William Kistler “Bill” Coors is best known for the beer brewed in the Rocky Mountains, but he was honored by federal officials this month for his historic work building ceramic insulators that were used in Oak Ridge to help build the world’s first atomic bombs.
On December 2, Coors received the Energy Secretary’s Appreciation Award in Golden, Colorado, which is west of Denver and at the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The award was presented by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management Acting Director Thomas Pauling. It recognizes Coors’ historic role in providing critical insulators to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Manhattan Engineer District, also known as the Manhattan Project, during World War II, a press release said. The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during the war—before Germany could.
The ceramic insulators were used in uranium enrichment operations at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, which was built as part of the Manhattan Project.
In January 1943, General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, met with operators at Y-12, and he insisted that the first uranium-enriching calutrons needed to be built and operating within seven months. The huge calutrons were needed for the electromagnetic separation of fissionable isotopes of uranium-235 from naturally occurring uranium for use in atomic weapons, the press release said.
“With such a tight schedule to build an untested technology, the Y-12 project experienced setbacks with insulators constantly breaking down due to the extremely high voltage used by the calutrons,” the release said.
Searching for a solution, Richard Condit from the Berkeley Lawrence Radiation Laboratory called Coors of the Coors Porcelain Company in Golden.
“The company had the experience, expertise, and capacity to make the desperately needed, large quantities of high-quality ceramic insulators capable of handing the tremendous electrical loads produced by the calutrons,” the press release said.
Coors, who celebrated his 100th birthday on August 11 this year, accepted the wartime request and immediately got to work, the release said.
“Although Mr. Coors had no idea what his insulators were being used for, they arguably saved the Y-12 project from failure,” the release said.
By February 1944, Y-12 began sending uranium-235 to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to create the nation’s first atomic weapons.
Uranium enriched in Oak Ridge fueled the first atomic bomb used in wartime. Code-named Little Boy, it was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, shortly before the end of the war. A second bomb, Fat Man, used plutonium from Hanford, Washington, and it was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. Japan surrendered less than a week later.
More information will be added as it becomes available.