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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Major General Kenneth Nichols (1907 – 2000) served as District Engineer of the Manhattan Engineer District.

As a lieutenant colonel, Nichols was selected as Deputy District Engineer by Colonel James Marshall. Responsible for selecting a construction site, the pair decided on Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Nichols was also in charge of ore procurement. He met with Edgar Sengier, who was expecting the visit and already had 1,200 tons of ore cached at a Staten Island warehouse. Arrangements were made to purchase the ore, which originated from the Belgian Congo.

One of General Leslie Groves‘ key lieutenants, Nichols was named District Engineer of the Manhattan Engineer District in 1943. He was consequently given responsibility for both the Clinton Engineer Works and the plutonium production facility at the Hanford site.

Nichols was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his work on the Manhattan Project. After the war, he was promoted to brigadier general and became General Groves’ deputy. Later promoted to major general, he served as deputy director of guided missiles for the Department of Defense before becoming general manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In his role at the AEC, Nichols was a key figure in the revocation of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance.

He left government in 1955 to become a consulting engineer, and was retained by many prominent companies, including Alcoa and Westinghouse. Nichols died on February 21, 2000.

Kenneth D. Nichols's Timeline
1907 Nov 13th Born in Cleveland, Ohio.
1929 Received a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, graduating fifth in his class.
1933 Received a M.Eng. from Cornell University.
1937 Received a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering from Iowa State University.
19371941 Served as an instructor in the Department of Civil and Military Engineering at West Point.
19411942 Worked as area engineer in charge of construction for the Rome (NY) Air Depot and the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works.
1942 Jun Joined the Manhattan Project as Deputy District Engineer.
1943 May 22nd Promoted to District Engineer.
1948 Promoted to major general and named chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.
19501953 Served as deputy director of guided missiles for the Department of Defense.
1953 Oct 31st Retired from the Army to become general secretary of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
1955 Left government and become a consultant.
2000 Feb 21st Died in Bethesda, Maryland.

Colonel Franklin Matthias, Colonel Kenneth Nichols, and Vice Admiral Frederick Ashworth in front of a plane with the Manhattan Project insignia

Memo From Col. Nichols, 1945

Memo from Col. Nichols on Atomic Bomb Drop, 1945

Major General Nichols receiving the 1991 Distinguished Graduate Award at West Point

Oak Ridge Journal from January 4th, 1945. Col. Kenneth D. Nichols, District Engineer, received official commendation and praise for the "faithful performance of duty" and awarded citations in recognition for the completion of "faithful and satisfactory service rendered to the War Department and to the Nation."
Nichols standing on the right-hand side. 1946. Courtesy of Cal Tech.

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