Myfanwy Pritchard-Roberts worked in Rhydymwyn, Wales as a laboratory assistant in the Tube Alloys program, the British mission to create the nuclear bomb. In this interview Roberts not only explores life within Great Britain’s secret city, but also touches on what it was like to live during World War II. She discusses rationing and the tensions it created with the people she worked and lived with, as well as the experience of being away from her family for an extended amount of time. Roberts also recounts the overalls she had to wear to work each day, as well as her assignments and the other people she encountered within the laboratories.
Meta Newson, a homemaker at Hanford during WWII, was married to the late Henry W Newson, a Manhattan Project physicist at Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford and Los Alamos, and later a professor at Duke University.
Margaret Hoffarth was born in Colorado and moved west with her parents, traveling to Idaho in a wagon train. She was a forty-three year-old widow with three sons when she came to work in the Hanford Mess Hall in 1943. She recalls work, social life, and secrecy at Hanford, as well as the sudden emptiness of the site after the war. One of Hoffarth’s sons was killed in action during World War II.
John Archibald Wheeler was the leading physicist in residence at Hanford. He solved the riddle of the B Reactor going dead a few hours after it started, an event that threatened to delay seriously the first production of plutonium. Early in his career at Princeton, in 1939, Wheeler and Danish physicist Niels Bohr collaborated to develop the first general theory of the mechanism of fission, which included identifying the nuclei most susceptible to fission, a landmark accomplishment that helped make Wheeler, at age 28, world famous among nuclear physicists. After the war, at Los Alamos, he directed the group which produced the conceptual design for the first family of thermonuclear weapons. He became interested in astrophysics and coined the term “black holes.” In 1976, Wheeler joined the department of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was interviewed.
In 1943, Jess Brinkerhoff was working at Du Pont’s Remington Arms ammunition plant in Salt Lake City as a warehouse and shipping foreman. The plant was shut down and he transferred to Hanford as a fireman. His wife soon joined him, and they raised six children in an original Richland pre-fab; Brinkerhoff was still living there at the time of this interview in 1986.
Harry Petcher’s flat feet meant he couldn’t be drafted, but still had an obligation to work for the war effort. After working as a Signal Corps clerk in Chicago, Petcher moved to Hanford with his wife, where they found jobs in the mess hall. Petcher soon became head of Hanford’s massive box lunch department, where he oversaw tens of thousands of box lunches being made every day. In twenty months at Hanford, the staff served 3,088,480 box lunches.