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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 8

In this interview, General Groves discusses his relationship with Vannevar Bush, the head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development [OSRD], and James B. Conant, the President of Harvard and a member of the National Defense Research Committee [NDRC]. Bush and Conant both played key roles during the Manhattan Project, acting as liaisons between Groves, the physicists, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Date of Interview:
January 7, 1965
Location of the Interview:


[We would like to thank Robert S. Norris, author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man, for taking the time to read over these transcripts for misspellings and other errors.]

Stephane Groueff: Hello. We are recording 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. General Groves part 8. General Groves. 

General Leslie Groves: Dr. Bush was a very able man in every respect, outside of our initial meeting, which was not particularly productive, as I have said before. Primarily I believe it is because he was taken by surprise. Second was because he was so anxious to have Styer in this position. 

Outside of that first meeting, everything was most pleasant and most efficient in our connections during the war. We became almost immediately friends and became very warm friends, and are still warm friends today. I think he placed our relationship very well, which was after about the first year. I would place that after the Quebec Agreement had been entered into. That is the negotiation leading up to it, which was in August of ’43. This situation was true. Towards the end of the war, Styer was relieved and sent to the Philippines to become, I think, Commander of the Philippines when McArthur moved on from that area. 

After he had left, General Somervell was talking with me one day. He said that he would like me to arrange to have Styer replaced on the Military Policy Committee by his new chief of staff, General Lutz. It is L-U-T-Z, I think. I said that that was not anything that I could do. But I would speak to the Policy Committee members when they met. The remaining two were Bush and Purnell. 

At the next meeting of the Policy Committee, I spoke about it. Bush said that he was opposed. He did not want anybody else. He went on to say that he will not know anything. Everything will have to be explained to him or he will just sit here and listen – in which case he will be no good. 

Furthermore, the Policy Committee is no longer of any importance anyway. He said, “You know so much more about all the work going on that we have become completely ineffective in every way.”

I said, “Well that isn’t true. I get a great deal of help from you, and you know that.” I said, “Furthermore, you are a body that expresses to the secretary of war and the president confidence in what I am doing. They know and I know that if you ever become dissatisfied with the way the work is going on, you can go to either the secretary or the president and say it is time to relieve Groves.” I said, “That is a very important thing. It helps me in a great many ways. Let us not talk anymore about this phase of it. “

That was really about what it became. The reason was obvious. I was working every day about sixteen hours a day on this one project. Admiral Purnell had other duties in the Navy Department. He had never gone into the details. He was not scientific. He was just a well-trained Naval Officer of great competence and great ability.

Dr. Bush was running OSRD and he had many other problems. Naturally, he would tend to divorce himself as far as his immediate attention went from anything that was running smoothly. Or if it was not running smoothly, at least he knew that he could not make it run more smoothly. In other words, there was nothing for him to contribute to it directly unless he was willing to spend all of his time, which he was not able to do. 

Dr. Conant, his alternate who always sat with us, was one of my two scientific advisors. He was in on the project up over his neck. He worked probably about half time on this project, which as an advisor is an awful lot of time to put in on anything. He knew what was going on.

He also was fully aware that there was no decision made by me of importance that hinged into areas where he was able to contribute. There was nothing that he did not know anything about either before it was taken or immediately thereafter, if it was a case where the matter had to be decided quickly. I think that shows how this growth of relationships came along. 

Bush was a very capable man. He had made a number of very fine inventions—money making inventions incidentally. He had been connected with MIT most of his life. He had been a graduate student there when I was an undergraduate, but I never saw him or knew him. 

Groueff: You met him only during the Manhattan Project?

Groves: I met him for the first time when I walked into his office and talked to him. Conant on the other hand—Bush served a very useful purpose to me. As long as Roosevelt was alive and really up until about 1944—I would say somewhere well into ’44—he served a purpose. He handled all relations with the White House. 

Groueff: Did he have a big influence on the president or Secretary Stimson? 

