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Arthur Squires’s Interview – Part 2

Manhattan Project Locations:

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.

Date of Interview:
December 3, 1964
Location of the Interview:


Arthur Squires: Keith is a personality.

Stephane Groueff: He is kind of a personality.

Squires: Keith is a personality and I worked with this man seventeen years, shy two weeks.

Groueff: So you know him very well.                   

Squires: I know him very well.

Groueff: Would you describe him, during the war especially, because he’ll be one of my main heroes and I want to present him as colorful as possible.  

Squires: Keith is a colorful man. Let me straighten you out first on the bomb. We took natural uranium and towards the end of—or by June—I think if I remember the dates, we started to deliver—this probably shouldn’t be published because I don’t know to what extent this kind of information is still classified. Only God knows.

Groueff: This is in the new World Book, most of the facts are just schematically. According to the new World Book, you delivered enrichment material to feed—

Squires: To feed the electromagnetic plant. We started to deliver I think it was two percent material, in early April. If I can remember the date, it was about June 5th give or take, that we started to deliver very substantial quantities of seven percent material.

Groueff: That is considered high enrichment?

Squires: It is. It is ten times, you see. Natural is 0.7. The output of the electromagnetic process is directly proportional to what enters it. We were able to multiply their productivity by a factor of 10. Up until this time they had sort of limped along with this very poor material.

Groueff: It is in the ratio 140:1.

Squires: It is 140:1. That works out to 0.7 percent, the reciprocal of 140, so this was a very big boost for them, and it meant a tremendous boost in their total output. The real quantity deliveries of material from Y-12 to Los Alamos must have started about the second week of June. Now, I don’t say that in the year and a half— more than a year— close to a year and a half that Y-12 had operated before this time, they might not have delivered a bomb’s worth. I don’t know. To this day I don’t know what a bomb’s worth is precisely. I haven’t kept up with this field and if it has been published I have not found out. I’m not that interested. I don’t care. I have other problems. Surely, Los Alamos was getting very nice deliveries starting in early June.

There was no bomb grade material made at K-25 until not very long before Y-12 shut down. This was after the war. My recollection is that they shut down the Alpha stages of Y-12 early in about September of ’45. Then I was in on the big meeting when it was decided to take the gaseous diffusion process all the way to bomb grade material and at the same time shut down the Beta stages, the higher stages of Y-12. The shutting down of those Beta stages must be a matter of public knowledge. I don’t remember the exact date. Late ’46 or perhaps ’47.

Groueff: After the bomb, anyhow.

Squires: Oh, long after the original bomb. Keith is completely off base if he says we did it by ourselves.

Groueff: No, he says they helped but the product was yours—the seven percent. And the important job, in his eyes, was done by you.

Squires: This may be a little bit hard to understand for you, but there are fundamental thermodynamic reasons why it takes much, much more work and requires much more expenditure of energy to take the material from 0.7 percent to seven percent, than it does to take it all the rest of the way. Well, all the rest of the way would be too strong. But to take it into the 90s. A plant receiving seven percent material and taking it to say, 90 odd percent, whatever it was taking it to—that second plant is definitely the tail on the dog.

Groueff: The electromagnetic, in this case?

Squires: Yes, electromagnetic. We quickly pushed them into a position of being a little way station on the road and in that sense, Keith is right. Full honesty, I think, demands we could not have delivered bomb grade material, you see. We didn’t have the buildings yet.

Groueff: They couldn’t deliver fast enough if they had to start with the natural material?

Squires: If K-25 had not been built, I don’t believe there would have been two uranium bombs ready until probably well into ’46. I don’t know the figures on this. There would have been the plutonium one that was dropped on Nagasaki but—

Groueff: But the very first was plutonium, no? In New Mexico?

Squires: No, the first two were uranium. [Misspoke: the Trinity test used a plutonium implosion device.] The Nagasaki bomb was never tested. It was tested on Nagasaki. Many of us feel that the Nagasaki bomb was dropped primarily to assuage the other part of the country. My own personal view is that it shouldn’t have been dropped.

How frank should I be with you on Keith?

Groueff: I’m not going to quote you.

