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The Manhattan Project: Leslie Groves and the Scientists and their Families

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KEY – (What questions are being answered)

WHO: Who was involved? Who was this individual?  Who was involved in this group? Who were the major icons?

WHAT: What did they accomplish?  What was the main idea?  What made this person/ group of people so interesting?

WHERE: Where were they located?  Where did they/he/she live?

WHEN: When were they most prominent?  When were they most active? When did they live?

HOW: How were these people/ this person affected?  How did this change the dynamics of WWII?

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Background Information: The Manhattan Project

Who: The scientists, the families, and the man in charge, Leslie Groves.  These people were the people directly affected by the Manhattan Project and their livelihood was changed because of the United States quest for nuclear power.  Funded by President Roosevelt, the research of nuclear powers was the beginning the Manhattan Project.  However, it was Einstein who really began this nuclear arms race.  Einstein sent President Roosevelt the following letter, which sparked governmental interest in nuclear research:

Sir:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations.

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America--that it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable--though much less certain--that extremely powerful bombs of this type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove too heavy for transportion by air.

The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is in the Belgian Congo.

In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust the task with a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an unofficial capacity. His task might comprise the following:

a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States.

b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining co-operation of industrial laboratories which have necessary equipment.

I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsacker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.

Yours very truly,

Signature

Albert Einstein

What: The Manhattan Project consisted of many different parts. The expenses ranged from the purchase of 1250 tons of high quality Belgian Congo uranium ore to 52000 acres of land to be the future site of Oak Ridge.  The Manhattan Project consisted of at least 10 sites, all but one still standing. They include warehouses that held uranium, laboratories that split the atom, and the project’s first headquarters — a skyscraper hidden in plain sight right across from City Hall.

Where: Manhattan was central, according to Dr. Norris, because it had everything: lots of military units, piers for the import of precious ores, top physicists who had fled Europe and ranks of workers eager to aid the war effort. It even had spies who managed to steal some of the project’s top secrets.  However there were sites in the following areas:

-Hanford, Washington

-Los Alamos, New Mexico

-Alamogordo, New Mexico

-University of Chicago Illinois

-Oak Ridge, Tennessee

-Washington, D.C.

When: Despite its official founding in August, the Manhattan Project really began on September 17, 1942 when Col. Leslie Richard Groves was notified at 10:30 a.m. by Gen. Brehon Somervell that his assignment overseas had been cancelled. The Manhattan Project ended when the Atomic Energy Commission succeeded it on January 1, 1947, which was two years after the creation of the first atomic bomb.

How: The creation of the atomic bomb was epic.  Once the bomb was complete, the USA was itching to use it even though they had only experimented with one of the atomic bombs.  There are many moral implications and questionable actions when it comes to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan (which is addressed on Noah Miller’s page [5th period] and Austin Wang’s page [2nd period]).  WWII was almost over once the USA had finished all of their research and actually created and tested a bomb.  However, the controversial dropping on Japan worried Russia.  This bomb created even more friction between Russia and the USA and eventually led to the Cold War.

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Leslie Groves:

Who: Groves, an experienced manager who had just overseen the collosal construction of the Pentagon, seized immediate and decisive control.  Groves' pushy, even overbearing, demeanor won him few friends among the scientists on the Manhattan Project (in particular a special enmity developed between Groves and Szilard). Many detested him at the time, considering him a boor and a buffoon. Groves took the fissile material programs out of the hands of the scientists and placed them under the management of industrial corporations like DuPont and the Kellog Corporation. He ordered construction begun immediately on the fissile material production plants, even though designs and plans had not yet been drawn up, realizing that the same basic site preparation work would be required no matter what.  Groves was a true planner and he knew how to be a leader.  He was the backbone behind the Manhattan Project.  It was only after the war that many scientists began to appreciate how crucial his organizational and managerial genius was to the success of the Manhattan Project.

What: In September 1942, Groves was placed in charge of the Manhattan Engineer Project, with the rank of Temporary Brigadier General, and under his direction, the basic atomic bomb research was carried out, mainly at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He was in charge of all phases of the project - scientific, production, security and planning for use of the bomb. Under his direction, there was a great deal of productivity and work.  Later, Groves was promoted to temporary Major General in 1944, and he continued to head the atomic establishment created during wartime until January 1947. He was then named the Chief of the Army's Special Weapons Project. Promoted to Lieutenant General (temporary) in January 1948, he retired a month later. From that time until 1961, he worked as Vice President of Sperry Rand Corporation.

