The Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Los Alamos Historical Society launched a new website Friday titled “Voices of the Manhattan Project.”
“This is the first step in creating a national repository or directory for oral history collections of Manhattan Project veterans and their families,” the Atomic Heritage Foundation said. “With the Congress considering legislation to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, this website, with its first-hand accounts of this top-secret project, will be an important resource for scholars, students and members of the public.”
Oak Ridge played a key role in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to build the world’s first nuclear weapons during World War II, and the website includes interviews with several people who worked in Oak Ridge during the war.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation said the site initially features 25 interviews, ranging from Becky Diven, who worked in Los Alamos on a microbalance to weigh extremely small amounts of plutonium; to Joe Dykstra, an industrial chemist, who worked in the massive K-25 plant in Oak Ridge; to Dee McCullough, an instrument technician, who installed nuclear safety monitors on the reactors at Hanford.
“Each month, we will add more interviews from our collection as we complete the transcripts and editing process,” the foundation said. “Eventually, the website should provide a rich tapestry of perspectives on the top-secret project that gave birth to the Atomic Age.”
Here is more information from a Friday press release:
Stories about living in secret cities erased from the map and working on a top-secret project to make an atomic bomb are now available in video and transcripts on the internet. “Voices of the Manhattan Project” is a new website with a great variety of oral histories that provide new insights into this history.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) and the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS) are launching a new website today, the seventieth anniversary of General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s search for a site for a research laboratory. Stirling Colgate was a senior at the Los Alamos Boys Ranch School when Oppenheimer visited there. According to his oral history, Colgate recognized the man in the porkpie hat right away and suspected what might be in store for the isolated mesa. Colgate thought Los Alamos was “a crazy place to do any war thing.” The rest is history.
The collection of nearly 30 oral histories is just the beginning. AHF and LAHS hope to add some two hundred from their collections and perhaps many more from organizations at the other Manhattan Project sites and elsewhere. Eventually, the site should provide a rich tapestry of people and perspectives on one of the most significant developments in modern history.
The Manhattan Project was a great human collaboration. Participants included recent immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Europe, young men and women straight from high school or college, and numerous Hispanics, Native Americans, and African-Americans. Some 125,000 people worked in secret locations in communities developed by the government for the sole purpose of the project. Most surprisingly, very few knew that they were working on an atomic bomb.
“Voices of the Manhattan Project” captures the stories of Manhattan Project veterans and their families. Together AHF and LAHS have collected hundreds of oral histories over the years. The initial interviews range from Jack Aeby, who took the only color photograph of the first atomic bomb test at Trinity; to Donald Trauger, who worked with Harold Urey and John Dunning at Columbia University on uranium enrichment; and young scientists such as Becky Diven who worked on designing the bomb at the Los Alamos scientific laboratory. These interviews highlight the many challenges of the Manhattan Project from living in isolated secret cities to solving complex problems with slide rules, the “high-speed computers” of the day.
The interviews offer a variety of perspectives on the project. Some Native Americans discuss the government’s displacement of the tribes from their ancestral lands in Hanford, WA. In others, Pueblo Indians in New Mexico talk about the impact of the government project on their ancestral traditions and economy. Some interviews are just fun, talking about how the young people blew off steam by hiking and skiing in Los Alamos, dancing and bowling in Oak Ridge, and engaging in a meatball mess hall battle in Hanford.
On the docket of the 112th Congress during the lame duck session is legislation to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The prospect of creating a park at the three major sites of Los Alamos, NM, Hanford, WA and Oak Ridge, TN has galvanized interest nationwide in the Manhattan Project and its legacy. We expect the website will become a great resource for scholars, students, and the general public interested in the history and legacy of the Manhattan Project.
This project was made possible by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kerr Foundation, and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. We are very grateful to these and other donors who have contributed generously to preserving the Manhattan Project.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is a nonprofit in Washington, DC, dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project and Atomic Age and its legacy. AHF has been working to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park as well as preserve and interpret historic sites and develop educational programming and materials for students, teachers, and the general public. For more information about the Atomic Heritage Foundation, please visit www.atomicheritage.org.
The Los Alamos Historical Society was incorporated in July 1968 “to encourage in every way possible an appreciation of the history and heritage of Los Alamos and its surrounding area by collecting, recording and preserving its history.” The Los Alamos Historical Museum opened in late July 1968. Today, the Historical Society continues as a key cultural service provider to Los Alamos County, but with expanded functions that now include ownership and preservation of historic properties (the wartime home of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer House and the homestead-era Romero Cabin), publishing, and educational outreach. For more information about the Los Alamos Historical Society, please visit www.losalamoshistory.org.