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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Benjamin Bederson’s Interview (2018)

Benjamin Bederson worked at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Wendover, and Tinian on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Bederson describes his childhood in New York and in Russia, where he witnessed the impact of the famine in Ukraine, and his relief upon returning to the United States. He discusses his wartime work, including conducting experiments relating to Jumbo and the X unit switches for the Fat Man atomic bomb. He recalls some of the friends he made, including Peter Lax and William Spindel. During his time on the Manhattan Project, he also met Soviet spies Ted Hall and David Greenglass.

Jon Hunner’s Interview

Dr. Jon Hunner is a Professor of History at New Mexico State University, the author of “Inventing Los Alamos” and “J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West,” and a former director of the New Mexico History Museum. In this interview, Hunner provides an overview of life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, including its takeover of the Los Alamos Ranch School and its relationship with Hispanos and Pueblos in the area. He talks about how Manhattan Project scientists and their family members would arrive in Santa Fe, and the sites in Santa Fe that are linked to the project. Hunner also discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family, and Oppenheimer’s security hearing that revoked his security clearance. He describes the devastating effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and discusses his thoughts on the influence of the atomic bombs on Japan’s decision to surrender.

John Earl Haynes’s Interview

John Earl Haynes is an American historian. He specializes in twentieth-century political and intelligence history. For most of his career, he worked in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. In this interview, he provides an in-depth summary of Soviet espionage in the Manhattan Project. He addresses the history surrounding well-known spies, including Julius Rosenberg, David Greenglass, and Klaus Fuchs, as well as lesser-known agents like Jacob Goros, Elizabeth Bentley, and Clarence Hiskey. Haynes also explains how the Soviet agencies the GRU and the KGB operated in the US in the 1930s-40s. He analyzes the successful and failed Soviet attempts to uncover American industrial and military secrets about the atomic bomb during World War II and the Cold War.

Stanley Hall’s Interview

W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.

Peter Lax’s Interview

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves. He vividly describes what life was like at Los Alamos and offers keen insights on the revolutionizing development of scientific computing and atomic energy. He also recalls the many contributions of the Hungarian mathematicians and scientists at Los Alamos, who were nicknamed “the Martians.”

Robert Lamphere’s Interview – Part 1

FBI agent Robert Lamphere supervised many investigations of Soviet spies during the Cold War. His early espionage cases focused on those who attempted to infiltrate the Manhattan Project, including David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and the Rosenbergs. In this interview, he recalls his interrogation of Klaus Fuchs in London, as well as his impressions of Fuchs and Gold. Lamphere also discusses the network of spies living in the US, their motivations, and the nature of the commands that they received from Moscow.

Ralph Gates’s Interview

In this interview, Ralph Gates discusses how he volunteered to join the Army on his 18th birthday, how was he was recruited into the SED, and how he came to Los Alamos. Gates discusses studying electrical engineering in New York, so that he would be prepared for work at Los Alamos. He talks about his work casting shape charges and the social life at Los Alamos. Gates largely enjoyed his time at Los Alamos, but often regretted that he could not take a more direct part in the war. He also delves into his feelings about the Second World War and the decision to drop the bomb.

Murray Peshkin’s Interview

In this interview, Peshkin discusses his time at Los Alamos working under Richard Feynman. He also talks about espionage and his personal connection with David Greenglass. Peshkin goes into moral questions surrounding the Manhattan Project and the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. Finally, he discusses the persecution of many of the Manhattan Project scientists as alleged communists, especially Phillip Morrison.

William Lowe’s Interview

William Lowe was studying chemical and metallurgical engineering when World War II began. A member of the Special Engineering Detachment, he arrived in Los Alamos and began assisting chemist Arthur Wahl. Lowe recalls working with Wahl on the process for purifying the plutonium for the Gadget and the bombs, and talks about the safety procedures they used to minimize risk of radiation exposure. Lowe later worked on building new reactors, laboratories, and other support facilities at Hanford. He worked in the nuclear power industry for many years and shares his experience of being in the control room during the Three Mile Island incident.

Richard Renner’s Interview

Richard Renner arrived in Los Alamos shortly after being drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment in 1945, after the war had ended. Renner worked as a firefighter at Los Alamos, stationed by the top-secret S-Site, where bombs were assembled. Renner recalls how his experiences in Santa Fe influenced his passion for Latin American studies. Renner later worked as a Professor at the University of Florida.