Where: Leslie Groves was born on August 17, 1896 in Albany, New York.  It does not reveal where Groves lived during this time, but I believe that he traveled a great deal to oversee the progress made at all of the different sites.  Since there were so many sites and they are all scattered about the US, I am sure Groves was always on the move.

When: Groves lived from August 17, 1896 to July 14, 1970.  Groves became the head of the Manhattan Project in September of 1942 and replaced the former indecisive leader, James Marshall.

How: Without Groves, I feel that the atomic bomb would not be discovered.  Groves’s insistent and stubborn attitude allowed the job to be done.  His planning and efforts made the creation of the atomic bomb a reality.  By doing this, Groves changed the dynamic of WWII by creating a new leverage over the Japanese and over Russia.  Groves was also changed by this project.  Even though he do not originally want this job, he obviously was  qualified and was a necessary piece to the Manhattan Project.  This, if not his most important, is one of the most important tasks that Groves had every accomplished

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The Scientists:

Who:  There were thousands of scientists on the job, but only of few of them were extremely memorable.  One of these scientists was Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer who headed Project Y, the new planned central laboratory for weapon physics research and design. The site for which was selected on November 16 at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

What: Oppenheimer became credited with being a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics. He did important research in astrophysics, nuclear physics, spectroscopy and quantum field theory. He made important contributions to the theory of cosmic ray showers, and did work that eventually led toward descriptions of quantum tunneling. In the 1930s, he was the first to write papers suggesting the existence of what we today call black holes.  But this was all before he was asked to be assist in the creation of the atomic bomb. When World War II began, Oppenheimer eagerly became involved in the efforts to develop an atomic bomb, which were already taking up much of the time and facilities of Lawrence's Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley. He was invited to take over work on neutron calculations, and in June 1942 General Leslie Groves appointed Oppenheimer as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project.  Under Oppenheimer's guidance, the laboratories at Los Alamos were constructed. There, he brought the best minds in physics to work on the problem of creating an atomic bomb. In the end, he was managing more than 3,000 people, as well as tackling theoretical and mechanical problems that arose. He is often referred to as the "father" of the atomic bomb. (The joint work of the scientists at Los Alamos resulted in the first nuclear explosion at Alamagordo on July 16, 1945, which Oppenheimer named "Trinity.”

Where: Oppenheimer spent most of his time in Los Alamos since he was the one who directed the work there and he instructed its creation.  His daughter was even born in Los Alamos, adding not only the idea of family at these sites, but also the intensity and passion that these scientists has for their country and their studies.

When: Born in New York City on April 22, 1904, Oppenheimer retired from Princeton in 1966 and died of throat cancer on February 18, 1967.

How: Although I only talked about Oppenheimer’s ideals and his background, the Manhattan project was clearly the work of more than one man.  The collect effort of these men and women was what allowed for the atomic bomb to be created.  As stated before, without the atomic bomb, I am not sure if we would have had a treaty with the Japanese.  These scientists were also affected in a way.  They had to drag their families with them to these isolated towns or they were taken from their families to complete their civic duty to their country.  No matter what, these scientists has to alter their lifestyle to tailor to the needs of the country and the war.

The Families

Who: Many of the scientists who worked on site brought their families. 

What: Although the families did not accomplish much, I feel that this brings a new feeling to the idea of the Manhattan Project.  Most people see the Manhattan Project as an end to a means in the sense that it ended the war with Japan.  The research done at these sites gave a new power to the US but it also hurt many innocent people.  The idea that these families were living on site while testing and such was taking place seems uncanny.  This makes everyone seem so innocent like they didn’t mean to create such a violent and vicious weapon, yet it was created in the same place that children and families played.  This to me was significant.

Where: Every site was like a mini town and contained its own school, market, and housing.  However, these towns were very isolated and out in the middle of nowhere.  These sites were considered military bases so they were guarded and the only way in and out was with a pass.   These areas tended to be fenced in so that no one would wonder in.  This whole project was a secret and thus these bases were both secret and far from society so that they would not hurt anyone while testing the bombs.

When: Between years 1942 when the project open until 1945 when the project finished.  Today, many of these sites still remain intact.

