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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

CJ Mitchell’s Interview

CJ Mitchell grew up in northeastern Texas. In this interview, he describes moving to Hanford after graduating from high school in 1947. Only sixteen years old, Mitchell took a job working on the trailer park in North Richland, and worked on other construction projects. At first, he lived in a tent with his relatives in East Pasco. He eventually studied at Columbia Basin College and got a job at one of General Electric’s Hanford laboratories as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist. He describes the racism he encountered in the Tri-Cities area and how segregation and the Great Migration impacted him and his family. Mitchell, an avid sports enthusiast and coach, was also famous in the Northwest for his work as a sports official.

Hanford 25th Anniversary Celebration

This program was recorded at the 25th anniversary of the construction of the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, in Hanford, WA. Leading Manhattan Project scientists, including Glenn Seaborg, John Wheeler, Lombard Squires, and Norman Hilberry, as well as its military leaders, General Leslie R. Groves and Colonel Franklin Matthias, participated in the ceremony. They discussed the start of the Manhattan Project, how the reactor’s site was chosen, the challenges of building the reactor and the chemical separations plant, and the different processes that were considered to separate plutonium. They also recalled the relationship between the military and civilian scientists and why they became involved in the Manhattan Project to help win World War II. They philosophized on the significance of nuclear power and its potential for future projects, from agriculture to space exploration.

Colonel Franklin Matthias’s Interview – Part 1 (1965)

Colonel Franklin Matthias was the officer-in-charge at the Hanford site. In this interview, Matthias discusses his early life and his placement as the officer-in-charge at Hanford. He also talks about the relationships between DuPont and the military and the scientists, as well as how cooperation was essential. Matthias remembers the various problems that plagued the Hanford site and how he and his colleagues overcame them.

Jack Keen’s Interview

Jack Keen is the son of Lester Orlan Keen, an engineering draftsman at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. He was three when his father took the job at Hanford and spent a couple years at the Hanford site as a young child. In this interview, Keen talks about his childhood memories of Hanford and his family’s living situation at the site. He discusses his father’s work and dedication to secrecy. Keen also reminisces about visiting the Hanford site as an adult and learning about the environmental impact, as well as the sheer scale of the project.

Frank G. Foote’s and James F. Schumar’s Interview

Frank G. Foote and James F. Schumar were metallurgists who worked on the Manhattan Project. Foote worked in metallurgy at the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago, while Schumar developed procedures for cladding metallic uranium fuel rods with aluminum for Hanford’s B Reactor and Chicago Pile-3. They discuss the challenges of working with uranium metallurgy, from safety issues to the strange properties of uranium metal. They explain their involvement in designing the slugs used in early nuclear reactors. They also explain how they designed a method to extrude and machine uranium.

Fred Hunt’s Interview

Fred Hunt, a mechanical engineer who worked in the power department for DuPont during the late 1930s, arrived in Hanford in 1943. Hunt describes his interaction with Enrico Fermi, who occasionally visited the facilities to monitor their progress. He describes the ease at which he was able to procure materials and ordnance and offers his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb.

Norman Hilberry’s Interview (1965) – Part 3

Dr. Norman Hilberry obtained his doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago in 1941. During WWII, Hilberry was a physicist and the right-hand man to Arthur H. Compton at the Metallurgical Project (Met Lab) in Chicago. In the interview, Hilberry witnessing the Chicago Pile-1 going critical for the first time, and how this success was presented to a committee to prove an atomic bomb could be created. He explains the differences of opinion of scientists and the military on the number of atomic bombs needed, and how quickly it could be done. Hilberry also elaborates on his own background, as well as on the various personalities of some of the scientists he worked with, including Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Eugene Wigner, and General Leslie R. Groves.

Norman Hilberry’s Interview (1965) – Part 2

Dr. Norman Hilberry was a physicist and the right-hand man to Arthur H. Compton at the Metallurgical Project (Met Lab) in Chicago. In the interview, Hilberry discusses the role he played as the Associate Project Director in Chicago. He elaborates on the process of obtaining large amounts of graphite, which was desperately needed, and extracting uranium metal. Hilberry also stresses the various and important roles played by corporations in the project.

Roger Rohrbacher’s Interview

Roger Rohrbacher arrived in Hanford in early 1944, where he worked as an instrument engineer at B Reactor. Rohrbacher was tasked with measuring neutron flow and temperature pressure and radiation monitoring. He gives a detailed account of how the reactor functioned and explains specific safety measures in place to prevent a nuclear meltdown. He also discusses many of the early problems that scientists faced during the early days of B Reactor and explains innovations that workers came up with to solve these problems. Rohrbacher explains the secrecy and security that surrounded the project at Hanford and how it affected his work.

Dale Babcock’s and Samuel McNeight’s Interview (1965)

Dale Babcock and Samuel McNeight were DuPont employees tasked with constructing the B Reactor at Hanford. The pair discusses the challenges of building a water-cooled reactor. Babcock discusses the process invented to can the uranium slugs, while McNeight recalls the fish laboratories used to test the effects of radiation on the environment.