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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Seth Wheatley’s Interview

Seth Wheatley worked on the Beta calutrons at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. He talks about African-American segregation, an often forgotten aspect of life in the city during the project. He discusses worker safety at Y-12 and raising a baby in the secret city of Oak Ridge.

Dunell Cohn’s Interview

Dunell Cohn was born in Oak Ridge in 1944. Cohn’s father, Waldo, was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project in Chicago in 1942 for his work on radioisotopes at Berkeley and Harvard during the 1930s. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he developed a method to separate the fission products from the nuclear reactor. He also pioneered the radioisotope program at Oak Ridge, producing radioisotopes in large quantities that could then be used for medical and biological research. Dunell recalls what it was like growing up as a child at Oak Ridge and describes his father’s effort to desegregate the town by integrating the public school system. He also remembers his father’s love for music and his role in creating Oak Ridge’s symphony orchestra.

Esther Stenstrom’s Interview

Esther Stenstrom arrived at Oak Ridge in 1943, after she and her husband were picked to work in the secret city. Strenstrom worked alongside her husband in the engineering department at the Y-12 Plant as a mechanical drawer. She recalls how rationing affected life for civilians living and working in Oak Ridge and how social events offered a respite for the community members.

Gladys Evans’ Interview

Gladys Evans, who worked as a “Calutron” or “Cubicle” girl at the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, discusses her talks her experience working in the plant and the ever-present security and secrecy concerns. She recalls the mud that plagued every Oak Ridger, and on a more fun note, the tennis court dances where couples could enjoy a date. She speaks with pride about her generation’s participation in the war effort.

Harry Kamack’s Interview

Harry Kamack worked as a chemical engineer for the DuPont Company during the early 1940s, when he was transferred to Chicago to work at the Metallurgical Laboratory. As a chemical engineer, Kamack admits that he did not have much knowledge of nuclear physics, but he quickly learned and was soon tasked with building a Geiger counter. In 1943, Kamack was transferred to Oak Ridge, where he continued work on developing processes for the separation of plutonium at the X-10 Graphite Reactor. In October of 1944, Kamack was transferred again to Hanford, where he continued research on the chemical separations process of the T-Plant.

Anne McKusick’s Interview

Anne McKusick worked at the Y-12 Plant for Tennessee Eastman. She remembers dancing with Ernest Lawrence at one of Oak Ridge’s dances. Because of the pervasive emphasis on secrecy, she nearly got in trouble for carrying around a book on Russian. She considered becoming a physicist after the war, but decided to go to medical school.

Jay Wechsler’s Interview

Jay Wechsler, who enlisted in the Army in 1943 and spent several months at Oak Ridge working as an Army construction engineer, was suddenly transferred to Los Alamos in the winter of ‘43 where he began working directly with Otto Frisch. Wechsler helped Frisch work on a large fission chamber that Frisch had originally designed in Denmark and later shipped to the United States. He recalls Frisch’s brilliant intellect and knack for solving problems, and discusses their long-lasting friendship over the years. Wechsler also discusses his role as an explosives expert at Beta Site, testing what would later become the implosion system for the plutonium bomb. Wechsler also recounts details of Trinity Test and discusses his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb on Japan and the lasting impact of atomic weapons. After the war, Wechsler continued his weapons work for the government throughout the Cold War.