He was one of the first workers hired in Oak Ridge as part of the top-secret race to build the world’s first atomic bombs during World War II.
At only 20 years old, he became the chief photographer for what was then the Manhattan Engineer District, Clinton Engineer Works. He was the only person authorized to take pictures in the “Secret City” during the Manhattan Project, and he captured some classic moments, including the jubilation of Oak Ridge residents the day they learned World War II had ended.
Now 91, Ed Westcott was honored for his historic photography in a surprise ceremony this month. He was given the Muddy Boot Award by the East Tennessee Economic Council. The awards, which have been given out since 1973, pay tribute to people who have made East Tennessee a stronger region through their work and community activities.
“Ed’s photographs are so broadly used that they literally express our history and visually tell the unique story of Oak Ridge and its impact on East Tennessee, the Southeast, the nation, and even the world,” said Ray Smith, Y-12 National Security Complex historian. “So, he definitely qualifies for Muddy Boot consideration. Without Ed’s thousands of wonderful images, we would not be nearly as able to present our history.”
Westcott’s photos adorn walls in offices, restaurants, and cafeterias around Oak Ridge, and they’re also posted online and available at the Oak Ridge Public Library. The new Kroger Marketplace shopping center has been named Westcott Center in his honor. One Westcott photo showing “Calutron Girls” working at Y-12 led to a New York Times best seller, “The Girls of Atomic City,” by author Denise Kiernan.
Smith said Westcott photographed eight U.S. presidents and served 35 years in the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor, the Energy Research and Development Administration. He took a picture of the signing ceremony when another successor, the U.S. Department of Energy, was formed in 1977. Westcott served DOE for several more years in various roles and photographed the White House signing ceremony when DOE was created, Smith said.
“We can never repay this man for his dedication to our heritage,” Smith said. “Without Ed Westcott’s photographs, we could not imagine telling our history. Yet, I have not met a more humble individual. I love Ed Westcott and am proud to be allowed to present him with this very special and well-deserved award, the Muddy Boot.”
Westcott will be 92 on Jan. 20. Smith said Westcott was the 27th Manhattan Project worker in Oak Ridge, and he has been here the longest of anyone still alive.
During the war years, Westcott was asked to record the construction activities of the three government plant sites—K-25, X-10, and Y-12—and the city being built to house the work force. He also provided photographic support to the residential community’s newspaper, the Oak Ridge Journal, ETEC said in a press release.
Westcott’s photos were included among the two dozen images that accompanied the first national press release revealing the atomic bomb project.
“This historic press release was published on Aug. 6, 1945, the same day as Little Boy, the world’s first atomic bomb, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan,” ETEC said. “In one of his more famous photographs of 1945, Westcott captured a crowd of Oak Ridgers gathered to celebrate news of the end of World War II. This photo, known simply as ‘War Ends,’ is still published in newspapers and magazines around the world even today.”
For 35 years, Westcott photographed tens of thousands of unique images of construction in cities that included Oak Ridge; Paducah, Ky.; Portsmouth, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo.; Puerto Rico; New Brunswick, N.J.; and other locations as directed by the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Association, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
In 1966, Westcott transferred to AEC Headquarters in Maryland. It was there that he established the world’s largest library of energy-related visual images and included an in-house photographic laboratory, sound recording studio, control booth, motion picture studio, projection theater, and film/tape editing room, ETEC said.
Westcott retired and returned to Oak Ridge in 1977, and he continued to work under private contract with DOE, ETEC said.
Westcott has received many awards, including the DOE Secretary’s Appreciation Award, a plaque from DOE’s Oak Ridge Office, and a key to the city of Oak Ridge. In addition, he is a charter member of Oak Ridge organizations such as Elks Club, ’43 Club, and Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association.
ETEC said the Muddy Boot Award was created to honor people who have gone above the call of duty—like those who served the nation during the Manhattan Project—to make the community, the state of Tennessee, and the nation a better place to live and work. More than 70 people have received the award since that time. A full list of recipients and more information about the award can be found on the ETEC website at www.eteconline.org.
More Muddy Boots—as well as the Postma Young Professional Medals—were also presented earlier in December at ETEC’s annual meeting and awards celebration.