Squires: If you’re not going to quote me, I’ll really unburden myself [laughter].

Groueff: Please do, because I’m asking everybody about him and I want the people in my book to be very colorful and be interesting to read about. From what you say and ten or twenty other people combined and from what he himself has said, I have already an idea about him. I have seen him three or four times. He told me his life story, his childhood, education, and so on. I have an idea of the man.

Squires: So if you want a real three-dimensional portrait of this guy I’ll give it to you [laughter]. This guy is a great, great engineer. He is also a great egotist. He is a child in many respects. I picture him as being a spoiled youngster, trying to look back into what his childhood must have been like. He cannot broke with rivalry.

My experience with Keith is that I worked for him not quite seventeen years. Mind you, I have great respect for him and what he did during the war. I am sure it would have been very hard to find—very few other people could have done it. He is enormously inventive, enormously resourceful, and he has this tremendous drive to get things done, but since the war he has slipped and he has become something of a tragic figure in American industry.

Of those seventeen years, something like fifteen-odd or not quite fifteen perhaps, I was the fair-haired boy and it was kind of a honeymoon. I was a tool and he used me hard. I worked hard and I did good work, but I can practically pin it down to the day when I became a rival, and from then on I was in the dog house. I couldn’t do anything right. My opinion was worthless. Where he had respected my opinion and taken it at its proper value, now he was not accepting it when it was right and often not accepting it, and six months later I realized that he was right. I pulled a lot of boners [mistake]. It suddenly came to a point where he just didn’t consult me anymore. Months would go by and he wouldn’t even call me down to his office. I had an idea that he had gone too close to the heart of things. It was too good—

Groueff: He was a jealous man then? Professionally and probably his ego is—

Squires: His ego is very important to him. This has booby-trapped him in several big projects since the war. We won’t go into them. Somebody probably mentioned Brownsville to you?

Groueff: I talked mostly about the period during the war.

Squires: You don’t know the post-war period? Oh dear. I’m probably spilling the beans [laughter].

Groueff: It is still the same man, so—

Squires: He has had some failures since the war. He had a colossal failure in Texas with a synthetic gasoline plant that was put up in Brownsville, Texas.

Groueff: Professional failure? He didn’t do it well?

Squires: That’s too strong a statement. The plant was a flop. Plants can flop for all kinds of reasons. We’ve just said that there was an element of luck at Oak Ridge. I’ve given you two or three instances where Oak Ridge could have flopped if some technical fact had turned out different. Suppose the manufacturer of a barrier to meet the specifications had proved a technical impossibility or certainly an impossibility in the time span allowed. Or to come back to the mass spectrometer; suppose that lousy mass spectrometer bias had been in the other direction? The plant would have looked like a lemon.

It was that kind of thing that happened to us at Brownsville. I was working for the company that built Brownsville, and I suppose in a sense Brownsville is on my head too, but I wasn’t making the decisions. It hasn’t haunted my career since, but it has haunted Keith. It has haunted him much worse than if he had just along about 1951 said, “Okay, this plant is a lemon boner. Let’s cut our losses and pull out.”

This isn’t the way he operates. He kept struggling.

Groueff: He is not used to failure and this K-25 must have boosted his self-confidence enormously. The man with the right decisions taking the risks and having the luck of all the intelligence.

Squires: Keith’s real problem is that he is a great engineer but he is not an administrator. He had people there at the Kellogg Company or in Kellex who kept the organization in line for him.

Groueff: Benedict told me about some friction between Keith and Al Baker. Baker was an organization man, huh?

Squires: Baker was an organization man.

Groueff: A methodical man, and Keith was full of fantasy?

Squires: Yeah. And I am sure there was great friction, and I am sure that Keith needed Baker. I don’t know the details. Manson was undoubtedly much closer to it than I was, but I am sure that Baker was very important for the orderly running of that shop because the company that Keith formed after the war, Hydrocarbon Research, was a very sloppily run organization. The lines of responsibility all radiated outward from Keith, and he was one man. It was a personal show.

Groueff: He contacted everybody in the team without going through channels.

Squires: No channels. He doesn’t believe in that.

