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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

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.

William Ginell’s Interview

William Ginell is a physical chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview he describes how he became interested in chemistry and his experiences working at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, TN on the gaseous diffusion process. He reflects on the Army, living conditions, and the intense secrecy and security during the project. He also discusses his life after the war, especially his work at Brookhaven, Atomics International, and Douglas Aircraft.

Rachel Erlanger’s Interview

Rachel Erlanger worked in a Kellex Corporation chemistry lab in New Jersey, where they researched gaseous diffusion barriers and other processes critical to the development of the K-25 plant. She got involved in the Manhattan Project when responding to an ad for Kellex. As a chemist, she recognized uranium-235 as the material used in an atomic bomb. In this interview, she describes how she got involved in the Manhattan Project, her excitement at contributing at that time, and how her attitude turned more negative after the war. She recalls her and her mother’s experiences during the prewar era and the pressure for women to marry and have children. She also briefly discusses her husband Bernard Erlanger, who also worked on the Manhattan Project.

Kathleen Maxwell’s Interview

Kathleen Maxwell was a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project for the Kellex Corporation in Jersey City, New Jersey. The only female scientist in her division, she assisted in troubleshooting various operational, technical, and chemical challenges related to uranium enrichment. In this interview, she discusses the details of her work, as well as the long hours and secrecy. Maxwell describes her laboratory’s concerns over the effects of radiation exposure, and recalls that scientists underwent routine screenings, regular check-ups, and even took out extra insurance policies. She also reflects on the decision to drop the atomic bomb and the urgency of the project: “I have never been so absorbed in any one thing in my life.”

James C. Hobbs’s Interview – Part 3

J.C. Hobbs was an American inventor and engineer who created a key part of the valves used in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Hobbs was brought on to the Manhattan Project by the head of the Kellex Corporation, Percival Keith, to improve the piping system in the K-25 plant. In part three of his interview with Stephane Groueff, Hobbs discusses the key role he played in troubleshooting problems for K-25 and for other power plants across the country. He emphasizes the importance of the efficiencies he introduced at K-25, and describes some of the technical challenges he and his colleagues faced.

Irwin P. Sharpe’s Interview

Irwin P. Sharpe was recruited for the Manhattan Project by his employer, General Electric, after he graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in engineering. His work took place in the Woolworth Building in Manhattan, where he played a key role in developing special vacuum pumps and seals to handle fluorine and uranium hexafluoride. He and his team encountered several challenges to create the proper equipment and maintain the standard of cleanliness and tightness. He recalls his interactions with his fellow engineers, as they raced to solve the problems presented to them by the physicists and chemists. He made trips to Oak Ridge to test the products that they developed in Manhattan. Sharpe came in contact with several key figures of the Manhattan Project, including General Groves and key physicists and engineers. In this interview, he describes the security and secrecy surrounding the project and addresses the debate over the bomb that still exists today.

Arthur Squires’s Interview – Part 2

Arthur Squires was a chemical engineer and participated in the design, construction, and operation of the K-25 diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Squires describes the lead developer, Percival Keith, as well as Manson Benedict, both of whom he credits as key contributors to the plant’s development. Squires discusses the impact of the K-25 plant, saying that without its development, it is likely that two atomic bombs would not have been ready into at least mid-1946. He also highlights the level of secrecy surrounding the work on the Manhattan Project. In 1946, Squires went on to work with Keith’s new company, Hydrocarbon Research.

Arthur Squires’s Interview – Part 1

Arthur Squires was born in Kansas and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Missouri, and went on to Cornell University for his graduate degree. He was a chemical engineer and participated in the design, construction, and operation of the K-25 diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working under Percival Keith and Manson Benedict. In this interview, Squires recounts how he contributed to the scientific research and problem-solving that helped make the K-25 plant possible. In the discussion, Stephane Groueff asks Squires about his relationships with the other scientists, developers, and academic teams.

Robert Thornton’s Interview

Robert Lyster Thornton was the assistant director of the Process Improvement Division of the Tennessee Eastman Corporation at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Thornton remembers Ernest Lawrence asking him to join the Manhattan Project just after Pearl Harbor. He explains the development and workings of the Beta plant at Oak Ridge. He also discusses the challenges he faced separating uranium isotopes, the uranium enrichment process, and the thousands of men and women who helped in the process.

K.T. Keller’s Interview – Part 2

KT Keller was appointed President of the Chrysler Corporation in 1935, having served as Vice President since 1926. Keller entered the automotive field as an apprentice without any previous education in engineering or mechanics. His intelligence, hard work, and mechanical skills enabled him to advance all the way to the top of Chrysler, where he guided the company through World War II. In Part 2 of his interview, Keller discusses Chrysler’s role in the Manhattan Project, including how the company solved the problem of electroplating tubes with nickel in order to prevent corrosion during the gaseous diffusion process. He also discusses his relationship with General Leslie Groves and his deputy, Col. Kenneth Nichols.