On the seventieth anniversary of General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer's search for a site for a research laboratory, the Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) and the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS) are launching a new website, “Voices of the Manhattan Project.” One interview is of Stirling Colgate who was a senior at the Los Alamos Boys Ranch School on November 15, 1942. Recognizing the man in the porkpie hat touring the school, Colgate remembers thinking that Los Alamos was “a crazy place to do any war thing.” The rest is history.
Today, Manhattan Project oral histories are scattered across the country with limited public access. This project is the first step towards the goal of creating a central repository and directory for oral histories that can be easily searched by scholars, students and the general public. In the future, we hope to work with Columbia River Exhibition on History, Science and Technology (CREHST) in Richland, WA and the Center for Oak Ridge Oral Histories in Oak Ridge, TN as well as other organizations.
Even now with its initial 25 oral histories, the site provides a tapestry of perspectives. Physical chemist George Cowan relates smuggling a suitcase full of alcohol into dry Oak Ridge—with Arthur Holly Compton’s tacit approval. Dee McCullough recalls his astonishment at Leona Woods Marshall’s twenty-inch slide rule, which she used to do calculations for Enrico Fermi. Glassblower Arno Roensch tells of the time he helped a stymied Fermi change a flat tire.
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 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.
For their hard work on the project, AHF would especially like to thank our partners at the Los Alamos Historical Society Heather McClenahan and Rebecca Collinsworth; Jeffrey Nalezny of Nalezny Productions; 4Site Interactive Studios; Alexandra Levy, AHF Program Manager; and our interns Nicholas Albanese (Georgetown ’14), Fiona Vella (Yale ’14), and Owen Pagano (GWU ’14). Thanks to Mark Donaldson, formerly with AHF, who developed the initial proposal to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Thanks to IMLS, the Kerr Foundation and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust for their generous support.
Help us improve the site by taking a brief, ten-question survey. We will be adding oral histories from our collections over the next several months and hope to make the site as robust and user friendly as possible.