Groueff: During the war, he would call Benedict and you and other people without going through—

Squires: That’s right. We were often in his office. The thing that he felt was important, the thing that interested him at the time was that he was right on top of it. The trouble with that kind of thing is that a man of that kind tends to overlook the side shows, which may be quite important for the final success of the operation. The trouble with Hydrocarbon Research as a company over the years was that failures in many of these side shows, where the attention was not being paid, caused trouble with their jobs, whereas at Kellex there were people like Baker and others too, from across the street from the Kellogg management side that saw to it that everything was shipshape all down the line. This is not Keith’s forte.

It is very hard for me to say this and give you a proper sense of balance. Hydrocarbon Research as a company has had a checkered career. They have built some beautiful plants, marvelous plants. There have been very, very able men working for Hydrocarbon Research and there, I am sure, are very able men working there now. They have built a number of oxygen plants that are prize examples. They built some good refineries. But the tendency has been for the good ones to be the ones that Keith was least interested in and which went through the shop as a regular, routine thing without meddling. He could come in, the job could be three-quarters through, and he could come in and suddenly decide that something is wrong and tear it apart and make a change, and maybe it is that change that causes trouble.

Groueff: He did a lot at Kellex and probably had tremendous luck, like the decision to change the whole Houdaille-Hershey plant at Decatur and to start producing different types of barriers.

Squires: The Linde [Air Products Division] barrier? The Tonawanda barrier? What was it called?

Groueff: I understand, when the new type of barrier was produced by Clarence Johnson and those people—

Squires: Oh, that is an earlier stage.

Groueff: The factory, the plant in Decatur was producing already the older type of barrier, so he had to take the decision to never mind the old production.

Squires: Scrap that.

Groueff: Scrap that, and also the decision—

Squires: This is something I know very little about.

Groueff: But you told me today about the shape?

Squires: Making them round rather than flat.

Groueff: So probably after getting it right once or twice or five times, it gives a man tremendous— probably he becomes overly self-confident that he can’t make a mistake, which is a dangerous thing.

Squires: Certainly he and the whole HRI Organization went into this Brownsville job sort of feeling cocky. It was just a big disaster technically and also economically. We can’t be blamed for that altogether. In fact, I don’t think we can be blamed for it at all. The real economic purpose of the plant ceased to exist almost before they even tried to operate the plant. This is a very bad combination of circumstances, to try and put a plant right to get the money and make the changes and so on. Even more than that, there just wasn’t the technical knowledge yet at the time that the plant was started to know how to put it right. It was a stink, and it made a big stink all over the industry. Unfortunately, Keith’s stature, his reputation in the profession, in the chemical engineering profession, and the whole industry, today is simply not what it should be.

Groueff: Because of?

Squires: Primarily this one big failure. It was a tragedy for him. I’ve seen the difference. He has never really been quite the same since.

Groueff: That was in 1950?

Squires: The firm that built the plant went into bankruptcy I think in ’52, or something like that.

Groueff: So it is already an old story.

Squires: Oh, it’s already an old story.

Groueff: But during the Kellogg thing, what kind of boss was he? Was he dictatorial or authoritarian?

Squires: Oh yes.

Groueff: Very strict and severe with subordinates? Shouting? What was his manner of giving orders?

Squires: Look, this man [Percival Keith] is an actor. I’ll never forget one day at Hydrocarbon Research when he kept a whole bunch of us late one evening and he was griping about it. He had to meet his wife uptown and we were making him stay late. He would say this about every five minutes and interspersed in this, it was just a big dressing down. Everybody was giving him stones when he asked for bread and nobody would do what he wanted. I can’t remember what the crisis was, but there was shouting. The organization had let him down, and he was shouting and pounding his fist on the table, and it was a show from about 5:00 to 6:15. I don’t know, I had a dinner date or concert tickets or theater or something and I was getting very nervous. I wanted out of there [laughter].

He hit the table so hard that a piece of veneer fell off the underside and it was just like a follow through. He kept right on with his speech, and he reached down and he tried to put it back for about fifteen to twenty seconds, and he just kept on the speech. Then he looked and saw what he was doing, and he threw it across the room just as hard as he could throw it. He sat there kind of hunched over as if it was just milk and honey [laughter] for about five minutes, and he dismissed us. I’ll never forget it.

