The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Stanley Hall's Interview

Stanley Hall's Interview

W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.

Jay Shelton's Interview

Jay Shelton's Interview

Jay Shelton is an American physicist and science and math teacher. In this interview, he recalls his experiences from nearly three decades as a high school teacher in Northern New Mexico. He provides an overview of how radiation works and how alpha, beta, and gamma rays differ. Shelton explains the health risks associated with radiation and stresses the importance of quantitative analyses of risks from certain radiation sources. He argues that the general public often overplays many of these risks. He also goes over changes in public perception towards radiation. For example, he points out that radiation was believed to have health benefits prior to the 1930s. Throughout the interview, Shelton describes how a variety of scientific instruments work, including Geiger counters and oscilloscopes, and expounds on the importance of a hands-on approach in science education. He also discusses his personal collection of scientific artifacts, including Revigators and other nuclear-related objects.

Clay Perkins' Interview

Clay Kemper Perkins' Interview

Clay Kemper Perkins is a physicist, philanthropist, and collector of Manhattan Project artifacts and replicas. In this interview, he discusses his vast collection of weapons and how he became interested in nuclear weapons and Manhattan Project history. He describes some of the stand-out pieces in his collection, including the safety plug used in the Little Boy atomic bomb on the Hiroshima mission and a full-scale replica of Little Boy. He also explains the role of high-speed cameras in the Trinity Test and the “pin domes” that Manhattan Project scientists experimented with for the implosion bomb. Perkins also discusses his philanthropic contributions to the Los Alamos Historical Society, including his purchase and gift of the Hans Bethe House.

Bruce Cameron Reed's Interview

Bruce Cameron Reed's Interview

Bruce Cameron Reed is a physicist and a professor at Alma College. In this interview, he discusses a course he teaches at Alma about nuclear weapons and the Manhattan Project. He explains how he became interested in the physics and history of the Manhattan Project. He provides an overview of some of the challenges the Manhattan Project scientists faced and why uranium, plutonium, and polonium are so difficult to work with. Reed describes some of the innovations of the project, including the implosion design and lenses, the tamper, and the polonium initiator. He concludes by sharing his thoughts on some of the ethical issues related to nuclear weapons.

Nick Salazar's Interview

Nick Salazar's Interview

Nick Salazar is a longtime Los Alamos National Laboratory employee and New Mexico State Representative. He has remained close to Los Alamos his entire career, from spending his high school summers as a mess hall attendant during the Manhattan Project to becoming a member of the laboratory’s Board of Governors. In this interview, he discusses his numerous experiences with the laboratory, including his 42-year career as a research scientist and his goal of improving relations between the laboratory and northern New Mexico’s communities. He also recalls traveling to the Savannah River Site as part of Clyde Cowan and Frederick Reines’s famous experiment that discovered the neutrino.

Lydia Martinez's Interview (2009)

Lydia Martinez's Interview (2009)

Lydia Martinez, from the neighboring community of El Rancho, worked at Los Alamos in various jobs during and after the Manhattan Project. She first worked as a baby-sitter and housekeeper for families such as the Fermis, Tellers, and Critchfields. She was also a junior technician in the X-7 group. After the war, she remained at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working in various units and finally retiring as a property administrative specialist. In this interview, she remembers her duties at Los Alamos and what it was like to be one of the younger women who worked there. She describes how she continued to keep ties with various families over the years, and recalls how she received the Laboratory’s Distinguished Performance Award.

Isabel Torres's Interview

Isabel Torres's Interview

Isabel Torres worked at Los Alamos during and after the Manhattan Project. She commuted from the neighboring community of Santa Cruz, first by truck, then by bus. She worked in the administration office and as a classified mail messenger. In this interview, Torres remembers how her job granted her access to different areas of the laboratory. She mentions interactions with soldiers and prominent scientists, including Edward Teller. She also describes working at S-Site as a technician, and recalls the poor condition of the roads.

Milton Levenson's Interview

Milton Levenson's Interview

Milton Levenson is an American chemical engineer and former president of the American Nuclear Society who has worked in the nuclear energy field for more than 60 years. During the Manhattan Project, he worked at Decatur, IL, and Oak Ridge, TN, where he was a supervisor at the X-10 plant. In this interview, he describes how he joined the Manhattan Project and his experiences at Oak Ridge, including his memories of segregation there. Levenson then talks about his post-war career as an expert on nuclear safety, including his role in responding to the SL-1, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl accidents. He also recalls having to tell Enrico Fermi that he could not perform an experiment for safety reasons.

Rachel Erlanger's Interview

Rachel Erlanger's Interview

Rachel Erlanger worked in a Kellex Corporation chemistry lab in New Jersey, where they researched gaseous diffusion barriers and other processes critical to the development of the K-25 plant. She got involved in the Manhattan Project when responding to an ad for Kellex. As a chemist, she recognized uranium-235 as the material used in an atomic bomb. In this interview, she describes how she got involved in the Manhattan Project, her excitement at contributing at that time, and how her attitude turned more negative after the war. She recalls her and her mother’s experiences during the prewar era and the pressure for women to marry and have children. She also briefly discusses her husband Bernard Erlanger, who also worked on the Manhattan Project.

Esther Vigil's Interview

Esther Vigil's Interview

Esther Vigil was living in the Española Valley with her family when Los Alamos was selected as a site for the Manhattan Project. She attended school at Los Alamos for several years. Both she and her mother worked at Los Alamos, babysitting for famous scientists like Edward Teller and Stanislaus Ulam. Vigil also worked for the Supply and Property Department. In this interview, she discusses not only her experiences at Los Alamos but also her later contributions to preserving local culture, a passion her mother also shared. She also explains how she helped preserve and reintroduce the tradition of colcha embroidery.

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