is a four-bedroom house.”

“Oh,” they said, “That is no problem. They will take care of you out there.” Well, when you get out there you find out, knowing they had this regulation, you have to have so many in the family to get the four-bedroom house. Well, I had to take a three-bedroom house. It was quite adequate because of the expectations.

Well, it was not long before it turned out that the people were making money, and they were trying to save money. You did not have gasoline; it was rationed. So you did not get to travel much. There wouldn’t have been many places to go. We discovered that four-bedroom houses were going to be a drag on the market. These are things you have to put up with. You think it is going to be short, and then first thing you know, you are around promoting people to take the four-bedroom houses.

I wound up with a four-bedroom house, quite adequate. I stayed out there then in the same house right on through until DuPont pulled out. As a matter of fact I remained over from September 1, 1946 until November.

Groueff: After the war?

Stapleton: Yes, to smooth the transfer over to General Electric.

Groueff: I see.

Stapleton: The biggest problem we had were two: namely, unnecessary talk. People’s curiosity get the best of them. In security, this is part of the job. Part of my job overall was to try to educate people not to talk, to keep their mouths shut. At one time in the beginning, I thought that was going to be one difficult assignment. But you know what was surprising, how well that worked out. Most people, of course they were good Americans anyway, but a lot of people like to talk, curiosity gets the best of them. I actually heard very little, but I would probably have heard little anyway, in the position I was in. My friends in the line organization, my neighbors, they would say the same thing. I have run into any number of people since the war that tells me they did not know anything.

Groueff: Was the mail censored? Like in Los Alamos, they had a certain period—

Stapleton: The mail was not censored. There was a time where the telephone was censored. We did not censor the telephone. That was done by the military.

Groueff: But taped?

Stapleton: But taped. I saw the tapes and I was very pleased at the results.

Groueff: There was nothing.

Stapleton: We never discovered anything that was ever brought to my attention. Well, now and then, a fellow would get on the borderline. He would be talking to Clinton or some other place, the University of Chicago. I guess that was probably found out. But now and then, we had some people that were not—

Groueff: Who would say a little bit more?

Stapleton: Yes, Oh, you get Dr. Fermi. We had an alias for everybody, and he was known Dr. Farmer out there. I guess he probably had a different name at some other locations.

Groueff: He used to come often to Hanford, Fermi?

Stapleton: I would not say so often, but in the early stages when we started up, he was out there and stayed out there for quite a spell. We had some other people from the University of Chicago, and they were not as well as indoctrinated with DuPont—

Groueff: Discipline.

Stapleton: Yeah, discipline is a word. I started to say “conservativeness,” but “discipline.” I will say this: by the time the war was over, I think some of those people were even better DuPonters than we were about protecting security and so forth. There was a Dr. Parker out there that impressed me in this connection. He may still be there, I do not know. I know when he first came out, he had no introduction to DuPont. Of course, you had all these regulations. You go out to an area and you want to go in there, and if you had not been cleared, you damn sight sure would not get in.

Unidentified Male: Clearance, I suppose, is the same at other plants. You did not just get through the main gate. Each area had a special—

Stapleton: This is correct, that is right.

Groueff: So even if you are a greatest scientist, if you do not have your badge, Fermi or no Fermi, they do not let him in.

Stapleton: This is correct. Then in addition to that, usually, when it came to going in and out of there, if you went in an automobile or try to take something, you had to have a pass for it. When you started through that gate, they would go through that car from under the front end to the back end.

Groueff: They searched the car?

Stapleton: This is correct.

Groueff: Every car?

Stapleton: This is correct. You get in there, you find something, and maybe the driver, he would not even know it was in there. It might be innocent enough. Maybe somebody left it from a previous trip. Using a government car, you requisition a car to go out to the area. You start in with it, and you are not aware of the fact that it is in there.

I remember this one instance—we had a hell of a mess one afternoon. It had been cold, some technical man had gotten some glycerin, and the guard found this in the car. He had been using that to put on his windshield; the frost gets on the glass. The patrolman found it as he went to leave the area, and the patrolman asked him where his pass was for this. He did not have a pass. “Well, what are doing with it?” He did not know. Of course, he delayed him.

The fellow gets mad, and tries to get the patrolman to take the glycerin because he does not want it. You have to remember you have hundreds of these people, you have a training job, they recruited from everywhere, and all he does, he is told to do certain things and follow the rules. You and I, we might do it a little different. In this case, the guy finally got mad as hell, he got burned up, he went to throw the bottle of glycerin out of the car, and he hit the glass and that busted the bottle of glycerin. Then the patrolman said, “I will have to arrest you for destruction of government property” [laughter].