I’ve seen him put on acts like this, when you think the adrenaline is just shooting through him and I know him well, it’s not. It’s theater.

Groueff: Did that scare the employees? Was he very feared?

Squires: Lots of people were terrified of him.

Groueff: He wasn’t the type of very friendly?

Squires: Well, that depends. I think it depends on the person who worked for him. I never was scared of him and I always liked him and I didn’t mind being shouted out, until we really almost had this kind of a break because I was in the doghouse for about two years. Then I decided it was his company and there wasn’t room for both of us, so I left.

Groueff: But your relations were very good?

Squires: Very good. I would say he recognizes talent, he recognizes brains and he knows how to use them almost beyond their abilities. If people thrive under this kind of thing, he can be very sweet.

There is a streak of sentiment. I should give you another side of his character and I can illustrate it again with my own experience. Starting in ’52, I have always been an amateur musician, but a curious sequence of events led to my starting to do professional music and this got more and more and more time consuming. I am a singer, but then later I worked with New York Pro Musica. I don’t know if you now the group or not. Norm Greenberg is the conductor.

Groueff: I’ve heard the name but—

Squires: I was one of the original members in this group.

Groueff: You’re a singer yourself?

Squires: Yes.

Groueff: Tenor or bass?

Squires: Tenor. I’m a good singer. I’m not perhaps as good a singer right now. I’m a little bit rusty as I have been, but I have been.

Groueff: As a young man also? When you worked for Kellex?

Squires: During those four years I didn’t sing a note. Maybe at an office party, but I just didn’t have time. We were working fifty, sixty, sixty-five hours. I was playing concerts and opera and music is sort of my first love but I had done a lot of, you might almost call it semi-professional music during college days. I directed church choirs and sang in churches and did things like that. I had experience and positions of responsibility, to sing a solo every Sunday in church, direct the choir, and that kind of thing. Early in the 50s, this interest—New York is a marvelous place to meet people and things develop and you get asked to do things, so you do them and suddenly find that here is something that is happening and you’re caught up in it. New York Pro Musica has become one of the leading chamber music ensembles of the world. They just came back from an eight-week tour of Russia.

I’m proud of this past association with them. I was a charter member. I hung on just as long as I possibly could. I think my last concert with Pro Musica as a regular member was in April of ’58 but there were about six years there that I was taking enormous quantities of time off. I’d just go in and say: “I’m going to be gone next week. We’re going out on a concert tour.” 

And off I’d go to Wichita, Wisconsin, and whatnot, and I’d be gone a week and that was that. Well, of course that would come off my vacation, and by the time two weeks are gone there is no more vacation left. Another week would come and another week, and when you add it all up I was probably out of the office five weeks a year there towards the end. He was terribly sweet about this. Mr. Keith fancies himself as a poet. I have never seen his poetry, but I’ve been told this.

Groueff: He told me he reads poetry a lot.

Squires: I’m pretty sure if you’d have quizzed him properly you would have found out that he writes it. He may be diffident about saying that he does. I’m not positive about this but I believe I’ve been told that. He certainly is a man who appreciates good things.

Groueff: He is a cook and expert in wine.

Squires: He is a real expert of many parts and I am sure that his attitude towards my music career was that, “Well, Arthur has this other side of his existence that is important and it is an opportunity and you shouldn’t cut if off.” It was important to me. It became less important as it got more and more arduous. When it got to the point where I was doing an average of a concert a week and three or four rehearsals a week and was holding down two jobs, I was getting weary of it and I got out in part because it was just getting too time consuming.

Groueff: I would like to hear something about yourself and your background and where you come from and your education.

Squires: I was born in Kansas and grew up mostly in Missouri in a very small town near Kansas City. I went to the University of Missouri in the middle of the Depression.

Groueff: What kind of family did you come from? Scientists or musicians?