Groves: He had considerable influence on the President. No one ever knew who had influence on the President. 

Groueff: He was not one of his personal friends? 

Groves: Oh no, he was not a personal friend. It was a working relationship. Bush could see the president if he had something important to talk to him about. 

Groueff: The president would listen to him?

Groves: The president would listen to him, but the president listened to everybody. He’d pull an agreement, but you knew what he was going to do. 

Groueff: You never knew?

Groves: In other words, he would agree with two men with directly opposite viewpoints separately. They would go out thinking that everything was lovely. Then the next thing is probably neither one would be satisfied. It has been done before in Washington many times and in large organizations.

You sometimes get men that promise important places to more than one man. They have the sole power, so it is not the case that they are being forced to change their minds. They just are unwilling to tell one of them, “I will consider your name, but I do not think you have much chance.” Or, “I will just plain consider it.” No, they promise it to them.

It happened to me in one case earlier on an assignment where another officer told me that the chief of engineers had promised it to him. The position never came to pass, so we do not know. He had also promised it to me. It was just a direct promise. The same one had promised the district commissioner in Washington to at least two people, and I think to three. There is nothing that the man who does not get it can do, because he cannot afford to get at outs with this man who is so far up. 

Groueff: Roosevelt was this way?

Groves: Yes, Roosevelt was this way. 

Groueff: How did your meetings go by the way?

Groves: No, there was the one meeting that I described. Bush handled the Roosevelt connections. I think it is important to understand. I think it is one of the reasons that we were successful. It was that I was not personally anxious to be in the limelight. I was only interested in getting the job completed and completed the most satisfactory way.

If Bush would take care of the White House, that was fine with me. I did not want to go over and see the president. To see the president, it meant that you had to set up the appointment. It made it a very definite thing. It might interfere with something that you had to do. You could depend upon it that it would take most of the morning or an afternoon. You would sit and wait unnecessarily. You never knew when.

You could not make any other arrangements generally for that day. You could not go over to anywhere in the morning, for example, with the idea of an afternoon appointment. They might call from the White House and say we want you over here right away. It was a great inconvenience to have to carry on these engagements. 

I was very much pleased when Bush continued them. There were times at the start that Bush did not keep me fully informed as to what he was saying over there. After all, that was his prerogative. It did not bother me any. I knew that Conant knew what was being said. I knew that Conant would keep me advised of anything.

I saw Conant much more frequently than I did Bush. Primarily, it was because Conant would come to my office. Bush would come for a meeting, but not necessarily in between times. I would normally go up to his office in between times. That meant to talk to him for ten minutes would mean maybe three-quarters of an hour going up, getting there in time, and all that. 

Groueff: Where was Bush’s office? 

Groves: Bush was on 16th and P Street at the Carnegie Institute.  He was president of the Carnegie Institute. The Carnegie Institute was the scientific branch of the Carnegie Foundation. 

Groueff: OSRD had the headquarters there? 

Groves: They were there. When they were formed, Bush was made the head of it. He offered the space. The OSRD was divided into a number of divisions. There is a book out on OSRD that you might glance through by Baxter. 

Groueff: It is Scientists Against Time?

Groves: I think so. It was Phinney Baxter. 

Groueff: Yeah, I looked at it. It is a good book.  

Groves: He has one chapter on atomic energy that I think would be interesting for you to read. 

Groueff: Yeah, I read it. By the way, he speaks very highly of you.

Groves: Yes, and unfortunately I lost the book he sent me which was inscribed. It was a magnificent glowing inscription that I always wanted to save. Somebody got it. I do not know who or where. 

Groueff: It is very well documented. You can see that the man knew about it. 

Groves: He was a historian of OSRD. He was an old friend of Conant’s. He was very well acquainted with Bush. He was a very skillful historian besides. I am very anxious to get a copy of that book. If you find anything on it, I will—

Groueff: Oh yes, I have it out to a publisher that I can send you. 

Groves: The publisher may not be available. 

