The Manhattan Project

Roger Fulling's Interview (1986) - Part 3

Printer-friendly version
In this interview, Roger Fulling discusses the various positions he held at DuPont during and after the war. He recalls a special request from the Australian government for smokeless powder that DuPont had to fulfill, as well as outlining the structure and history of the DuPont Company. He explains the other wartime work of the DuPont Company and how DuPont had to balance its Manhattan Project work with its other military contracts.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
Location of the Interview: 

[To see an edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995, click here.]

Roger Fulling: During the very busy days of constructing the military explosive plants in 1942, General [Leslie] Groves visited the DuPont Company. Arrangements were made for him to meet with Mr. Walter S. Carpenter, then president of the company, and members of the Executive Committee of the DuPont Company.

The Executive Committee was comprised of vice presidents, and was chaired by the president of the company. The Executive Committee’s responsibility was the direct operation of the company, and responsible for the collection of money from sales, and the expenditure of monies to the various departments for their day to day operations and physical construction of the operating plants.

The operating plants were under the direction, management of manufacturing departments called Industrial Departments. The Industrial Departments in turn were supported by staff departments, which included such activities as purchasing, a financial/treasures department, traffic, public relations, central research, and engineering. You may refer to some of the charts I have given you, which give you a breakdown of the overall organization of the company.

The Finance Committee was the direct arm of the Board of Directors responsible for the financial affairs of the company, and for authorizations exceeding the financial amounts permitted by the Board of Directors for the Executive Committee to authorize.

Historically, the Explosives Department was the parent in manufacturing/industrial department of the company. Following World War I, the Explosives Department expanded into areas of chemistry, research, development and manufacture of chemical products not directly associated to the explosives such as dynamite, black powder, TNT, smokeless powder.

Because of the kinship of chemistry between cellulose—which is one of the basic materials in the manufacturer of smokeless powder—the DuPont Company put interest in cellulose material products, namely for DuPont cellophane and rayon, viscose rayon. Again, due to the kinship of Explosives Department’s relationship with the Army Corps of engineers and the Army Ordnance Departments, the major projects emanating from the War and Navy Departments were directed to the Explosives Department by the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee. This meant that the prime contracts with the military departments were between the Explosives Department and the military departments, with the Explosive Department representing all departments of the DuPont Company.

It was been written many times of the early relationships as General Groves to DuPont via the military construction program, and his visit to the Board of Directors and Mr. Walter Carpenter requesting that the DuPont Company take on the atomic programs. 

Now, the Explosives Department, as the authority and the focal point for all activity for the DuPont Company, call upon all other departments of the company to provide research, development, technical, logistic support for the program.

Dr. Roger Williams was an eminent chemist scientist. He was given the responsibility for the atomic program under a newly created position as the overall director. As I recall Roger Williams, he was a very intent man, a chain smoker, and, of course, an outstanding research chemist. I did not have many individual contact with Roger Williams, but I did sit in meetings where he presided and outlined to the various department heads the need for their support and enthusiasm for the project.

Lom [Lombard] Squires could give you a better profile of Roger Williams than I, because I was in a different activity and so far junior that I cannot give you the perspective which I think you should have. Roger Williams had as his—I think his main assistant George Graves, and I believe you have talked with him or plan to talk further with him. Another of the stalwarts in the Explosives Department reporting to Roger Williams was Monte Evans, and I think you have made contact with Monte.

It is interesting to note that many of the people who had a lead responsibility in the Hanford and Clinton Engineer Works projects came from departments other than the Explosives Department. The Board of directors let it be known to all department heads, the industrial departments and the staff departments, that this project and others to follow, including Savannah River, were projects of DuPont Company overall interest. The activities were not confined to the Explosives Department, although the Explosives Department were the prime authority within the DuPont Company for all of the activity.

S. L. Sanger:  What’s the origin of TNX? Does that have meaning?

Fulling: Oh, TNX was—I have got to think a bit. TNX was one of the early projects within the company that was directed to the research, and the development of such research on a laboratory scale. TNX, as I recall, was just coin designation. It really had no real significance.

Sanger: It has an explosive sound to it.

Fulling: It was “Technical Experimental,” would be the closest thing. Some of that early work of TNX was conducted at the Dye Works, which is now known as the Chambers Works. Geez, I’m really racking my memory. This was in the so-called Blue Products area, as I recall, at the Chambers Works. Again, Lom Squires could give you a better lead on this than I.