Squires: No. My father, I don’t know what to call him. He had a checkered career. My grandfather was a pioneer. Both of my grandfathers and my great-grandfather were pioneers on practically all sides. My grandfather Squires was one of the first settlers in Wilson County, Kansas and made something of what was a fortune in those days in cattle feeding. My father, as a child, remembers driving cattle to Kansas City before the railroad came to that part of Kansas. My father was born in 1881. My grandfather set up my father as a banker and then he went broke in ’19, I guess it was, when there was that sharp, little depression, and he way overextended himself during the war. From then on, he had a checkered career.

We went to Missouri and he bought an ice plant. This was when I was a small child. He ran this ice plant, and I guess ran it profitably for a number of years in the middle 20s but that went under in the Depression. I don’t think it could be said as his fault. A lot of people went under in the Depression. He did various other things. It was a shame that he didn’t have technical training. He could have made a good engineer, my father, because he had enterprise and imagination but often for these projects he lacked the technical background.

The last thing he did, which was really very nice as a kind of finish of his career, he went to Biloxi, Mississippi and built one shrimp waste dehydrating plant for one group of backers that was a technical flop. It just didn’t work. Shrimp factories have the shrimp heads and the waste which, when dehydrated, makes a very high grade protein meal. But this first plant, the kiln just kept burning out and it didn’t work.

He invented a new kind of kiln, and I am quite sure it was a true invention and could have been patented, but probably wouldn’t have been a valuable patent because how many could he have sold? This one was a technical success and made meal during the war. It ran, I suppose, about three, three and a half years. It was built by Pennsylvania Financial Group. There was a tremendous shortage of fish meal during the war. It is the kind of thing that Norway ordinarily supplies.

After the war, the plant was continued but pretty much I gather on a kind of break-even basis. The hurricane of September ’46 took it away without trace, and I think the people of Pennsylvania were quite happy to write it off. My father was off the hook as far as had it been a success or a flop. If they had shut it down, it would have hurt him, and that is when he retired.

Groueff: How come you went into chemistry?

Squires: I don’t have a good answer for that. I like most everything. When I went to school, I went to the University of Missouri and my first year as freshman I had no idea what I wanted to do and I liked my course in zoology very much. I thought, “This is good. This will make a nice career.” But this was in 1934, and at eighteen years old and not having much notion of things and really very unenterprising as far as seeking advice from older people, all by myself I figured out that chemists will always have jobs. This is a very much Depression sort of philosophy, so I went over to the chemistry department.

Groueff: But you were capable of music?

Squires: I never had any illusions in those years. I was a good singer at eighteen. I was an excellent singer, but I had no desire to be a professional singer. I would never have made it in opera but I had no desire, I think again perhaps Depression. The musicians I knew were all peculiar. It is just not tempting.

Groueff: From University you went to Cornell for graduate school?

Squires: I graduated from the University of Missouri in ’38 and then I was at Cornell from ’38 to ’42.

Groueff: And straight to the Manhattan Project?

Squires: Yes, and from Manhattan Project in July ’46 to what was then Keith’s new company, Hydrocarbon Research. I worked for them until June 1, 1959, and since then I have been on my own.

Groueff: During the Kellex years you worked first in Jersey City and then Woolworth. Where did you live?

Squires: 342 West 14th Street. I think that was the address.

Groueff: In Manhattan?

Squires: Yeah.

Groueff: And you commuted every day?

Squires: I commuted to New Jersey for a few months from that address, and then it was very convenient once we got in the Woolworth.

Groueff: Were you married?

Squires: No, I am a bachelor.

Groueff: You became friends with Benedict or this group? He was an older man.

Squires: He was just my boss. He was seeking an employee, and there I was.

Groueff: By the way, I was wondering how men like Keith and men like Benedict—I only met him once but my impression of him was he is very much the opposite of Keith. He is rather quiet.

Squires: He is an introvert, yes. Manson is certainly in the near-genius class. He is the kind of a man who surrounds a problem and gobbles up every last little detail and becomes the authority in the area. He has done that now with a number of areas, so by now he is a tremendously knowledgeable man.

Groueff: Some would say that he has an extraordinary mind?

