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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Theodore Petry’s Interview

Ted Petry was recruited for the Manhattan Project after graduating from high school. He worked as a lab assistant at the Chicago Met Lab and witnessed the Chicago Pile-1 going critical for the first time. In this interview, Petry discusses his experience working at the Met Lab, and working under Enrico Fermi. He explains how the crew planed graphite blocks, and worked on the Chicago Pile operations. He reflects back on the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Chicago Pile-1 and meeting President John F. Kennedy at the White House at the time.

William J. Nicholson’s Interview

William J. Nicholson grew up in Chicago, with a strong interest in aviation and aeronautics. During the Manhattan Project he worked as an assistant at the Met Lab. He then served in the Army Air Force. In this interview, Nicholson discusses his childhood and school years spent in Chicago. He then explains how he joined the Manhattan Project out of high school. He recalls the secrecy of the work, and describes working with and machining uranium and other metals. Nicholson remembers Edward Creutz, Enrico Fermi, Walter Zinn, and other scientists he worked with. He explains why he wanted to leave Manhattan Project work to join the Air Force, and describes flying bombers over Europe and being shot down by the Germans. He ends by discussing his life and career after the war.

Henry Frisch’s Interview

Dr. Henry Frisch is a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. He is the son of David Frisch, who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. In this interview, Frisch discusses the University of Chicago’s role in the Manhattan Project and how leading figures at UChicago advocated for civilian control of atomic energy. He also shares some of his father’s stories from Los Alamos, and reflects on the challenges of addressing nuclear weapons today.

Marvin Wilkening’s Interview (1995)

Marvin Wilkening was a physicist whose work took him through the Grand Circuit of the Manhattan Project: Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford, Los Alamos and Trinity. He worked closely with Enrico Fermi and describes his deep respect for Fermi’s intuition. In this interview with a former student, Wilkening discusses his involvement with the Manhattan Project and what his thoughts were when witnessing the Trinity Test. He explains his work during the Trinity Test to estimate what percentage of the fissionable material actually took part in the explosion. He finishes with a discussion of teaching physics.

Roslyn Robinson’s Interview

Roslyn D. Robinson worked as a driver and in the administration office for the Chicago Met Lab. Her husband, Sidney, was an engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, she talks about her early life, as well as her duties in Chicago and the omnipresent emphasis on secrecy. She recalls her husband’s hospitalization and quarantine after a mysterious “spill” in his laboratory at the New Chem Building. She also remembers learning about the project’s true purpose when Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima, her reaction to that event, and how the Project continued to affect their lives after the war.

Robert Nobles’s and William Sturm’s Interview – Part 2

Robert Nobles and William Sturm were physicists at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory. They contributed to the creation of experimental nuclear reactors, including the world’s first heavy water reactor, the Chicago Pile-3. In this interview with author Stephane Groueff, Sturm and Noble discuss the security of the bomb project in Chicago, and the movement of scientists between the different sites. They also recall Eugene Wigner’s graciousness, Leo Szilard’s excitability, and Walter Zinn and Enrico Fermi’s leadership styles. They praise the scientific community for its embrace of international cooperation and respect.

David P. Rudolph’s Interview

David R. Rudolph was an administrator in charge of inventory at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. In his interview, he discusses how he was one of the few individuals to be present at both the startup of Chicago Pile-1 and the Trinity test. Rudolph recalls the process of reactor construction, along with the disassembly of CP-1 for the construction of CP-2. He explains the importance of inventory control when it came to the uranium and graphite blocks used in CP-1, and how he helped discover that a section had not be stacked with enough blocks.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 3

The men who worked alongside Fermi in Chicago, including Crawford Greenewalt, Herb Anderson, and Arthur Holly Compton, describe the construction of Chicago Pile Number One. They narrate the day of its first successful operation, December 2, 1942. Fermi’s meticulous measurements and accurate predictions are cited as primary factors in this achievement. The program also discusses Fermi’s evolving role in the Manhattan Project, including his trips to Hanford and his move to Los Alamos in 1944. Part 3 concludes with the morning of July 16, 1945, when Fermi witnessed – and measured the yield of – the Trinity Test.

To Fermi ~ with Love – Part 2

Laura Fermi discusses the family’s decision to leave Italy in 1938 in the wake of the government’s support for anti-Semitic laws. The program describes Enrico winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. Herb Anderson, Fermi’s associate at Columbia University in New York, remembers Fermi’s arrival to the city and move to Chicago to work in the Chicago Met Lab. Fermi explains how scientists agreed to keep the Manhattan Project secret. The interviewees also recall working on the Chicago Pile-1. Anderson, George Weil, and others also describe Fermi’s most distinctive qualities: his energy, willingness to collaborate, and informal approach.

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.