Sanger: What would be kind of a shorthand, quick way to describe your job during the Manhattan Project period? In a phrase or two, is that possible?

Fulling: Due to the complexity, the magnitude, and the time requirements of the military explosives program—starting with the first big job for the French government, later the British government under DPC, and then under DuPont direct contract with the Army Ordnance and Army Corps of Engineers—it became evident that there was to be a growth follow-on of additional projects.

The next biggest one was at Charlestown, Indiana, Charlestown Powder Plant, where we manufactured smokeless powder. This was in 1940 and ’41, when [00:18:00] it became evident that we were on the throes of war, these programs were further expanded. In the later part of ‘40, Granville Read, who then come over from the technical activities of the Engineering Department to head up the construction activities, realized that there was a need for in-depth coordination of construction projects.

I recall Christmas week of 1940 when I was a division engineer at the Charlestown Ordnance Plant. Gil Church was there, Bob Burton was there. There was five of us in management activities of Charlestown, all of whom had been field project managers at other sites. This was really the nuclei of the military construction programs and the follow-on for Hanford. This staff did not stay together long, because of the necessity of expanding to other activities.

In early 1941, following the Christmas holiday pronouncement by Read of the reorganization of the construction division, I was selected to go to Wilmington to set up an organization directed to the logistical part of construction. This small organization was initially known as the Office Engineering of the Construction Division. Our job was to pick up the procurement orders after the orders had been specified by the design division and the orders placed with manufacturers. One of things that we had to do was expedite and inspect the equipment for the war plants. This became—this inspection in particular—became a very technical part of logistics, since the equipment for Hanford had never been designed—frankly, it had never been conceived, let alone designed, manufactured anywhere in the world.

One of the most important parts of this Office Engineering developed into what we termed control engineering. We set up a senior control engineer who had field experience, that is, construction experience at a senior level in the field. He had as his assistants a senior construction engineer, also from the field, who understood construction requirements. These control engineers were assigned to one or more of the major projects. For Hanford, because of the magnitude of the project, we had more than one control engineers. They were broken down into activities, and directed to the planning and scheduling, progress reporting, and attainment of the critical materials.

I previously talked to you about these critical materials such as the valves, the sophisticated control mechanism, the obtainment of alloy steels, which we had never had before. We had specialists assigned to each of these activities, all in this group known later as the Office Engineering Safety Personnel Group.

As the program developed from 1941 to the later years of the war up through ‘45, I was the division superintendent of this logistical activity. Planning and scheduling, control of delivery of equipment to the site at the needed time, the expediting and inspection of the equipment all were very important aspects of getting the job done in the time frame required.

Sanger: Was Hanford the main job as the time went by?

Fulling: Oh, yes. Hanford, because of the priorities involved, was the main job. But remember, we also had the job of getting explosives materials—smokeless powder and TNT and RDX—to the armed forces.

People don’t realize, but at the start of World War II, there was only one commercial TNT plant in operation in this country. That was the DuPont plant at Barksdale, Wisconsin. At that plant, we had the only machines making the so-called TNT blocks. Now, these blocks were used extensively in clearing out the caves and the underground tunnels and so on in the South Pacific islands. I recall that our capacity for making these blocks—they were made on special designed patented equipment at the Barksdale plant. I can recall that one of the machines broke down, and we had to manufacture parts overnight at the Wilmington shops in Wilmington. The parts were taken out by personnel courier to the Barksdale plant to keep the production going.

Sanger: The explosives plant, as far as construction was concerned, they were completed by the time Hanford was set up and the war was underway?

Fulling: No, no, they were not. We were still constructing explosives plants all the way up until the war, to the completion of the war.

Sanger: Enlarging them and so on, I mean.

Fulling: Yes, and we had increasing demands for smokeless powder and RDX. These plants were expanded. We had another job, which I don’t think you’ve ever knew of. It was called the Gopher Ordnance Works Special. Again, I take pride in saying it started out under my management. I was given the responsibility for coordinating this project, other than the design. I had nothing to do with the design.

