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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

James C. Stowers’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Lt. Col. James C. Stowers was an engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers and became the unit chief for the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Stowers and his staff of officers were headquartered in the Woolworth Building in New York. Stowers negotiated the divide between civilian and military contributors, and worked intimately with the Kellex Corporation, Union Carbide Company, and the Houdaille-Hershey Company to produce a suitable barrier for the gaseous diffusion project. In this interview, Stowers describes in great detail the many trials and tribulations that challenged the creation of the gaseous diffusion plant.

Date of Interview:
March 3, 1965
Location of the Interview:


Stephane Groueff: Mr. James Stowers.

James Stowers: We had a responsibility of procurement, which was not generally—it was not generally known. Going into this job, the Kellogg Company wanted to be well protected. They didn’t want to lose any money, it’s understandable. And they did not want to get entangled in having to defend a lot of actions, which they knew would have to be taken fast and furiously during this period.

So they refused to do any procurement over fifty thousand dollars. That meant that my staff, that I had to do all the procurement, which amounted to over fifty thousand dollars. And when you consider that there were probably a hundred and fifty to two hundred million dollars worth of materials and equipment ordered, this meant a number of procurements not only to initiate but to expedite, and follow-up. In some cases, build plants so that the equipment could be built. So I had a handpicked staff. There were only about twelve to fifteen officers.

Groueff: They were all career officers?

Stowers: No, none of them were career officers. All of them were reserve officers and then most of them—and this was a criteria I used to some extent—had been associated with the Army during Civilian Conservation Corps days back in the thirties. I was myself and I knew that the officers then were—

Groueff: You were a reserve officer?

Stowers: I was a reserve officer.

Groueff: And yet, you were not a career?

Stowers: No, no, no, I’m a retired reserve officer. But these officers were thrown out on their own to just create something from nothing. So they had to develop initiative. So I picked a good many of those and also, picked officers who either owned their own business or were pretty high up in a going manufacturing concern.

Groueff: All of them with industrial experience.

Stowers: All of them, if possible, with either industrial or construction experience. And this chap here, for example, Mars, one of the finest officers that I had, he owns some cotton mills and peanut oil in Alabama. And he knew how to make money on the prime circumstances, he knew basic values. And there were others who had similar experience.

Then we get over, well, beginning with [Percival] Keith’s staff, which—I suppose you got the complete rundown from him.

Groueff: I would like to—some of the pictures I saw. This one of Keith and [A.L.] Baker but for instance, [John] Arnold, I didn’t see.

Stowers: Yes, John Arnold was a sort of unsung hero.

Groueff: I’m going to interview him next week. And Manson Benedict.

Stowers: He and Arnold worked together and of course, it was known as a famous team of Benedict and Arnold.

Groueff: Yes. All those pictures that were taken of the Woolworth Building, no?

Stowers: Yes.

Groueff: And your offices were there?

Stowers: Our offices were there on two or three floors. It varied from time to time. [John] Dunning was down there part of the time. But you spoke of Dr. [Harold] Urey being somewhat of a negative nature. I think that was good for the project. It’s good to have a skeptical person. And this Dr. Elsey was brought in by Keith and assigned that very job of looking at the work critically and trying to find something the matter with it and come back to tell him—not to other people but come back and tell him.

Groueff: Dr. Elsey. E-L-S-E-Y.

Stowers: That’s right. Also, [J.C.] Hobbs did the same thing.

Groueff: And he was telling people what was wrong.

Stowers: That’s right. And many times, it resulted in nothing except the person just being sure that he was right. And other times, it would result in a change.

Groueff: Because some of the people like Dunning who were always very optimistic.

Stowers: Very optimistic, yes. I could tell you a little thing about Dunning that he may have forgotten. In the Columbia laboratory, I believe it was called SAM – S-A-M – Laboratory [Substitute Alloy Materials]. They did the first of the barrier work from a material they had developed over there. And it was made into a sheet to be used in the plant. And then Dunning brought the first one down to our staff meeting, wrapped in newspaper and brought it in the subway, carrying it along there.

