Jackie Peterson is an independent curator and exhibit developer in Seattle, Washington. She curated an exhibition called “The Atomic Frontier: Black Life at Hanford” at the Northwest African American Museum from October 2015-March 2016. In this interview, Peterson describes the exhibition and what she learned about African American experiences at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. She explains how African Americans came to the Tri-Cities, the kinds of work they were able to obtain, and the (largely informal) segregation they faced. She also contrasts how African Americans and Japanese Americans were treated by the federal government during World War II.
Elberta Lowdermilk Honstein was the daughter of Elbert Lowdermilk, the contractor whose construction company built roads and utility lines around Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lowdermilk Honstein describes her father’s projects, from building the first road to Los Alamos to successfully maneuvering an “atom smasher” up the hill. She discusses her life in Española and her memories of exploring Los Alamos and the Pueblos. She also describes her relationship with her father.
Esequiel Salazar worked at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project as a carpenter and a rod-man assisting surveyors for the Robert E. McKee Company. After the war, Salazar deployed as a soldier to occupied Japan and had a long career with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Combined, he and his wife contributed 100 years of service to the Los Alamos laboratory. In this interview, Salazar highlights the essential work of Hispano workers and other laboratory employees during and after the Manhattan Project. He touches on the politics surrounding contractors and labor during Los Alamos’s early years, and shares his thoughts on the Trinity Test and bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also discusses his sons’ work at LANL and Sandia National Laboratories.
Lester Bowls worked at DuPont war plants before becoming a construction expediter at Hanford. After construction was finished at Hanford, we worked in operations in the 300 Area. After the war, he worked for Boeing. At the time of this interview, he lived in Seattle’s North End and ran a saw sharpening shop at his residence to make a little spending money. He called himself “a guy with a fourth-grade Arkansas education who raised seven kids, and five went to college.”
They called him “Honey Joe” because of his bee business, which he went into after he left Hanford. DuPont transferred Holt from a construction job in Indiana to Hanford in 1943. At Hanford, Holt worked building the B reactor and laying graphite. Holt settled with his wife Lois in a large and handsome brown house on the side of a hill above the Yakima River on the west edge of Richland. The other big construction job of Holt’s life was the Golden Gate Bridge. He quit the bridge in 1937 before completion because he didn’t like the foggy, cold weather and he got nervous after ten bridge workers died when a scaffold collapsed and they fell into the Golden Gate.
Born in 1903 in Baltimore, Mackie studied civil engineering at Union College in Schenectady, New York. In 1934 he went to work for Du Pont in construction and retired in 1968 as manager of construction. “They called me manager, now they call them directors. They give them a big title, but they gave me more money, “he said. After the war, Mackie was construction manager at Savannah River, the plant in South Carolina built by Du Pont in the early 1950s to produce material for hydrogen bombs.
Russell Stanton, a civil engineer, arrived at Hanford in October 1943 after working at various DuPont plants across the country. At Hanford, Stanton was tasked with constructing the 105 buildings that housed the nuclear reactors, including the B Reactor. Later, Stanton worked on making side shields for the piles and even helped construct a fish hatchery for the study of the effects of radiation on wildlife. Stanton discusses the incredible logistics required to coordinate work at the site and describes the hard-working attitude of many workers. Stanton also explains how project managers were able to meet rigorous wartime demands in such a short time.