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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Charles Allen Thomas (1900-1982) was an American chemist and industrial leader.

Thomas was recruited to join the Manhattan Project in 1942 by General Groves, who offered him a postion as a deputy to Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. Thomas, however, did not wish to move his family or give up his responsibilities at the Monsanto Chemical Company; instead, he agreed to coordinate plutonium purification and production at many Manhattan Project locations including Los Alamos, the Met Lab in Chicago, the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley, and Ames Laboratory in Iowa.

In 1943, Thomas was tasked with developing a method to separate polonium, a rare and unusual element which was selected as the “initiator” for the plutionium bomb. Thomas decided to carry out this work in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Using eminent domain, the government acquired the sprawling Runnymede Playhouse in Oakwood as a laboratory. The polonium made there was shipped to Los Alamos and assembled into initiators for the Gadget and Fat Man plutonium bombs.

Charles A. Thomas's Timeline
1900 Feb 15th Born in Scott County, Kentucky.
1920 Received B.A. from Transylvania College.
1924 Received M.S. in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1926 Founded Thomas & Hochwalt Laboratories in Dayton, Ohio.
1942 Dec Joined the National Defense Research Committee as the Deputy Chief of its Division 8, which was responsible for propellants and explosives.
19431945 Joined the Manhattan Project as Chief Supervisor of plutonium purification.
1943 Became Director of the Dayton Project.
1946 Received the Medal for Merit from the president Harry S. Truman.
1982 Mar 29th Died in Albany, Georgia.
Thomas standing second to last on the left-hand side. 1946. Courtesy of Cal Tech.

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