Groueff: In New York I can have it easily.

Groves: If you can, I would appreciate it. 

Groueff: He said something like America will never pay a tribute due to General Groves or something like that. 

Groves: His inscription was even more so. I would be very happy to get that book again if I can. 

Groueff: What kind of man was Bush as a person? 

Groves: He is very intense in a way. His only characteristic that was outstanding, I thought, always was that he did not like people when he first met them necessarily.

Groueff: He was cold or reserved?

Groves: Well, he was a New Englander and so was Conant. I am naturally reserved. I never called Bush anything but Dr. Bush during the war. I never called Conant anything but Dr. Conant. They never called me anything but General. 

Groueff: The first appearance was rather reserved and cold?

Groves: Yes, I would say it was cold. It is like the young officer I was sending over to Europe to handle certain diplomat affairs. I had forgotten what it was in connection with. In any case, it must have been with the Alsos Mission to Rome or something of that kind generally. I wanted him to see Bush before he went to meet Bush.

Bush met him and called me up afterwards. He talked to me afterwards. He said that fellow will never do. The man was very young in appearance. He was a Princeton graduate, an engineer, but he never really practiced any engineering except in the Army as in the construction division. I pulled him over into this.

He was like a lot of Princeton boys — smooth and all of that. But he looked like he was about eighteen. He did not talk very much, but he could handle himself anywhere. Bush did not like him at all. I thought, “Oh my, I will have to get somebody else because it was tied in with Bush’s operation somewhat on OSRD.”

I was talking to Bush a couple of days later. I said something about, well, “I have been hunting around for a man to take the place that I had [Robert] Furman for. I think I have the man now.”

Bush said, “What do you want to replace him for? He is a fine fellow. I think he is all right.” Now whether he had seen Bush after that or whether something else had happened, I do not know. But that was rather typical of Bush. It is sort of a nice quality in a lot of ways.

I do not know whether there was much jealousy of Bush. He had a lot of prima madonnas under him, but he was able to give them a free hand. They respected him as being academic, you see. He had been the vice-chairman at MIT. 

Groueff: Was he kind of authoritarian or bossy in his manner? 

Groves: Yes, a little. He wanted his own way in a lot of ways until he had confidence. He had a great deal of self-confidence. Let us put it that way. Until he had confidence in the opposite number, he just was like I was. He thought he knew better. I think you find that is true of a lot of people who are really leaders and competent people. 

Groueff: Definitely. 

Groves: Conant was a little bit different. Conant was a very reserved New Englander. He kept his poise, of course, under any condition. Of course, he was running Harvard with one hand and down here with the other.

He was spending most of his time down here on OSRD matters. Then after this thing came along, he spent even more time with this. You saw him on television the other night. You saw how young he looked. He is about six years older than I am, I guess. 

Groueff: Yeah, he really looks very young. 

Groves: He looks just the same as he always did. He looked that way when I first saw him. As a prodigious worker, he always referred to himself as a retired chemist who could not really understand what this was all about. That was not true. He understood the physics, as did Bush. 

Groueff: He knew a lot. 

Groves: Oh yes. He knew everything that was needed to know. Of course, remember that we did not know anything at that time. Nobody did. 

Groueff: Nobody knew much more than Conant. The other scientists did not know much more about it. 

Groves: They did not know much more than Conant did. They did not know much more than I did. It was all new. I could not have gone in and done their radioactive microchemistry. I would not have known where to start. But I could understand their results. They might work for months and come out with one little piece of information like the radioactive cross-section for example, the recapture cross-section, or the specific gravity of plutonium. After all, when you are weighing a spec it took quite a lot of effort to get the specific gravity.

Well, it did not mean anything. They did not know anymore when they got through than I knew when they told me. Nobody knew, for example, when we started, whether plutonium under natural conditions with temperatures and pressure would be a solid, gas, or a liquid. We could think it would probably be like uranium, which was of course a solid. There is no reason to think that it would be anything different, but nobody knew. You could not.

