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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

James Cole’s Interview

James S. Cole is an American engineer. He served as an airplane engineer during World War II, and began working at the K-25 plant at Oak Ridge, TN in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Cole later worked at the Y-12 plant. In this interview, he recalls his early days at Oak Ridge and how he adjusted to the new environment. He shares several stories about his time working at K-25, including finding ways to fix broken pumps and valves. He also explains the importance of the Special Engineer Detachment and members of the military to the Manhattan Project.

Gordon Fee’s Interview

Gordon Fee is the retired president of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems and the former manager of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, TN. He began working at Oak Ridge at the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant in 1956. In this interview, he describes his career at Oak Ridge, and shares stories about his work at Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). In particular, he focuses on scientific developments connected with Oak Ridge, including the growth of the Nuclear Navy, the use of radioisotopes in medicine, and more. He also discusses the challenges of trying to explain Oak Ridge’s complex history to the public.

Ruth Huddleston’s Interview

Ruth Huddleston was born in Windrock, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, she got a job at Oak Ridge as a cubicle operator or “Calutron girl” at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, she recounts her experiences at Y-12. She describes the bus ride to Oak Ridge, operating the calutrons, and the emphasis on secrecy. She recalls how she had mixed feelings after learning about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and talks about her career as a teacher and guidance counselor.

Dieter Gruen’s Interview (2018)

Dieter Gruen worked in the Chemical Research Division at the Y-12 Plant during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, he discusses his childhood in Walldorf, Germany, and how his family’s life changed as the Nazis came to power. Gruen discusses how he came to the U.S. in 1937, and his school experiences both in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at the University of Chicago. He explains how his work at Oak Ridge led him to devote his career to science and innovation. He also spends time sharing his feelings about his involvement with the Manhattan Project. Gruen discusses his views regarding climate change, and how nations can work together to resolve it.

Donald Ross’s Interview

Donald Ross worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of California-Berkeley and the Y-12 Plant for Tennessee Eastman. In this interview, Ross discusses supervising “Calutron girls” at Y-12. He explains how the electromagnetic separation process for separating uranium isotopes work, and recalls the tight security at Oak Ridge. Ross also describes the social life at Oak Ridge, meeting his wife, and the terrible food in the mess halls. He discusses his views on dropping the bomb on Japan and how his thoughts have changed over time.

Clarence Larson’s Interview

Dr. Clarence Larson, a chemist, began working under Ernest O. Lawrence in his lab at the University of California, Berkeley in 1942. In 1943, he moved to Oak Ridge and was appointed head of technical staff for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation. He later served as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and as a commissioner on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. During the Manhattan Project, Larson designed a process to recover and purify uranium deposits from the walls of calutron receivers at the Y-12 Plant. In this interview, he explains the importance of this innovation in producing enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb. He also describes the challenges encountered in the Y-12 Plant’s early days, as well as Lawrence’s leadership skills and unyielding confidence.

Theodore Rockwell’s Interview (2005)

Theodore “Ted” Rockwell was born in Chicago in 1923. As a graduate student at Princeton University, Ted was recruited to work as an engineer at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN in late 1943. Rockwell was assigned to the “Tiger Team” at Oak Ridge, which responded to problems that arose in the Y-12 Plant. After the war, Rockwell continued his career in nuclear technology, becoming Technical Director for Admiral Hyman Rickover. In this interview, Ted explains how the electromagnetic separation process of the calutrons worked at the Y-12 Plant and how the gaseous diffusion process at the K-25 Plant worked. He discusses his duties in the Manhattan Project and his work with Admiral Rickover in the years after the war. He also explains why he thinks safety concerns over nuclear reactors, nuclear waste, and radiation are usually blown out of proportion.

Mary Rockwell’s Interview

Mary Rockwell was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She had just graduated from high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in late 1941. After working for the Tennessee Valley Authority for a short period, she was hired as a secretary at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN. In this interview, Mary describes life at Oak Ridge during the war and meeting her future husband Ted, who was a graduate student at Princeton working as an engineer at the Y-12 plant. Ted and Mary were married at the Chapel-on-the-Hill in Oak Ridge.

Harold E. Hoover’s Interview

Harold Hoover was a member of the Special Engineer Detachment during the Manhattan Project. He worked as a filter foreman at the Y-12 Plant, but his real job was in counterintelligence, to ensure no sabotage occurred. In this interview, he discusses life in the secret city of Oak Ridge, and how he met his wife, who was a contestant in a beauty pageant.

Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende’s Interview

Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende were transferred into the Manhattan District, the branch of the United States Army Corps of Engineers tasked with overseeing the construction of critical Manhattan Project sites, shortly after its formation in 1942. They both lived and worked at Oak Ridge during the war and were closely involved in the design and construction of the site’s thousands of residential units and cafeterias and recreational facilities, as well as the Y-12 and K-25 Plants and the X-10 Graphite Reactor. Their work required close coordination with private architectural and engineering firms, like Stone & Webster and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They discuss the power structure of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, the restrictions imposed on Oak Ridge residents for the maintenance of secrecy, and the compartmentalization of building projects. They also explain the challenges of life in Oak Ridge and how the government had to step in to provide maintenance and services.