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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Ruth Huddleston’s Interview

Ruth Huddleston was born in Windrock, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, she got a job at Oak Ridge as a cubicle operator or “Calutron girl” at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, she recounts her experiences at Y-12. She describes the bus ride to Oak Ridge, operating the calutrons, and the emphasis on secrecy. She recalls how she had mixed feelings after learning about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and talks about her career as a teacher and guidance counselor.

William K. Coors’s Interview

William “Bill” K. Coors helped construct high-quality ceramic insulators that would be used for the calutrons in the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, TN, during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Coors discusses his upbringing, including feeling homesick while away at Philips Exeter Academy. After graduating from Princeton, he took over the Coors Porcelain Company. One day, he received a mysterious phone call from the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, recruiting Coors to quickly provide insulators that would withstand the electric voltage produced by calutrons. He explains why his insulators were the only kind able to withstand the voltage. Lastly, Coors elaborates on the revolutionary practice of using recyclable aluminum cans to hold beer, a process which he helped pioneer in the 1960s.

Harold E. Hoover’s Interview

Harold Hoover was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment during the Manhattan Project. He worked as a filter foreman at the Y-12 Plant, but his real job was in counterintelligence, to ensure no sabotage occurred. In this interview, he discusses life in the secret city of Oak Ridge, and how he met his wife, who was a contestant in a beauty pageant.

Dorothy Wilkinson’s Interview

Dorothy worked at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project as a “calutron girl.” After her brother was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was eager to join the war effort. Dorothy discusses how she went directly from high school to Oak Ridge, and was at first intimidated by the mud and the “Wild West” atmosphere. She talks about meeting her husband, Paul, who was her supervisor at Y-12, having children, and how pleasant her life has been at the site.

Gordon Steele’s Interview

Gordon Steele was a chemist who began working at the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and was later transferred to the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge. He worked on separating uranium-235 using calutrons developed by Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley. In this interview Steele explores a variety of topics, from his work separating uranium isotopes to the realities of living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He recounts a trip to Georgia in which he and his friends purchased rum and other liquors to smuggle into Oak Ridge, a decidedly dry town during the war. He also discusses his coworkers, their chess games, and some mishaps in repairing the calutron machines.

Seth Wheatley’s Interview

Seth Wheatley worked on the Beta calutrons at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. He talks about African-American segregation, an often forgotten aspect of life in the city during the project. He discusses worker safety at Y-12 and raising a baby in the secret city of Oak Ridge.

Martin Skinner’s Interview

Martin Skinner worked in the Beta 3 Building in the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Skinner elaborates on his role as a troubleshooter for the Calutrons in the Beta 3 Building. He also highlights the degree of the secrecy involved in working on the Manhattan Project. After the war, Skinner returned to Oak Ridge to continue working on a project researching the stable separation of isotopes. He concludes by stressing the need to preserve the memory and importance of atomic history.

William J. Wilcox, Jr.’s Interview (2006)

Bill Wilcox, the late Official Historian for the City of Oak Ridge, discusses the origins of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. A chemistry graduate from Washington & Lee University in 1943, he was hired by Tennessee Eastman on a “Secret, secret, secret!” project in an unknown location he and his friends nicknamed “Dogpatch.” He recalls the amazing construction activity going on at Oak Ridge when he arrived at the site in October 1943. He worked with uranium, which was referred to only by its codename “Tuballoy,” under threat of imprisonment. Wilcox worked at Y-12 for five years and then at K-25 for 20 years, retiring as Technical Director for Union Carbide Nuclear Division. Wilcox has actively promoted preservation of the “Secret City” history through the Oak Ridge Heritage & Preservation Association and by founding the Partnership for K-25 Preservation. He also published several books on Oak Ridge, including a history of Y-12 and “Opening the Gates of the Secret City.”