As Nichols said some years ago, he said, “We would have a terrible time today if we were suddenly assigned to do this all over again with the state of knowledge that is existing.”

I said, “It would be sort of hard, would it not?”

He said, “Yes, we could not even touch it.” Which was true. But at that time, we were all in the kindergarten together. If you had a reasoning mind, you could reason just as well as they could. 

Groueff: It was lucky that all of you and Bush came. You had the basic training, which enabled you to understand it. 

Groves: You see, Conant was a distinguished chemist. 

Groueff: He was a professional.

Groves: He was in it professionally. He was a consultant, I think, to a number of companies. He was a professor at Harvard and a very young, brilliant professor. Then he was made president of Harvard. Then he gave up chemistry. He never lost it. 

Groueff: The other scientists respected that in him?

Groves: They respected it in him and in Bush. But a lot of them who were young and brash, or had motives such as Szilard did, they like to throw mud on the knowledge of Bush and Conant on the grounds that they were too old to understand this new field. That was about it. Conant made no bones about it. He always said, “I am a retired chemist,” but it did not make any difference. Conant and I could sit there and listen to their discussions. They could decide what should be done without any question. 

Conant was not striking in appearance. There is one story that illustrates that, but it cannot be used. I do not think it would be pleasing to Conant. I was coming down from New York by train and happened to meet Conant on the train. I did not know he was going to be on. We talked together. As we got off, I said to him—of course, during the war taxis were scarce entities—I said, “I expect my wife to be meeting me. If you would like to, we would be very glad to take you on home. I am sure she is just going straight home.”

This was in the evening, about eight o’clock, I guess. He said, “That would be very nice.” My wife was there and I introduced them. She was not particularly pleased because she had to park a number of blocks from the station and it started to rain. We started out and she did not pay any attention to him, except to just speak politely of course.

When we got in the car, she said after a few minutes, “Your name is Dr. Conant. I suppose you are one of the Massachusetts Conants.”

He said “Oh yes.”

Then finally, she talks up and says, “Are you any relation to the president of Harvard?”

He said, “Yes, I am the President of Harvard.”

Groueff: He did not look it?

Groves: Oh no. He had a very sad looking straw hat on. It was a floppy kind. It was a hot day and miserable weather. She was not pleased of having to come down. We were hot and rumpled. You know how you are after a trip in hot weather. 

Groueff: He looked young also? 

Groves: What?

Groueff: He looked young probably, too. 

Groves: He did not look like a college president that you would see. We let him off at his house. She then proceeded to tell me a few things. He was living there at the Bliss Estate. Do you know where the Bliss Gardens are here in Washington? 

Groueff: No.

Groves: They were the home of Mr. Bliss, who was an ambassador for a number of years. He was an extremely wealthy man. He was not a career diplomat. He was just one of the wealthy diplomats. I think he was in Paris. I am not certain just what capital, but he was the type that would go to Paris. He and Mrs. Bliss gave their estate, which was a very famous one in Washington, to Harvard for Byzantine Studies. They run it on that basis. He also gave money enough to maintain it as Harvard wanted to maintain it. He had had, I think, twenty-four gardeners on the place. Conant cut it down to about four. 

Groueff: Conant used to live there?

Groves: They had a little apartment nearby. It was a little small apartment building where these graduate students could live. In other words, they work at Harvard. Then they would come down there for maybe six weeks to two months or to a year. They had these tremendous examples of Byzantine art, which he was a famous collector. There was also the Library of Congress and other things handy. Conant lived there during the war. 

Groueff: It was in this apartment?

Groves: It was in this little apartment that had been built there later for them. He did not live in the big house. 

Groueff: It was not in the estate?

Groves: It was just around the corner.

Groueff: It was around the corner?

Groves: If you have spare time sometimes, particularly in the spring or in the fall—anytime but right now—take some time out and go up to that old estate. 

Groueff: It is outside of Washington?