Squires: He does. He is exceptional. He is a tremendously gifted man, and you combine that with an enormous capacity for work, which he has, and a very serious man. You don’t joke with Manson. I hesitate to say some of these things because I am afraid of how you might use them, but he is the kind of man that if you go out to lunch with him, in the old days the New York state tax didn’t go on if it was under a dollar. If the waitress wrote one check and it was two lunches on it and the tax, then he wanted to tear that up and make two checks to avoid the tax [laughter].

Groueff: Semantics.

Squires: The other side of that, Manson was always extremely fair. He wanted full credit given.

Groueff: To all the people who worked for him?

Squires: To all the people who worked for him, but also to himself. He was punctilious about the assignment of credit for work done, both his own and others. He wanted nobody to imagine that what he had done had been done by somebody else, but it worked the other way too. He is not the kind of man, and I’ve run into people who will do this and have experienced it myself, who will take an idea from an underling and five minutes later be presenting it to the big boss as their own.

Groueff: But he was fair?

Squires: Extremely fair man.

Groueff: Would you consider him among the team at Kellex, that intellectually he was one of the highest?

Squires: If I had to assign credit for the success of the K-25 plant, I would put Keith first and Manson second. I would rate him that high. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t many other people that they could not have gotten along without, but I can imagine substitutes. It is also hard to imagine anyone taking their places, certainly not people on the project.

Groueff: So he was respected by the rest of the team?

Squires: Oh yes. Don’t you see the situation was an unusual one for these other men who would come in from the outside? Kellex, I suppose in February or March 1st of ’43, probably had 100 employees, in that order. Within six months, or certainly within a year, there were the order of 2,000 or 3,000, and it was during this period that very high people came in from Standard of Indiana and from ESSO and from other companies. Many of these people came in after the process design had been frozen. They had their own job to do to write specifications for instruments and write specifications for pumps. They didn’t understand the process. There wasn’t time to take them back over all of the things that we had been through. A lot of things had to be the word from on high, which was Manson, which was our group. There has never been a plant where the process design has dictated the final form of the plant quite as sharply and as markedly as in this particular plant.

Now, if you are putting up an ammonia plant, sure, the process man is an important man but the pump man, the vessel man, the heat exchanger man—all these people will have worked on other ammonia plants before and they know something about this plant. If the process man comes at them with something that looks crazy, they are going to holler. Whereas the people on the hardware side, putting this process into hardware terms, at Kellex were not in a position to judge whether our process ideas were crazy or whether they were sound.

Groueff: Nobody knew. There was no precedent.

Squires: There was no precedent and they just had to take our word for it. So if Manson had been a charlatan and a good charlatan, the kind who could bluff, the plant could have been a horrible catastrophe. That extreme is unlikely because there were too many other good people around checking. If he had been a real charlatan, the people up at Columbia would have soon found this out. He was respected at Columbia, but there was rivalry.

Groueff: Your contacts at Columbia were through what channels? John R. Dunning mostly, or Karl Cohen?

Squires: I didn’t see Dunning himself very often except in big meetings. I saw Karl Cohen some.

Groueff: It was on the level of Benedict then? Dunning?

Squires: Yes, it was so long ago that I am hazy on names. I saw Henry A. Boorse a good deal and there was this young fellow, at least he was then young, who has formed a company in the nuclear field, [John] Menke. I saw him a good deal in connection with pumps. The barrier people, these peoples’ names escape me for some reason. I spent a great deal-

Groueff:  [Edward] Adler? [Foster] Nix?

Squires: Nix, yes. I spent a great deal of time—Pontius was the name I was trying to remember before. He did a backbreaking job getting separation data on this tiny barrier, which then we later, after the plant ran, found out was biased. All of his work, not his fault, the mass spectrometer had built into it this bias which made all of his answers on the low side. All of Pontius’ work—

Groueff: It was for nothing.

Squires: No, no, no. It was good that it was that way and not the other way. I spent a great deal of time at the Columbia Laboratory in the summer and fall of ’42, because during the early days when Kellex was in Jersey City and there were so few of us really in both places, I was kind of a leg man. I did a lot of running back and forth and sitting in on really low-level meetings up at Columbia so that Manson could be informed almost daily.

Groueff: Your office was in the Woolworth Building?

