Philip C. Leahy was a Major in the United States Army. During World War II, he was placed in charge of establishing a domestic uranium procurement program for the Manhattan Project.
As a Second Lieutenant, Leahy was ordered to find and secure “strategic minerals” (a code-phrase for materials like uranium) for the Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb program. On March 23, 1943, he arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado and set up his headquarters at a newly purchased a $10,500, fifty-five-acre gravel pit next to the Gunnison River.
The official name of his log-cabin headquarters was the Colorado Area Engineers Office. From March 1943 until March 1946, Leahy orchestrated vanadium mining efforts from nearby mills on the Colorado Plateau. Uranium could be extracted from these vanadium tailings.
According to research by geologist William Chenoweth, the Manhattan Project had obtained 2,698,000 pounds of uranium oxide from Colorado Plateau by 1946. This amount is approximately fourteen percent of the total uranium acquired during the project.
Like most of the residents of Grand Junction, Leahy was in the dark about the purpose of his secret assignment. Interviewed by Grand Junction’s The Daily Sentinel in 1988, Leahy admitted that he ‘didn’t know what the material was needed for. They just told me to go get it.’ Leahy only began to understand the significance of his procured uranium after the Trinity Test on July 16, 1945.
Following his retirement from Army, Leahy returned to the Grand Junction Office, which had since been acquired by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). At AEC-renamed Colorado Raw Materials Office, Leahy organized domestic uranium exploration and procurement programs for the AEC.
Today, the Leahy’s log-cabin office still stands. Recently, the log cabin was designated as a National Historic Place. The Philip C. Leahy Memorial Park in Grand Rapids was also established in his honor.
For more information about Leahy, please see the following references:
- Philip C. Leahy Memorial Park Press Release from the Department of Energy
- The Daily Sentinel: “Secret is out: Cabin is added as a National Historic Place “
- The Daily Sentinel: “Grand Junction residents had few clues about secret Manhattan Project”
- Grand Junction and the Manhattan Project by William Chenoweth