How: The following passages are a few of the surviving occupants from one of the sites in Oak Ridge.  In these letters, they dicuss a few of the tasks that went on during their time at the sites and some of the work that they did as members of the Manhattan Project:

 

Hi Leah,

Thanks for your interest in the denizens (SEDs, civilians and their families) of the Manhattan Project. As one such denizen whose total career included two years as an SED and 36 years as a Staff member of LASL/LANL, I have many memories, some of which I was the sole eyewitness of accidents and for which I was never interviewed concerning my intimate knowledge of such although others were allowed to speculate (after all I was only an undergrad "peon" who couldn't possibly know what was really going on) and became guilty of self-agrandizement that deviated far from reality.  Let me share with you my version of the fatal accident of Harry Daghlian that occurred in the evening of August 21, 1945.  Of course I was not there that evening but often being an eye-witness includes the history of the process preceeding the accident - elsewise my presence might have led to my own demise.

 

During the morning of Aug 21 I was the "B" member of the 2 man team of which Grad-student Harry was the so-called "A" member.  It was my first effort at hands-on "critical assembly" and it was the 14" Tungsten Carbide tamped cubic pseudo-sphere assembly in the center of whould be the "Dirty Gerty" plutonium core that, being slightly overweight was not acceptible as War-Reserve.  As it turned out I was building up the lower part of the WC assembly while Harry had become the gopher and had returned to the vault to get a quater-inch thick uranium-238 fillit that would expedite the gap between the 2.5" radius cavity in the 6" central WC cube and the 2.242" radius of the Pu core.  As a matter of expedience, I had become the hands-on operator and Harry had become the bookkeeper.  The Assembly moved rather rapidly until the top of the 6" cube had become the center of the top 14" square surface that was 10" above the table top - now, the tedious activity began with me moving a 1/2" WC cube up the side of the assembly to the 10" level and then sliding it gently across the surface until it was at top center.  Ultimately a new layer of WC gave a new surface at 10.5" above the table top and I was beginning to notice that the clicking of the Boron monitored neutron flux was becoming more active.  I continued scooting half-inch cubes across the surface with my right hand and was coincidentally checking the edges of the small cube layers by touching them with my left hand - at length the clicking had reached a level of perhaps 10 or so clicks per second and at some point, while scooting a cube slowly across the surface, I chanced to wave my left hand in and out from the edge of the assembly only to discover that the closer my left hand was to the assembly the more shrill the clicking became - it was then that that phase of the assembly was over and that the hydrogen in my hands had added enough reactivity to assume the futility of any continuation.  Harry noted the dimensions of the assembly which was disassembled and we went to lunch.

In the afternoon we repeated the 12" cubic assembly with me as the Operator and again I used my newly found waving left hand affect on the monitor to conclude that phase - Harry noted that the top layer was less than 12" so that tomorrow morning we could conclude the final phase of this series. - - -

That evening my wife-to-be and I were in queue at the local theater when Harry passed through the line and visited shortly and then moved to the end of the line.  After the show was over I left the theater only to be surrounded by colleagues who ask me about "Harry had a serious accident down in the canyon" to which I countered: "no he's still in the Theater".  I never saw Harry again and the boss, Louis Slotin, told me the details of Harry's accident.  I was astounded and very sad that Harry had been impatient and had taken my place as operator - he had conducted the 10" assembly and had dropped a 10 pound WC brick on top dead center of the assembly.  He had been burnt by a 500+ rad dose of neutron radiation.

The story about Harry's accident was contributed by his non-witness Grad student colleague, RS, and it was entirely fabricated. Only I knew the whole truth of this accident.  Incidentally, RS, made an "eye-witness" report of the fatal accident of Dr. Slotin that was actually the epitome of gross fabrication - RS and I were both there and he claimed that I was another onetime SED named Sislecki (sp). I have a lot of stuff in my web: http://www.quantumtheorist.com  eMail: james.osborn2@comcast.net

Thank you for your audience, JimOsborn

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 I was a graduate of Oak Ridge High School's first graduating class (June 1944) and went on to work for the Corps of Engineers, Manhattan District.  My Dad (Kinney 'Ken' Stanley) was also an employee there.  When I married &  my husband also joined the work force, the locals joked that "If Stanley's dog could type, he'd be working here too." 

 

No one who lived and worked in Oak Ridge during the 1943-46 period would fail to recall the Tennesee mud which coated everything during the rainy season(which seemed to last 11 months!).  The high school on the hill overlooking Town Center had us leave our shoes at the entrance & we attended class in stocking feet for the first several months.  Our first High School 'Annual' was a 4-page newspaper with photos and stories by me and my classmates.  With just 26 in the graduating class, we weren't flush enough to publish a bound volume.     

Works Cited

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Broad, William. “Why They Called  It The Manhattan Project.” New York Times 30 Oct. 2007: n. pag. Print.

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