And two criteria it had to have. One was, of course, its characteristics, that it acted like a barrier should act. The other one was that it be a structural material. So he just beamed as he brought the thing in. He laid it on the table and he said, “We have it. We have it, we knew we were going to do it and we have it.”

And Keith says, “Is it strong?”

He said, “Oh, yes, it’s strong.”

And I asked the same question, “Is it strong?”

And with that, I picked it up like this, gave it a little whip, and it broke in half. His face dropped to the floor. That was the first of the barriers but it was not the barrier which was later used.

Groueff: So but how come you got connected with the project?

Stowers: It was through some work I had done for the Corps of Engineers under Colonel Sam Sturgis. I was doing construction procurement for them.

Groueff: During the war?

Stowers: During the war, the first part of the war.

Groueff: You were mobilized?

Stowers: I was mobilized in the beginning of 1940 and by ’42, I’d been in the Corps of Engineers office in Washington later assigned to Vicksburg District, where they had a lot of cantonments, ordnance plants, etc., being built at one time and the procurement problem of the material flow and so on was terrific. So I did him a job there and he seemed to appreciate it. And a classmate of his, Jim Marshall, asked for recommendations for people on important work and he gave me his recommendation. I had no idea why he was doing it until after I reported.

Groueff: Well, so you reported where?

Stowers: I reported to New York.

Groueff: New York.

Stowers: New York, yeah.

Groueff: To Colonel Marshall’s office?

Stowers: Colonel Marshall’s office. And at that time, I was the number one man. I was a man, the first known as the K-25 Project. Marshall’s office had already determined that Kellogg should do the design work on this particular plant. And they were talking at that time to Carbide and Carbon Chemicals division for Carbide, for the other part, so neither of the contracts were drawn at that time so we drew the contracts up pretty fast.

Groueff: So when Colonel Marshall was replaced by General [Leslie] Groves, you remained—

Stowers: I remained there. I remained there but had to establish an Area Office to do this particular work. At that time, the headquarters for the entire Manhattan District was in New York. It started there.

Groueff: And you were responsible to whom?

Stowers: To Colonel Marshall and later, to—

Groueff: [Kenneth] Nichols.

Stowers: To Nichols, that’s right.

Groueff: So your immediate superior later was Nichols and then Groves. That was the line?

Stowers: Well, I’m not sure. The line is a little bit fuzzy there. Nichols and Groves, at one time, were the District Manager or District Engineer and the Deputy District Engineer so that made me report to Groves from the Army organization. Later, Groves took on a different title and Nichols was made District Engineer.

Groueff: But in New York, you were the head of the district in New York or whatever it was called, the K-25 Project.

Stowers: Only on the K25, which was the gaseous diffusion plant. They were also, at the same time, building the project known as Y-12, which was—

Groueff: Electromagnetic.

Stowers: Yes.

Groueff: But Keith was in charge of the civilian organization then, no?

Stowers: Keith was in charge of the Kellex group, it was a dual head with [Albert I.] Baker in charge of the mechanical engineering and the expediting.

Groueff: I see. But your relationship with Keith and with Kellex people was not a relationship like in the Army. You didn’t give them orders but they didn’t give you orders. It was two independent—

Stowers: No, we worked as a team pretty well. Because of this procurement responsibility, we had to work very, very closely together.

Groueff: And who was your contact mostly?

Stowers: Both Keith and Baker.

Groueff: Keith for decisions, developing the barrier and things like that probably.

Stowers: Yes, and for requirements, say, of special manpower and things of that sort. With Baker, it was on scheduling, cost estimating, and the details of engineering.

Groueff: What kind of man was Baker? Because he is dead now.

Stowers: Baker was a very fine, honest and vivacious person. A very strong character. He and Keith locked horns many times but they always resolved their difficulties.

Groueff: Yeah, two strong men in the same—

Stowers: Yes. And it was because it was very difficult to separate those two items of process, design, and detail engineering.