Squires: No, I am talking about the Jersey City days. Once I got to the Woolworth Building we had this kind of—I didn’t run back and forth then; I was much too busy. We would often go up for meetings and they would come down to our place for meetings.

Groueff: Do you consider the whole K-25 something unique in history of chemical engineering or engineering? There was no such plan before or even after of this magnitude?

Squires: Not this magnitude, not this scale with so little to go on. Very few plants owned this scale of any kind, but certainly nothing that was so much out of the blue without design information ahead of time.

Groueff: And the designers say you did it in a few months? About five months?

Squires: We worked on the design about five months. The actual process design was put together, I would say, in less than six weeks.

Groueff: That was your group’s work?

Squires: Yes, this was in roughly February of ’43. This was the culmination of all of the studies that we’d made. We had designed imaginary plants for about five or six months and then suddenly we were faced with designing one, which we knew while we were designing it, was going to be built.

Groueff: And it was much before the barrier?

Squires: Oh sure.

Groueff: Was your design tried somewhere, or it went directly from design from your table to K-25?

Squires: The first operation of the equipment that we designed was conducted, and now I am hazy on this date, I believe it was as early as November of December of ’44. But it was conducted on fluorocarbon, not on the real thing.

Groueff: Not on the hexafluoride?

Squires: Not on the hexafluoride. There was this mechanical shakedown of one building, I believe late in ’44, October, November, December, along in there. That was the first time one could say that the mechanical design was put to the test. Meanwhile, everything else was being installed and the plant was coming at us by then. Things were being built. There were other buildings in all various stages of construction at the time, but this first one was much too late to make any radical changes. If there had been anything drastically wrong developed at that point, it would have meant a year or a year and a half delay. It couldn’t have been fixed. The stuff was coming at us and coming out of the pipeline. Then the first operation, as I said, on uranium hexafluoride was, I believe around February 20th and everybody was excited.

Groueff: But you hoped or you knew that it would work?

Squires: I think we felt quite confident at this point.

Groueff: Were there moments before that during the design period that you met some problems that you felt impossible to solve?

Squires: No. I would say that the worst moment probably was the decision to make the round barrier. From then on, I don’t say there weren’t problems. But from then on one saw hope at almost every stage. There was certainly never any sudden flurry of alarm that the whole project was not sound. There was no such thing as that.

Groueff: But the round barrier was quite a decision because you couldn’t have done the other design with a flat barrier. It would be completely different.

Squires: It would have been an entirely different mechanical or manufacturing problem, and I am convinced from what I know now. I am forty-eight now, Keith was forty-two then, and still haven’t had the kind of experience that he had but I have had enough experience with mechanical equipment, mechanical design, talked enough to mechanical engineers, to understand the reasons for this decision now, which I didn’t understand then. I just don’t think the flat thing would have been practical.

Groueff: At that time you were scared?

Squires: I was on the side of the scientists. Oh no, no. I was much too busy with my own work to worry about this. I wasn’t scared, but if it had been my decision I would undoubtedly have said flat.

Groueff: Another thing I wanted to ask: the blueprints or the design was physically done on what kind of paper, if I could describe it? Was it normal white sheets or blue paper? Pencil or ink?

Squires: Engineering drawings are usually done in pencil on thin paper, tracing paper. I can show you the kind of paper that is used. It is a thin paper.

Groueff: Slightly greasy and transparent?

Squires: That’s right. You can work on it in pencil.

Groueff: Tracing paper?

Squires: Tracing paper. You work on it in pencil and then get a print, a see-through type of reproduction process because the paper is, for all practical purposes, transparent. You either get a blueprint which turns out white on blue or what we call a black and white print, which is black lines on kind of a muddy brown. It isn’t white.

Groueff: Those sheets—after work, in the evening where did you put them?

Squires: Everything was locked up in the office. We were monitored by security people pretty closely. Stuff got put away at night in combination filing cabinets. I seem to remember there was a period that if you didn’t lock your cabinet when you left, you were called up even in the middle of night and made to come back down and lock it.

Groueff: By the security people?

Squires: By the security people. I believe that this happened to a few people. It never happened to me. We were, of course, extremely security conscious. There were several years after the war that if I didn’t have my briefcase in my hand, I felt like I was probably doing something horrible. It just became part of me.