The Australian government had no powder manufacturing. All the powder that was used by the Australians had to be imported, and we shipped powder out via the Army Ordnance to the South Pacific and the Army Ordnance in turn, U.S. Army Ordnance in turn, supplied the Australians. Of course, the Australians got powder also from England. But the Australians were worried about the possibility—and this was a real possibility—of the cut off of the line of communication between the United States and England through control of the seas. If the Germans and the Japs had control of the seas, there would be no imports of essential raw materials, of which smokeless powder was one.

So the Australian government, through the U.S. Army Ordnance Department, asked for help in providing them with a smokeless powder line. This was a crash program. Again, the Explosives Department were the authoritative department for DuPont. Engineering was to provide the design and the procurement of the equipment, the inspecting of the equipment, the expediting and the shipment of it. The shipping point was San Francisco. The Army transportation department had large warehouses and shipping docks at San Francisco.

Our job was to design the plant on a site basis for the Australians to construct. We had to do things that we had never done before. We were to ship all of the equipment for them, the ammonia oxidation unit for the acid, and a complete wet and dry operation for the smokeless powder. We had to ship this equipment in specially designed—which we had to learn how to waterproof—overseas containers. This was long before the day of the containers that we have today. We had to learn to waterproof these because the containers could possibly be on deck, not necessarily below deck. There was no assurance that they would below decks. So this gave us another facet to contend with. We had to allocate that equipment from the production lines of the manufacturers, who were busy supplying at that time equipment for Oklahoma Ordnance Works, the Wabash River Ordnance Works, Alabama, Charlestown, and Gopher.

So superimposed on this very important program on smokeless powder, TNT, RDX came the Hanford project. We had to take key personnel out of these explosives plants to supply the management at Hanford. Gil Church was the first one to be taken out. Bob Burton was assistant field project manager at Gopher I believe at that time, and he was sent out there at a very early stage to be one of Church’s key assistants.

We had our senior craft superintendents, who were backed up two or three behind at the sites, where we could take their trainees and disperse them to other sites. We had to pick top men from these various smokeless powder jobs to staff Hanford. Of course, we also had to rely on the recruitment of highly qualified construction personnel from other industries. Not all personnel, supervising personnel, came from DuPont. But the very, very large majority came from DuPont via the construction jobs which were nearing completion on the military explosives program.

Sanger: Maybe that’s in here, I just wanted to ask you also—

Fulling: Had you ever heard of that?

Sanger: No.

Fulling: It was called Gopher Ordnance Works Special.

Sanger: Was that job completed then?

Fulling: Oh, yes. We found out later that the job, the equipment finally got to Australia, and the Explosives Department sent production people over there to start up the plant. It actually was in operation.

Sanger: Whatever happened to it?

Fulling: I don’t know that. I don’t know anything about that.

Sanger: What was your final position at DuPont when you retired?

Fulling: My final positon in the Engineering Department in late 1959 was Assistant Director of the Engineering Research Division. My previous supervisor manager was promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer. Due to normal operation of corporations, people would be selected to top jobs in certain age categories. It was evident that I was not going to get the next job—there were other reasons too, but age came in. So the Development Department, which at that time was responsible for the planning of the long range development of the company, not research and development activities for the production, but this was the development of the company long term.

Incidentally, the Development Department was set up in the early teens with Walter Carpenter, later to be the president and chairman of the board of the DuPont Company. Walter Carpenter was the first director of the Development Department at a time that the company was expanding during and after World War I into activities other than explosives. One of the responsibilities of the Development Department was the liaison with the Department of Defense and NASA on research and engineering in those areas where the DuPont Company would have a technical and commercial interest. As a supplier of material products, it was necessary that we know the requirements of the lead government agencies.

Research and development as a very important part. I was selected and largely nominated by my former associates in the Explosives Department to be transferred to the Development Department as a staff member without title for government liaison, with other assignments. But my major assignment for the last thirteen years, late ’59 to ’73, was as government liaison at the corporate level representing all departments of the company in research and development activity and contractual activity with the government, particularly Department of Defense and NASA.

This was one of the most interesting, exciting assignments anyone could ask for, because in my position I was privy to all of the research programs within DuPont and could correlate where we would have interest in some of the requirements for the government. I was very active in NASA work, committees on the Department of Defense research. These were committees which had a lot to do with providing military departments and NASA with technology, which they were not particularly familiar with until we had an opportunity to sit down in committee meetings and discuss their requirements with what we could possibly help them on.