Groueff: But I understand that they were very different, also, as far as their approach to people and to organization.

Stowers: Baker was a little more diplomatic, I would say.

Groueff: Than Keith.

Stowers: Than Keith.

Groueff: Keith was more impatient than—

Stowers: He was more impatient and naturally, more opinionated on highly technical matters.

Groueff: And also, he was less organized, right? As he says himself, he’s not an organization man and very often, didn’t go through the proper channels. And as I understand, Baker was a very methodical man.

Stowers: Yes, Baker had given up a career in the Navy during World War II. He was, I think, a Navy Reserve officer. And we had a very good team approach to this whole thing. It wasn’t a matter of well, he’s not in the office so we’re on this side and the contractor’s office over this side. I attended all the staff meetings, every one of them – technical—

Groueff: How often would they have it? Once a day?

Stowers: Once a week.

Groueff: Once a week?

Stowers: Once a week.

Groueff: In Woolworth Building?

Stowers: In the Woolworth Building where the entire plant would be discussed—its status and so on—so that when a specific requirement came up, which had to be moved on real fast, I already knew the background. They didn’t have to explain to me, go through the gauntlet, you might say, of through channels. And we could move real fast that way.

Groueff: Were you also directly working on specific problems like pumps or the barriers or the valves?

Stowers: Yes, I was and members of my staff were, particularly—

Groueff: You assigned them particular—

Stowers: I assigned each officer two or three of the contracts—subcontracts, you might call them. For instance, we chose the Allis-Chalmers Company to make centrifugal blowers because they were one of the very few companies in this country who had had any experience at all. But they were loaded with all kinds of priority war work and it still looked as though our best bet would be to have them do the work. So we built a plant for them on their property in Milwaukee—the Hawley Plant.

Groueff: The Hawley Plant – H-A-W-L-E-Y.

Stowers: In Milwaukee. This is the completed plant after it’s finished. This was during construction. This was authorized the 10th of February, 1943. It was completed in June of ’43.

Groueff: In four months.

Stowers: We actually put material and the machine tools on the 4th of April ’43. The ground was frozen a foot and a half to two feet thick at the time. This was a tremendous job by the contractor, subcontractor. And on that job, we had a couple of Army officers to help them break bottlenecks in materials and we actually furnished as many materials as we could on the stockpile just to get that done. We built a similar plant for Chrysler Corporation. I don’t have the dates on that but it was less than four months from this one too.

Groueff: Where was that, in Detroit?

Stowers: This was in Detroit. Chrysler was likewise selected because of their know-how. They had no space. They did tell us that their truck production was a little ahead of schedule and we were building a plant in which to put the truck work, we could you know, take over for them. And that’s what we did.

Groueff: So they gave you one of the existing but you built for them—

Stowers: We built for them another. Now, these were not gifts to them. At the end of the work, these were sold to them on a negotiated basis; a different Army group entirely took care of that.

Groueff: But talking about Allis-Chalmers Plant, I was told by [Judson] Swearingen yesterday that he had some problems with them. He was getting impatient because the pace was very slow there and they even had some friction between the Allis-Chalmers people and Swearingen and the Kellex people to the point that they even asked Keith to change Swearingen. And he wasn’t very diplomatic in his approach. I think the man was called Avery that was in charge.

Stowers: John Avery was the man in charge.

Groueff: But he thought that Allis-Chalmers did the job and probably did it well. But at the beginning, they did it as something that they really didn’t believe in. And they had to do it, so it was done without any enthusiasm.

Stowers: Well, I can see why he might come to that conclusion and I think it’s largely true. This was true of many of our suppliers. This was true of, I think, to some extent, the operator, Union Carbide and also Kellogg—the Kellogg Company itself. They wanted to be in a position to get out real fast if this thing is going to be a big boondoggle—or jump onboard if it’s good. And there was nothing in it for the supplier insofar as profit was concerned. He could make profit on all the manpower he could obtain, all the machine tools that he could obtain, making normal work production materials. So he didn’t have to go into that.