Groves: Oh no, it is on about R Street in Georgetown. 

Groueff: Oh, maybe I will go and see it.

Groves: I think just as a matter to show you that we do have some things like that in the United States, it would be of interest. It is magnificent. I think it is something that you might think would be an interesting background for a piece in your own magazine. In other words, it might be a piece of an article. I doubt if you would want to make it a whole article, but it is a piece on that type of living in America. This is gone ordinarily today because nobody can—

Groueff: Nobody can afford it?

Groves: Who can afford twenty-four gardeners, let alone the inside help? That is about what Conant was like. He was a most agreeable man in every way. His heart and soul was in the war. He had a son in the Navy – submarines. 

Groueff: This was during the war?

Groves: It was during the war. He had another son who was very young, who was I think disqualified for active service for some reason or another. This boy went into the Merchant Marine and was a radio operator. Conant used to talk to me about that. He asked me if the enlisted men in the Army and Navy were as low creatures as they were in the Merchant Marines. I said no. The Merchant Marines is just about the lowest of the low. 

He says, “Well from what my son tells me, which has already been very heavily censored, it must be a terrible place.”

I said, “Well it is.”

His son in the Navy was on a sub that was hit by a depth charge. That incapacitated the boy for quite a while. 

Groueff: He was in the Pacific?

Groves: Yes, it was in the Pacific in a sub. This depth bomb from a Jap crew destroyer landed and exploded apparently just above the deck. It was enough to disable the ship and it had to return to base, but not enough to where I do not think anybody was killed. They had terrific internal shocks and they may have broken their feet. 

Groueff: And the boy, too, was injured?

Groves: Huh? 

Groueff: The boy was injured? 

Groves: He was injured quite badly. I think it was mostly the mental condition of being shell shocked, which is quite characteristic if you are right in the midst of an explosion. It does not keep you from doing what you want to do, but your hands will shake. You do not have the control that you normally had. You are nervous with everything that you do. That was my own experience with it. It took about two years to get over that. 

But Conant was a very able man in every way. One thing that may be of interest was the British were very enthusiastic about their gas diffusion process. It was to the point that I felt they were criticizing the way that we were proceeding with our general methods.

One thing that we did, for example, was the British wanted the barriers to be assembled into small blocks interspersed so that they would look just like the French pastry known as a Napoleon. You know what that is? That is the way those layers were put together. There would have been literally tens of thousands of those things. They have been just about the size of a Napoleon.

We wanted it. We were designing our plant to have these long tubes as a barrier, so the gas would go in the tube, and then it would come out, or vice versa. It would be strained as it went through. 

They also criticized other things about our proposed method of operation. It became quite evident to me that the best thing we could do—this was after the Quebec Agreement—was to have a group come over here. If they did have anything, let us find it out in time. We would not change anything that there was no advantage in changing, accepting that they imbedded it. They proposed it and we proposed this. Then we would stick to ours unless there was a real reason for changing because of the time.

You cannot constantly change your directions. We had this group over. I realized that they were not convinced. You do not convince Englishmen very easily. You do not convince any scientist. If he has developed something, you cannot convince him that another way is better. It is awfully hard to do it. They talk a lot about having open minds, but they do not. They are just human. That is all.

You know very well that if you wrote a piece and somebody else edits it, you always think he spoils it. He never helps it. He always hurts it in this case. I finally decided that if we let these people go back and talk, the first thing I know is I will be getting word from the White House through Bush. Maybe it would be someone over directly. I may just get a note through Bush saying that the president thought we should adopt the British method.

The British throughout, because of Churchill’s great capacity and because Churchill did not waste his time on inconsequential things as Roosevelt did by seeing politicians and starting in with new deal ideas throughout the war – this was instead sticking right to the question of winning the war. 

Quite often, there would be a dispute between the Americans and the British over there. For example, there was a meeting here to decide on tractor type vehicles and how they should be apportioned. They are all made here. There is a case, really. It should have been a case of how many did we feel we could spare the British. Instead, they came in as if it was their right to these machines.

