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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Carol Roberts’s Interview

Carol Roberts moved to Hanford with her family in 1944 after her father was hired by DuPont to work as an electrician on the B Reactor. In this interview, she vividly describes life in Richland during the Manhattan Project. Roberts mentions local segregation, dust storms, the housing, social opportunities, and the challenges women faced in raising a family. Roberts champions the role of women in local history, including Leona Marshall Libby’s work on the B Reactor. She also details the founding of the local hospital and library, and recounts the takeoff of the “Day’s Pay,” the bomber funded by Hanford workers as part of their contributions to the war effort.

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.

General Kenneth Nichols’s Interview – Part 3

General Kenneth Nichols was the District Engineer for the Manhattan Engineering District, and oversaw the design and operation of the Hanford and Oak Ridge sites. He was responsible for securing the initial deals with Stone & Webster and the DuPont Company to develop the industry for the site, and lived for a time with his wife at Oak Ridge. He discusses sabotage and Klaus Fuchs, dealings with the British, and the very start of the Manhattan Project. He recalls some conflict between the scientists and engineers, the importance of industry in the project, and the initial problems with the startup of the B Reactor.

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.

Michele Gerber’s Interview

In this interview, historian Michele Gerber discusses the significance of the Manhattan Project in the twenty-first century, focusing on the Hanford site and its legacy. Gerber talks about why Hanford and DuPont were selected for the Manhattan Project, as well as setbacks from material shortages. She discusses the atmosphere of safety, how most Hanford workers had no idea what they were working on, and the environmental legacy of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. She also explains the role of women at Hanford, the demographics, and why the area around Hanford suffered from termination winds.

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.

Eugene Wigner’s Interview (1964)

Eugene Wigner was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist and mathematician and 1963 Nobel Prize winner in Physics. During the Manhattan Project, Wigner led a group responsible for the design of Hanford’s B Reactor. In this interview, Wigner discusses his upbringing and education. He elaborates on his involvement with the Einstein Letter, which Einstein sent to President Franklin Roosevelt urging he begin research into an atomic bomb and led to the Manhattan Project research. Einstein dictated the letter to Wigner, and Wigner was very impressed by Einstein’s ability to dictate such an important letter so quickly. Wigner also elaborates on the personalities of Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, and other scientists.