AHF joins Oak Ridgers and Manhattan Project families in mourning the loss of our friend James Edward “Ed” Westcott, the official photographer for the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Ed died on March 29, 2019 in his home in Oak Ridge at the age of 97.
As Cindy Kelly, AHF President, commented, “Ed Westcott’s perceptive and artful photography gives us a sense for of the youthful energy that characterized life in Oak Ridge. Ed will be greatly missed but his photographs will endure for generations to come. He was the Ansel Adams of the Manhattan Project.”
In 2016, AHF staff enjoyed meeting him at the World War II Memorial when he participated in an HonorAir Knoxville program.
Westcott was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on January 20, 1922 to his parents Jamie Westcott and Lucille Green Westcott. He had a younger brother, Hugh “Buddy” Westcott. Westcott showed an interest in photography at an early age. His father nurtured his interest and bought him a German Foth Derby camera when he was 12 years old.
At the age of 19, Westcott joined the Army Corps of Engineers and photographed Camp Crossville and the construction of airstrips and dams. A year later, he was given a choice: he could move to Alaska or to Tennessee. Unbeknownst to him, this decision would change his life. Westcott opted for his home state, where he would document the construction and daily life in one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, Oak Ridge. Over the course of World War II, he took over 15,000 photos of Oak Ridge. The prolific photographer captured the lives of people in Oak Ridge, ranging from the “calutron girls” working in the Y-12 plant to young people hanging out at the Wildcat Den. Many of these photos’ negatives currently reside in the National Archives.
Mr. Westcott’s work was essential to documenting and preserving the history of Oak Ridge and its role in World War II. Oak Ridge city historian Ray Smith commented:
The story of the Manhattan Project would be lost to history without the work of Oak Ridge’s own renowned photographer Ed Westcott. The city has gained international recognition for its work in the top-secret assignment — and continues to solve some of the world’s critical challenges to this day with our innovations — yet none of this would have been as well known without Ed’s photographs helping to seal the Secret City’s rightful place in history and science.
Mr. Westcott worked as Oak Ridge’s official photographer until 1966, but continued to work as a photographer for the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, DC until 1977. When he retired, he moved back to Oak Ridge, where he worked as a photography contractor with the Department of Energy.
On January 20, 2018, the city of Oak Ridge declared the day “Ed Westcott Day” to celebrate his 96th birthday. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, whose district includes Oak Ridge, nominated Westcott for the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018 for his work.
Ed’s wife, Esther Seigenthaler Westcott, passed away in 1997 after 56 years of marriage. They had five children together.
AHF extends its condolences to Ed Westcott’s family and friends. You can watch a documentary about him here and see many of his photos here.