At the meeting, it was decided that the Americans would come first and supply their active troops that were all ready to go overseas. They were in their final training days. The British would get a small allotment, and the Russians would get a token. That was all decided. This came from an officer that was in the meeting and involved in such things.

The next day they received a little note from the White House stating that with respect to these, the President wished that so many be made available to the British, so many to the Russians, and the remainder to the American troops. It meant that the American first line combat divisions were stripped of the equipment they should have had.

It all came about because the English got immediately to Churchill and explained it very carefully. He called Roosevelt on the phone. Roosevelt, knowing nothing about it, decided it. This was instead of saying, “I will take this up with our people and let you know.” Oh no, he decided it right then and there. That happened repeatedly through the war. 

I was afraid that this thing might occur in this occasion. I said, “If it happens, they probably talk to Bush. We will have a meeting in New York. I will ask Conant and Tolman, as my scientific advisors, to sit with me. Then if the matter is brought up with Roosevelt and Bush, Conant will tell Bush. I will ask him to explain the whole affair to him. Then, we can nail it right then by telling Roosevelt, ‘Oh no. We cannot change to that.’”

We could have gotten away with it because he would not send a preemptory order to Bush saying change to this. He would just say, “Churchill feels this way and his people do very strongly. I think you had better look into it.” That is all you needed to delay the project three or four months. As soon as you start to look into anything, you take the drive out of your people. My whole purpose was to get more and more drive into them. I did not want anything that would impair them. 

The meeting was held. At that time, the British were very insistent that they were right. We made it very plain that they were not. The biggest thing was the British did not believe – and that is covered in here pretty well – the British did not believe that we could finish when we said we would. It would be much later. Of course, it was all important to the war effort. Was our time schedule reasonable?

Anyway, the purpose was accomplished. Of course, nobody I guess besides myself knew what that purpose was. It was to be sure that Conant and Tolman had a complete picture and that they were convinced that we were right. It was not because I wanted their approval to go ahead. But I wanted to block off any attempt to change it. That is typical of the thing.

Conant did a lot of other things. When we had trouble at Oak Ridge on our second stage on chemistry, Conant spent about a week down there studying it. 

Groueff: Was it in diffusion? 

Groves: It was in the gas diffusion – no, it was in the electromagnetic second stage. 

Groueff: Yeah.

Groves: We were finding that we would take this fourteen percent material approximately from the first stage, put it into the second stage, and then we would not get anything out. Not only would we not be rich, but we would not get anything out. It was staying in the process pipes. 

Groueff: He worked as a chemist?

Groves: He worked not as a chemist, but as someone discussing chemical matters and of course asking the pertinent questions. In anything that was this character, it was the same thing that I did throughout. If you have experts, the main thing that you want to be certain of is that the expert is sure that he is right.

Second is that he has done an adequate amount of thinking with an open mind. If the man is discussing something that you know nothing about, by proper questioning you can determine first that he knows what he is talking about in this field, second is that he has studied the thing thoroughly and has arrived at this conclusion. Third is that he has not left out anything. 

An example of that was in very early construction days of the construction program. There was a camp that was causing us a great deal of difficulty. They had underestimated their difficulties of completion.

At that time, I had to tell the War Department forty days in advance of when a camp would be ready for National Guard troops. The National Guard was given a thirty day warning notice, then ten days in their armories getting assembled, and then reported. At that time we were taking 120 days to finish a camp from start to finish. Those forty days before it was finished and ready for them to move in, we were not even half done. You had only used two-thirds of your time.

It was the starting time and getting started that took so much time. Of course, we did not have the camp completed either. It was merely completed to an extent of what we termed ready for initial occupancy. The hospital, for example, normally took 120 days before the hospital, if the unit was at full strength, was fully occupied according to our plans. Men would stay there a certain length of time, and then he would move onto a general hospital.

