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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Harold Agnew (1921-2013) was an American physicist and director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970-1979.

Agnew saw the completion of the atomic bomb from start to finish.  As a member of Enrico Fermi’s research team at the University of Chicago in 1942, Agnew witnessed the first sustained nuclear chain reaction, Chicago Pile-1. He worked in the Experimental Physics Division at Los Alamos from 1943 to 1945. Harold’s wife Beverly also worked at the Met Lab and at Los Alamos, where she served as Robert Bacher’s secretary.

While the Trinity test was being conducted, Agnew was already on his way to Tinian Island in the Pacific as part of Project Alberta, the group responsible for the final bomb assembly. He flew as a scientific observer on a B-29 bomber for the Hiroshima bombing mission, measuring the size of the shock wave to determine the bomb’s power.  He also filmed the explosion with a movie camera.

After the war he returned to school and received his Ph.D. in physics in 1949.  He returned to Los Alamos during the Cold War, working on the hydrogen bomb. Agnew became head of the Weapon Nuclear Engineering Division in 1964, and went on to serve as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1970 to 1979, as well as a presidential advisor under Ronald Reagan.  Agnew retired in 1979 to become Chief Executive Officer of General Atomics until 1985.

Harold Agnew's Timeline
1921 Mar 28th Born in Denver, Colorado.
1942 Jun Received A.B. in Chemistry from University of Denver.
1942 Jun1943 Mar Worked on Manhattan Project at University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, observing the Chicago Pile-1 reaction.
1943 Mar1945 Jun Worked on Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in the Experimental Physics Division.
1945 Jun1945 Aug Worked on Manhattan Project at Tinian on bomb assembly.
1945 Aug 6th Observed bombing of Hiroshima as scientific observer in "The Great Artiste.
1949 Received Ph.D. in Physics from University of Chicago
19551961 New Mexico State Senator.
19611964 Scientific Advisor to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
1964 Became head of the Weapon Nuclear Engineering Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
1966 Received Ernest Lawrence Award.
19701979 Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
1978 Received Department of Energy's Enrico Fermi Award.
19791985 Chief Executive of General Atomics.
2013 Sep 29th Died in Solana Beach, California.

Harold Agnew with a large barracuda, caught at Eniwetok during the 1954 Pacific nuclear test campaign. Photo courtesy of the Los Alamos National Laboratory archives.

Harold Agnew's Los Alamos ID badge photo

Harold Agnew at LANL

Goodman, Alvarez, Waldman, and Agnew on Tinian

Harold Agnew with Fat Man's plutonium core on Tinian

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