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John DeWire’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

John DeWire was a physicist who was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. In this interview, DeWire discusses how he was recruited, the move to Los Alamos, the organization and administration at Los Alamos, and the unusual speed with which scientists could procure items. He explains how he came to work at Princeton, and his involvement after the war in opposing Lewis Strauss’s nomination for Secretary of Commerce. He recalls what made Oppenheimer such an effective leader.

Date of Interview:
May 5, 1982
Location of the Interview:


Martin Sherwin: This is an interview with John DeWire at Cornell University in his office at Newman Hall 228, Newman. Today is May 5, 1982.   

You were with Robert Wilson’s group from Princeton that was recruited by [J. Robert] Oppenheimer in ’43, right? Late ’43, was it?

John DeWire: Early ’43.

Sherwin: Early ’43.

DeWire: I went to Princeton in February ’42.

Sherwin: From where?

DeWire: Ohio State. Well, I had planned to stay there until June, and then a man came around recruiting people for the Manhattan District.

Sherwin: You did not do any work with Oppenheimer at Berkeley, did you?

DeWire: No, no, I was never there. 

Sherwin: Were you a new PhD from Ohio State?

DeWire: Yes. I went to Princeton sometime around Washington’s birthday in 1942 and stayed there until March of ’43, when I went to Los Alamos.

Sherwin: All twenty of you or so moved together?

DeWire: Yeah. You should have seen the baggage room at the Princeton Railroad Station. Everybody was supposed to be sort of quiet about where you were going. Our mail was to be forwarded. Our mailing address was Princeton. Our bank was Princeton. Roger Sutton and I went down there one afternoon. We borrowed Bill Woodward’s station wagon. We went down there to take our trunks down. I was getting married in the meantime. I went to Los Alamos on a honeymoon. We went down there. Here was this little baggage room, absolutely piled full of everything, said “Box 1663 Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

The guy that was there said, “What is going on?”

“Well,” I said, “A lot of people moving out there.” There was a dog there, I remember, in the thing with arrangement for feeding the dog and so forth.

Sherwin: It is extraordinary what types of preparations you can make for secrecy, and how the most obvious human kinds of necessities make it impossible to really keep things a secret.

DeWire: It was amazing to me that it was kept as well as it was. There were all kinds of ways in which people could learn about it, I think, if they wanted to. But it was a country preoccupied with its thing-at-hand. I do not think you could get away with it now.

Sherwin: Did you all go out at once?

DeWire: Yes.

Sherwin: I mean, on the train?

DeWire: Oh, no. No. I was married on the twentieth of March, and we went to New York for several days. 

Sherwin: You got married, March, what did you say?

DeWire: Twentieth.

Sherwin: The twentieth.

DeWire: We went to New York for several days, and then went to Chicago, and then took the [Southwest] Chief to Lamy. There was no one else on that particular train going to Lamy, although there were many stories about people meeting others on the train when they were going from various places.

Sherwin: Everyone made their own arrangements, and people arrived more or less within a three or four-week period.

DeWire: Well, our group pretty much arrived DBS. You see, in the meantime, we had gone to Cambridge and packed up the Harvard cyclotron. We were to set it up out there, so it was sort of arranged that we should arrive there when, in fact, the thing arrived.

Sherwin: Did you happen to be one of those people who went to the Santa Fe station to bring the pieces from Santa Fe?

DeWire: I was down there when they were unloading it. A lot of the stuff, the control system and so forth, were things that—I was up at Cambridge, I guess, for maybe three weeks or something like that. They were still packing it when we left. Stone and Webster came over and they sent people over who labeled everything, and boxed things, and so forth.

It was interesting. It was shipped to—now this is secrecy. It was shipped to St. Louis to some medical depot. Then, I do not know who it was, but somebody went out and relabeled the shipment to go to Santa Fe.

Sherwin: So it looked like it came from a medical?

DeWire: I presume. I do not know. I remember one of our technicians. We had several technicians went with us from Princeton. One of them got all excited one day because he was staying down in Santa Fe. He had gotten there, I think, before the rest of us. This thing came in, and then at the same time there had been a movie in Santa Fe about [Ernest] Lawrence and his laboratory. He got all worried that the whole thing has been blown. “Everybody will know what this thing is,” and so forth. No, I do not think so.

Sherwin: Do you remember who he was, the technician?

DeWire: Oh, gee, I do not remember that particular one. I would have to think a while. The names of the technicians I knew who came with us. He is not one of them.