Now, it is true that we did have some difficulty with Allis-Chalmers and incidentally, this was the only company which I was not able to handle alone. That is, without going higher than Groves. And the problem came up in this manner. Allis-Chalmers was doing work for Navy and Army, and this was called – it wasn’t Air Force – Air Corps at that time. And they were behind schedule. This plant, which we had built for them, needed skilled machinists, skilled managers, everyone, which should have been taken from them. But their main plant was sparring with generals and at least with captains and colonels in the Army and Navy, and they just wouldn’t let them transfer these people.

So the President said, “I just can’t stand these people off any longer.”

He said, “I’ve just got to tell them something. I can’t tell the Manhattan District, they never heard of Manhattan District. It means nothing to them. And when I tell them we want to take ten people out of the department, well, you can’t do that. We have the top priority.”

And he says, “They do.”

So in that one instance, we prevailed on Groves to get the backing of the War Production Board. After we did that, there was no particular problem in breaking the production bottleneck so far as quantity of production was concerned.

This was a new thing, which was being built there. These floors had never been built before. The maximum production of any company in the world was about one a week of a size not over three feet in diameter. We had sizes going from about two feet to roughly six feet. Our schedule, production, the time the plant was available to start making these blowers to the time the last one had to come off, required a maximum production of thirty a day.

Groueff: A day?

Stowers: Thirty a day.

Groueff: That was unheard of.

Stowers: It was unheard of. There were many new problems thrown into this thing, which had never been considered before. The tightness, for example, of this entire plant – not only the blowers but the entire plant – was something on the order of what you have with a light bulb.

Groueff: Inside of the rooms, you mean, in the factory, in the plant.

Stowers: I mean, the tightness of the case.

Groueff: Of the case, yeah.

Stowers: Case itself that holds the innards of the mechanism.

Groueff: Yeah. And no problems with the seal or—?

Stowers: Not only the seal. Seal was a new problem. The seal, at the early moments, was not developed. They had made one, sure.

Groueff: So you started but you worked in the plants without having a seal.

Stowers: We did actually start without having the seal. Swearingen and Dr. [Alfred] Nier, University of Minnesota, were working on that seal. And they had it almost but it wasn’t a production item. And it’s a long ways from the one item in the laboratory to, say, thirty.

So there was just the time required to introduce the necessary knowhow into the plant. There was also some cautious management on the part of Allis-Chalmers. And this bottleneck was broken by a gimmick which had been used by others, and I used it, and that was to demand that they ship out everything that was built regardless of whether it passed the test or not.

Groueff: To ship it where?

Stowers: Ship it to Oak Ridge.

Groueff: To Oak Ridge, I see.

Stowers: And I made arrangements with Oak Ridge to recondition them, put them in first class condition. But the reason that they weren’t shipping the thing was because they would find a leak or find something wrong and they’d turn it right back into the production line. So at the end of the production line, it just had – it was going around in circles. By taking the thing away, it sped up the whole plant, you see, immediately. So they shipped one carload of eight blowers. From then on, they were on the ball and the production climbed right on up. The maximum production – I was just looking through my notes a while ago on this – got to forty a day.

Groueff: Forty blowers a day.

Stowers: Forty blowers a day. So Allis-Chalmers was in no way in a bottleneck.

Groueff: Who would be the man in Allis-Chalmers that I should talk to?

Stowers: He’s not at Allis-Chalmers now. The man you should talk to is James White, he’s in Philadelphia.

Groueff: James [C.] White [of Tennessee Eastman]

Stowers: Jim White.

Groueff: What was his job then?

Stowers: He was a works manager at that time. He’s now Executive Vice President of Baldwin Lima-Hamilton.

Groueff: Of what?

Stowers: Baldwin Lima-Hamilton Corporation.

Groueff: Baldwin Lima-Hamilton, I see. In Philadelphia? I’ll find him.

Stowers: Yes. And he lived right through this entire job.