Unidentified Male: Lucky it was not nitroglycerin, huh?

Stapleton: But you had these things to contend with. The next man in line under Roger Williams was Dr. [R. Monte] Evans. He is now retired. Well, he reported to Roger Williams, and his assignment was here in Wilmington. When we got ready to start up out there, he went out there, took his wife and family, and took up residence right down the scene. Although [Walter] Simon was the plant manager, Monte Evans was on the scene; he did not want to see things go wrong.

Monte Evans went out one day and held these areas, these piles, about twenty-five or thirty miles from downtown Richland. He got in his car, he drove all the way out to one of these areas, and he got out there and did not have his pass.

Groueff: He forgot it.

Stapleton: They would not let him in. Well, you would think in a lot of places a guy would raise hell, but he came back.

Groueff: All the way?

Stapleton: All the way. He had ridden way out there for nothing. This is the thing that made the job easy. Instead of people trying to break down your regulations—people at the top, like Evans and Walter Simon, and of course Yancey too. We had the letters written to all the people, signed by Mr. [Walter] Carpenter, who was then president, saying the responsibility rested on DuPont, the company, to do this job, and cautioned them against needless, useless talk, and asked them for their cooperation. This has a tremendous effect, when the people at the top deal with it.

I was talking about this Parker. This Parker had got out there, he was a medical man, he was on the physics part of it, and he had charge of all the instruments. We had a lot to do with him and Patrol had a lot to do with him. In these patrol houses at the gates, where you come in through the gate, you not only had a badge, you had a badge you wore here and you carried it with you with a photograph on it. When you got to the gatehouse, we had racks in here with another badge. The patrolman looked at you, he could find your badge over here on this rack.

Groueff: He compared the two?

Stapleton: He compared the two. In addition, this particularly badge had a piece of photographic paper in it. This was a health proposition so that when that man wore that in the area, he also was given a pencil with an instrument in it. These gadgets were to see how much he got exposed, if any.

Groueff: To radiation?

Stapleton: To radiation. Well, Parker had charge of all this health instrument work. In the early stages, he had one source of trouble, because he did not like regulations, routine, discipline. But I never felt so good—at the time we turned that plant over to GE, there was great concern that the people were going to stay there and not leave. The war is over, and they want to make sure that people stayed there. A lot of them were concerned about leaving DuPont after this period of time and going with GE.

The question came up, “What about GE, are they going to be safety-minded? Are they going to look after our interest as much as DuPont?” So we decided the best thing to do was send a delegation. GE was in on this, back to GE’s plants, and let this delegation representing the people go to these plants and then come back. They would be better public relations people than we would, because they would see with their own eyes.

Well, Parker was one of those that went back. He is in an area where this is vital. I will never forget about the time I left, he came in and he said, “Well I have given you people a lot of static over the time out here. I thought some of your regulations were senseless, and I just figured we would never get the job done.” He said, “I want to hand it to you. I am all for DuPont and its safety standards.” He said, “As a matter of fact, I do not want to criticize GE. But from what I saw in my visit to GE, they might learn something from you.”

Groueff: Do you have some serious problem like espionage or sabotage?

Stapleton: No. We actually had the only thing that you could probably get into that I would call sabotage, and this was not any question mark, it was accidental. The Japanese got to floating these balloons over here through these currents. We had, to my recollection, we recovered either two or three in that area. Two of them were on the site, not in a plant operating area but in the periphery. One of them did hit an electric line and momentarily gave us some—

Groueff: But there was no espionage like let us say Fuchs story, or Alan Nunn May in the other project? What was considered the main danger, German spies, or were you already watching for communist agents? Or at that time was it not a problem?

Stapleton: Well, we were watching for anybody that might have any interest that we thought would not be in the best interest of the United States. This is the reason for screening every person in there, by looking at his background seeing where he had been, what his connection was, what his character and reputation was, as best we could determine.

Now when it came to the outsiders, not those trying to work in there, because we had to depend on the FBI and the military intelligence. Of course, the FBI people were available, they visited us from time to time and the G2 with the Manhattan District people there, they maintained close contact with the FBI. If they had any knowledge that such characters as real spies were trying to infiltrate the place, we never had knowledge of it.

Groueff: I see. So yours was mostly security, regulations, and about people not talking.

Stapleton: This is right. Making sure we kept them from out, and then keep us from giving it out.