Groueff: You discussed those particular problems only with the people on your team and Columbia people? For instance, you wouldn’t discuss the scientific problems with other scientists just—

Squires: Oh, not on the outside. Oh no, no. Nothing on the outside. It was just with people who were cleared, people on the inside. There were even categories of clearance on the inside. I, of course, was cleared for Top Secret. Anybody that had any knowledge of the actual productivity of the plant and time schedules and so on were cleared for Top Secret. We weren’t allowed to divulge this information to people who were only cleared for Secret.

Groueff: You had a card when you entered offices?

Squires: No. Now, how did people know that I was cleared? It was just known. I am sure that when we showed up at Y-12 our names had been sent ahead and they knew it was going to be all right.

Groueff: But in your office were there guards and security?

Squires: Yes, there were guards at the elevators that wouldn’t allow the public or anyone non-cleared. I am forgetting, we carried badges.

Groueff: Badges on the lapel?

Squires: Yes, and I am not even sure that the badge didn’t show the kind of clearance.

Groueff: I think they were different colors probably.

Squires: Perhaps. I am not sure. We had badges. I had forgotten that.

Groueff: And the mathematical calculations were done on a blackboard or, when you discussed it, for instance, between you and the others, or on paper?

Squires: Mostly on paper. In an engineering office, for some reason the blackboard has never caught on. I don’t know why this should be but engineers don’t do much work on a blackboard; scientists do.

Groueff: You do it on paper.

Squires: We do it on paper. Again, a trained engineer I am not and I never got this habit. Many engineers will work on thin paper with a good, hard, heavy pencil so that all of their calculations, their entire calculation sheet for the design of a plant, can be reproduced and put into a book. This is often done then, and the customer gets a copy or it becomes the basis of record for what the design is. If there was a mistake made, you can go right back and see the mistake right on the original. It is very useful. I do my work in books.

Groueff: Generally, was the work an atmosphere of silence or big excitement and talking?

Squires: There was an awful lot of goofing off. You have to understand, human beings are just the same in any situation. We were working regularly fifty-seven hours a week. I put in many seventy hour weeks and I can remember several eighty hour weeks. Now, in a situation like this, there are the people who get things done and there are the people who don’t. In an effort to expedite the job, we probably took on more men than was optimum for the job. So there were many people right in the very office where I worked, I won’t name any names, who the whole thing was just a picnic. Sure, they were there the fifty-seven hours during the week, but there was cut-ups and game playing. There was one fellow who I think probably spent fifty of his fifty-seven hours playing chess games by mail. Postcard chess games. It goes on, you know.

This happens, I think, in any office to some extent but you have to realize, some people do the work and some people don’t. You have to realize that in an ad hoc situation like this where the office was put together so quickly, it wasn’t people who had worked for many, many years and they hadn’t just grown with gradual addition of a few men one man at a time. You didn’t have the kind of tight control or even the experience on the part of bosses.

I had people who were responsible to me, but I had no experience as a boss. I was a poor boss and think I have always been a poor boss. I am not good at organizing large team efforts. I am so much happier just doing my own work. I am really much better suited for what I am doing now than working in a big organization. I didn’t know that then. Somebody could be working for me and not do more than two hours work a week and I wouldn’t say anything about it, whereas in a normal commercial situation I would have probably been screaming and I would have fired him, or somebody would have told me to fire him and then I would have fired him.

I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that there was a fantastic waste of the taxpayer’s money; there probably wasn’t. It was probably an extremely efficient job if you look at the total cost in terms of the results, but there were plenty of slackers and it was very understandable in the situation.

Groueff: Offices look busy and hectic and people are talking, coming in and out the doors and telephoning.

Squires: Yes, but I don’t think any more so than offices I have experienced since.

Groueff: But it wasn’t the kind of complete silence where everybody is writing and one word every one hour?

Squires: Oh no.

Groueff: Not formal.

Squires: People don’t live like that; at least not in my experience [laughter].

Groueff: Not even scientists? 

Copyright 1964 Stephane Groueff. From the Stephane Groueff Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Exclusive rights granted to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.