Groueff: So for some details, he will be the right person to describe how—

Stowers: Yes. Now, Avery reported to him. White was the overall works manager.

Groueff: What are the companies I should contact? Is Houdaille-Hershey important?

Stowers: Houdaille-Hershey is quite an important company. They built, as you know—

Groueff: The barrier.

Stowers: The barrier. Again, they had no particular facilities available for this sort of thing. But they did have the knowhow, and the knowhow came through plating – plating for automobile industry. So you go from one to another in a situation like this. Chrysler said they’ve got the knowhow. I investigated and I found they did have the knowhow. They had to supplement their team with some borrowed personnel from other companies. But it was necessary to build a factory for them, also, because it was—

Groueff: For Houdaille.

Stowers: Houdaille.

Groueff: That was the Decatur.

Stowers: This was Decatur, Illinois. It started out to be a factory to build the type of barrier developed first at Columbia University. This particular barrier was built on a mechanism of something like the old-fashioned water wheel. It was a huge wheel with a ribbon of this stuff going across it and back in and out of baths and so on. This was an approach toward a continuous process, you see. But the material which came out of there wasn’t good. But at the time we had to move for production material, the fact that this was no good was not known.

So we went to Decatur because there was a factory, which could be expanded somewhat. It was the old [car] bumper factory there. We expanded it, we made arrangements to copy and buy these same mechanisms, which really looked like a Rube Goldberg for the laboratory, just want to copy those. And we got some of them installed in Decatur and then it was shown that this was the wrong thing. But parallel developments with Columbia University people working with Kellex people – Clarence Johnson was one of the prime movers in this – developed a material, which could be made by the batch process. In time, it probably could’ve been made in—

Groueff: What was the batch process?

Stowers: Where it’s made in small pieces; each one handled individually.

Groueff: Not continuous.

Stowers: Not a continuous proposition. It goes, by dolly, from one part of the process to the next; perhaps a furnace, perhaps a bath—someone handling it all the time.

Groueff: So it’s more or less manual?

Stowers: Manual. So where we had planned at first to do this and this addition to the Decatur factory, I think about fifty thousand square feet, something like that, no more, with perhaps a hundred people, it wound up that we had a plant covering several acres. And we had around twenty thousand people in there doing this hand-type work.

Groueff: How many?

Stowers: Something like twenty thousand.

Groueff: Twenty thousand.

Stowers: At the maximum, at the peak.

Groueff: To work on the barrier?

Stowers: That’s right.

Groueff: I didn’t know it was that important.

Stowers: But the process itself with, of course, some exceptions, could be handled by untrained people. So many of those who were working in there were women who learned to run the welding machines and learned to handle the stuff. It was very light from one batch to another.

Groueff: And they didn’t know what they were doing, of course.

Stowers: They didn’t know what they were doing, no, nor what it was for except that it was important.

Groueff: And who hired them? Houdaille?

Stowers: Houdaille. Houdaille, apparently.

Groueff: But Houdaille didn’t contribute then, in particular, in solving the problem. They were given by you and Kellex, from your side, they were giving all the—

Stowers: They were given the bulk of the knowhow on this. They were given the process. It’s unfair to say they did not contribute something because they did. They had a number of their people who knew plating processes and knew the other things, which were their bread and butter, which were injected into this.

Groueff: Who was the person there in charge of the barrier production? Who was the top man, important man of Houdaille?

Stowers: Oh, I’ll have to look that one up because I don’t recall.

Groueff: I would like to see somebody you have to—

Stowers: A person who knows that situation pretty well is L.M. Currie – C-U-R-R-I-E. [Lauchlin M. Currie]

Groueff: General Groves gave me an address. Isn’t he somewhere in Long Island?

Stowers: I think so.

Groueff: Wasn’t he from Houdaille?