It took between ninety and 120 days for the hospital to fill. You did not need all of the wards in the hospital, but you needed the operating rooms. You needed the steam for sterilization. You needed quarters for the initial group of doctors, nurses, and listed men, but you did not need the quarters for all of them. That was true throughout. It was a very difficult thing to do. 

On this occasion, I went down just about a week before it opened. I had been there before and had done the same thing. There we got everybody who was a key man in the room together. I went over the whole business and asked them how they stood on this point and this point. I normally lasted on a camp about an hour to an hour and a half. I would say who is responsible for such and such an area. Then I would talk to that man. I finally said everything seems to be in order here. I think we are all right. I just made a few comments about the importance. I said, “I hope there is no difficulty now with that steam plant in the hospital.”

That is the only thing that seems to be doubtful. In order to put the bricks in the furnace, our bricklayers would have to work like this and that close together. It is the only way you can get the work done in the time that was permitted. I saw a look on somebody’s face. I said, “I do not think we are in good shape. There is some man back there that looks kind of worried about something.” I said, “What is bothering you?”

He said, “You know Colonel, we forgot to order the hip jack for the smokestack on the roof. The hip jack is the piece that comes up like this and then goes into the stack.”

I said, “How long is it going to take to get it?”

He said “Oh, about three weeks.”

Then we figured out how we were going to put a substitute in for it. Some of these hospitals in these camps, we brought in steam locomotives. We borrowed them from the railroads and hooked them into our steam lines. You see steam was essential for sterilizing. Then about three or four hospitals we brought in steam locomotives and put them right in there. Of course, nobody had ever done anything like that before. But it was perfectly alright, and it worked. That I think was the way that the questioning was done. 

Groueff: The pertinent questions are very important?

Groves: The pertinent questions are the kind of questions that you are used to asking when you interview anybody. Just try to explore to see is the man somebody you can depend on. Is he really telling the truth, or is he gilding it a little? Or is he just all about it? You know just what that type of thing is.

That is the kind of questioning that I did throughout. Conant would do the same thing, but in much more technical detail on chemistry. Conant also understood nuclear physics very well because after all we all did as well as anybody else did. 

Groueff: Was his relationship with his sons an easy one? Did they trust each other mutually? 

Groves: They had a tremendous respect for his ability because they all knew that he had been a distinguished chemist. Then of course, it was very disarming for somebody to say I do not know anything about it. I am just a retired chemist. 

Groueff: You and Conant, you had a very good relationship?

Groves: I would say it was absolutely perfect. 

Groueff: It was perfect? You never had trouble with him?

Groves: No. Anything that I asked him to do, he always did. He was not under my complete control you might say, because after all he was working with Bush. He was running Harvard. If I had trouble somewhere where I wanted him to spend any time or I wanted him to make a meeting or something, he would always do it. But he might not be able to do it on the day.

He might have a meeting with the Board of Overseers at Harvard. He could not say, “Well no, I cannot go. General Groves has something for me to do.” The thing finally got so tough that he finally went to the Board of Overseers at Harvard. He said that he was devoting so much time away from Harvard that he was perfectly willing to resign as president of Harvard if they wanted him to. Perhaps it would be the best solution. They refused his resignation, naturally. All you had to do is if he had a vacant day in there – there was nothing that he would not do.

Groueff: He was a great worker?

Groves: Oh yes. He was a very competent person. 

Groueff: He and Bush were friends before?

Groves: Oh yes. 

Groueff: They were personal close friends?

Groves: Yes. They had known each other for years. Of course, Conant had always been on a level far above Bush. Bush had been sort of a number two man at MIT. Conant had been the President of Harvard. In Boston at that time—I do not know about it today—but at that time, if you said something about the president in Boston you did not mean the president of the United States. You meant the president of Harvard.

Groueff: That is the top position?

Groves: That was a great position in that area. It was.

Copyright 1965 Stephane Groueff. From the Stephane Groueff Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Exclusive rights granted to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.