Located in a bucolic setting surrounded by tall pines, these humble wooden and asbestos-shingled buildings were where the world's first atomic device was assembled. Here scientists, engineers, and explosives experts worked around the clock on the "Gadget," the first plutonium-based atomic explosive.
In early 1944, DuPont, the operating contractor at Hanford, foresaw the need for four chemical separation facilities. These facilities, designated the T and U plants at location 200-West and the B and C plants at location 200-East (the C plant was never built), would be located approximately ten miles south of the reactors.
Wendover Air Field was chosen as the rear training base for the 509th Composite Group because of its isolation. It is located in the salt flats located 125 miles west of Salt Lake City. Colonel Paul Tibbets, head of the 509th, remarked upon seeing Wendover for himself: "The end of the world, perfect." Life at Wendover was primitive: the drinking water was bad, infrastructure was limited, rats invaded barracks, and there was sand in everything.
Tinian Island was the launching point for the atomic bomb attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. One of three islands in the Northern Marianas, Tinian is less than forty square miles in size and located approximately 1,500 miles south of Tokyo. The round-trip flight from Tinian to Tokyo took B-29s an average of twelve hours. This proximity to Japan is one reason Tinian served as the headquarters of the 509th Composite Group.
Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the site of Project Y, or the top-secret atomic weapons laboratory directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer. The site was so secret that one mailbox, PO Box 1663, served as the mailing address for the entire town. The mountains allowed the scientists ample opportunity to relax, by skiing, swimming, and hiking. But they spent most of their time in laboratories, overcoming challenge after challenge to develop the Littly Boy (gun-type) and Fat Man (implosion) atomic bombs.
Stirling Auchincloss Colgate: I’m Stirling Auchincloss Colgate. And the first name is spelled with an extra “I,” S-T-I-R-L-I-N-G. My middle name is Auchincloss, A-U-C-H-I-N-C-L-O-S-S. And that last name is Colgate, and when I was around ten or eleven years old or somewheres like that, I changed my name and chose that myself, so I’m happy about that name. I like it.
The birth of nuclear weapons occurred on July 16, 1945 at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, 230 miles south of Los Alamos. Gadget (as the bomb was known) was an implosion plutonium bomb, like the one used at Nagasaki, and detonated with 20 kilotons of force, slightly more than the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Originally the test was to occur at 4 a.m., but it was delayed to 5:30 after an early morning thunderstorm. At 5:29:45, Gadget exploded and the Atomic Age began.