Stowers: No, he was from a Union Carbide Company at that time. What happened was that there again, we couldn’t get the production up to a rate. I had no time to worry about quantities but I knew that meeting a schedule demanded getting to rates of production by certain dates. And when it wasn’t met, an analysis of our own officers, of Kellex engineers who were on the spot, were put together, and we decided to do something about it. In this case, the complete supervision of the production was turned over to Union Carbide Company.

Groueff: I see. During the production?

Stowers: During the production so that everyone suddenly reported to them. And Currie was one of the senior people there.

Groueff: So he would know the whole story about production.

Stowers: He would know the whole story. There was another one by the name of Merrill and Merrill was with the Bakelite division last I heard.

Groueff: Merrill.

Stowers: Merrill – Ken Merrill.

Groueff: Ken Merrill. I’ll try to find him.

Stowers: Now of the Houdaille people, the one who had the most to do with the cooperation and the real push from Houdaille’s side, has passed away. He was Mr. Devor – Don Devor – D-E-V-O-R.

Groueff: Don Devor.

Stowers: Yeah. Don Devor.

Groueff: Don Devor. He was what, a president or he was one of the executives?

Stowers: He was, I believe, a Vice President of the company. One thing was that it was necessary to have quantities of hydrogen for this plant and it just wouldn’t go without hydrogen.

Groueff: Hydrogen.

Stowers: Keith determined that it just didn’t make sense to try to haul it in by truck. You just couldn’t possibly get enough. So we went to the Girdler Company in Louisville, Kentucky, the manufacturer of hydrogen making equipment.

Groueff: What is the name?

Stowers: Girdler – G-I-R-D-L-E-R. This company, I guess, was about the only one in the United States, which made the equipment which converts natural gas into hydrogen and other products. And they had sold and delivered to the dock two of these large machines and were working on a third for the Russian government through the Lend-Lease or whatever was set up there, the Russian buy-in affair. So we had to get a fast stop order through the State Department in order to take those. So we took all three of those and it really saved the day on this whole process there. Very complicated apparatus about the size of a small refinery and it looked something like a refinery. So we were just very, very lucky to get a hold of them.

Groueff: And you brought them to Decatur?

Stowers: Brought them to Decatur and installed them there.

Groueff: I see.

Stowers: Another thing was the plating equipment, which was controlled by one of the War Production Board affairs. And our requirement was for more plating equipment than the industry had ever used in any five years of its history. So we suddenly had to take the full production of plating equipment and these things—

Groueff: And send it to Decatur.

Stowers: Yes. These things were not easy to pull off because there was no big priority that would automatically say you must do this. It was a matter of finding someone who had authority to take some action and selling him on that idea.

Groueff: And very often, you couldn’t tell anyone what it was.

Stowers: We could not tell anyone what it was, absolutely no one.

Groueff: So they had to believe what you said.

Stowers: They would know that it was for the Manhattan District. That’s as far as it would go.

Groueff: And that it was top priority.

Stowers: As far as we could go. It was not listed as top priority. But when they got into the higher echelons of inquiry, why, they found out that it was.

Groueff: Was the Houdaille plant secret?

Stowers: Yes, all of our plants were secret.

Groueff: And the simple girls who would work there, did they have to have passes?

Stowers: Yes.

Groueff: And they had security officers and all that?

Stowers: Yes, had security officers. They were checked out as to background and were told only enough, which would enable them to do their job. In fact, the entire project was compartmented that way.

Groueff: I see. Security was under you for K-25?

Stowers: That’s right.

Groueff: And you had a special officer.

Stowers: I had several special officers at different times and they worked closely, of course, with the Navy intelligence and the Army intelligence.

Groueff: Yeah.

Stowers: But during the formative years or months of the project, it was practically all on our local shoulders. Later on, the District got organized so that they had a pretty strong security department. Then we had some guidelines, some manuals and things of that sort. To start off with, we had nothing.

Groueff: Another plant that I may go and see—I understand one of the biggest problems was the plating of the pipes because they didn’t have enough nickel. So the Bart Company, I understand, the—

Stowers: The Bart Company and Mr. S.G. Bart still is operating as Bart Manufacturer Company in Newark, New Jersey.

Groueff: Now what is their story? How do they come into the picture?

Stowers: Groves brought them into the picture, or mentioned their name. Groves didn’t thrust any firm down our throats but he mentioned their names as having done a top-notch job for him when he was a Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers during World War I when there was a large requirement for searchlight reflectors. And the Bart Company designed and built these by a plating process so that they were metal rather than glass. And this was a real ingenious thing in those days. So Groves had remembered that, that they were good at plating.

So we approached them to do this plating the pipe. The entire process stream had to be lined with nickel bi-plating and there was some eight hundred miles of pump involved there.

Groueff: Hundred miles.

Stowers: Eight hundred miles.

Groueff: Eight hundred miles.

Stowers: Right, of processed pipe. And we found that their small laboratory was not on a railroad siding. It was located in an alley – on an alley – no room for expansion. Certainly, no way to plate by conventional plating methods, which is to take a tank with a plating bath in it and dump your item in there and leave it until it plates and then pull it out. So Bart Company came up with an ingenious idea of using the pipe itself as the tank.

Groueff: The pipe to be plated.

Stowers: The pipe to be plated. Now, these pieces of pipe were forty feet long and the Bart Company developed this method of putting the anodes in the middle of the pipe, filling the pipe with solution, and doing the plating on the inside. It not only did the job in small space but it also saved on a very strategic material, nickel. Because we didn’t need the outside of the pipes plated.

Groueff: There were iron or steel pipes.

Stowers: There were steel pipes, that’s right.

Groueff: But did they then invent this process? Or I understand that Keller from Chrysler had something to do with the idea of plating.

Stowers: Well, they did plating of the items which they built.

Groueff: For the barrier side of the—

Stowers: That’s right.

Groueff: But for the piping, it was—

Stowers: The piping, it was Bart. They may have had some help because the Kellex people and others—neither Keith nor I cared what company a man came from if he had the knowhow and could go ahead and help solve a problem, he did so. No thought was given as to whether this is proprietary to a company and so on. It was wartime, we had to—

Groueff: Why was plating of pipes with nickel considered so difficult? I don’t know anything about it but how could I describe with that existing technology in 1943 or ’44, was it something without precedent?

Stowers: No, it was not. It was not done in plants because there had been no real requirement for it. In plants such as milk processing or chemical processing, they would use some other material. They might use Monel metal. But this was a case of having to build with a minimum amount of the highly strategic materials.

Groueff: For the nickel.

Stowers: That’s right. We could’ve built it out of nickel pipe but there wasn’t enough nickel.

Groueff: And the degree of perfection had to be very high, no?

Stowers: Had to very high. There were tests devised so that you could tell when the bonding was good and when it wasn’t.

Groueff: Because of the corrosion probably.

Stowers: Because of the corrosion of the material, which was in the process stream. Every bit of the insides of the plant had to be made of either nickel or one of the alloys such as stainless steel or Monel metal. And nickel plating seemed to be the least expensive and fastest. And with this process which the Bart Company came up with – incidentally, they’re still using it – we were able to get great tonnages of pipe through that very, very tiny factory.

Groueff: And Mr. Bart was the one responsible for—

Stowers: That’s right, Mr. S.G. Bart. Other parts of the piping system were plated by other concerns. The Crane Company plated some of the pipe bends and so on.

Groueff: The third process like Bart?

Stowers: No, they used just the conventional process.

Groueff: But the contribution of Bart was that they invented this process for miles and miles of—

Stowers: At least, they used it first.

Groueff: They used it first.

Stowers: First in this country on a conventional basis.

Groueff: And it would be impossible because, as you say, there was not enough nickel in the world to build everything in solid nickel. 

Stowers: That is true. It would’ve been possible to build large tanks and dunk your pipe in it by the then known methods. But you would, again, you would get plating on both sides.

Groueff: Then you had to build huge plants for it.

Stowers: You’d have to build a much large plant for that, yes.

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.