Sherwin: Did you ever see that movie about Lawrence and his laboratory? I am not familiar with it.

DeWire: No, I did not see it at the time. I think it was some part of perhaps a newsreel or something like that.

Sherwin: And he was afraid that people would recognize the shape?

DeWire: There’s a guy who went with us as a very young person from Princeton. He was a Princeton native, and he is at Los Alamos. His name is Stanley Hall, W. Stanley Hall. He is at Los Alamos working.

We hired him. He was a postgraduate student at Princeton High School, and we needed some technician to work with us during the evening hours.

Several people came around. This young fellow came around, and we hired him. It is interesting then he went with us. He developed into a very competent person. He essentially kept the cyclotron running single-handedly. He would get our help when he needed it, but he was very, very good. After the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill, went to Harvard, and majored in physics. Then he went back Los Alamos, and he has been there ever since. He would know who this other person was. He would certainly know.

Sherwin: Well, let us turn to Oppenheimer, and I suppose the best way is to proceed chronologically. Did you hear anything about Oppenheimer?

DeWire: He came to Princeton in January of ’43.

Sherwin: Okay. So that was the beginning of the recruiting process?

DeWire: Yeah, and the interesting thing to me was that he told us about the reactor [Chicago Pile-1]. That is the first we had heard about it, because while there was reactor work going on—it went in, when was it?

Sherwin: December of ’42.

DeWire: Yeah, you see, it was just the month before.

Sherwin: [Inaudible]

DeWire: No, no, this was, it had happened a month before he came. I was particularly impressed by it, because I knew they were working on some low-energy, neutron energy devices because some of that was going on in Palmer Lab, but I did not pay much attention to it. I was quite impressed. He said that he needed people.

He had a very strange idea about what Los Alamos was going to be. He said he thought he needed about 100 physicists, and perhaps he included engineers. He was going to close the doors, and if we came, do not worry about bringing an automobile, you will not be able to use it. So my wife’s mother offered us her car. She could not get any gas for it. And I said, “No, we are not supposed to take a car.” That was a big, fat mistake. In fact, already by the time I had said that, he had already relaxed on this, but I did not know it.  I had been up at Cambridge working up there.

So it was not quite his idea about what it was to be. I think he was also talking, although not directly, about the possibility of putting everybody in uniform also, or at least putting them in the military.

Sherwin: Yes, he continued that idea, I think, through the end of the spring when [Robert] Bacher and others just said that “The day a uniform goes on, I go out.”

DeWire: I am not surprised, yeah.

Sherwin: Then that idea fell by the wayside. So, the first time you laid eyes on him was when he came to Princeton in January?

DeWire: I think so. I knew who he was. I had, as a graduate student, had gone to Physical Society meetings. Now, maybe I saw him there, but I do not remember it. I do remember that visit he made there. We were a small group of people there. He came and talked to us there in one of the classrooms. I remember that.

Sherwin: Do you remember anything about that meeting? What he said?

DeWire: Other than that he told us about the reactor, and that the purpose of this laboratory was that they thought things had developed to a state where we should go ahead with the development of a weapon.

Sherwin: A weapon. So, the story that people tell of Oppenheimer recruiting people to come out to the New Mexico desert, for an unspecified amount of time to work on an unspecified project, is really an exaggeration? In order to recruit people—

DeWire: I do not know. He may have talked to people who—you see, in a way I presumed he could talk to us because we were officially recognized as a group. I do not know if there was such a thing as clearance in those days, but we had been carefully told that we should keep our mouths shut, that this was secret work.

I do not know if anybody ever came around. I do not know how the Princeton thing worked. G2 [Military Intelligence] was doing all of that, and I do not know whether they went around and talked to people about when I joined that project or not. I presume they did. I do not know. But anyway, this was, in a way, in the family. Now, he may have talked to people who were out teaching courses or doing research in university. He could have talked to them that way, for all I know.

Sherwin: Did any of your group not go?

DeWire: Yes. There were a number of people who did not go, not very many. Almost all of them went. Yeah, there was a guy named Turnbull who was from up in Connecticut somewhere, who was an electronics guy, who decided that he did not want to go. There was a fellow student from Ohio State, Martin, who later went to teach out in Washington or Oregon.

Sherwin: Koenig?

DeWire: No, no, no. He is not well known, Martin—gee, the trouble is I have not seen him since. He taught at Willamette College. Is that in Washington or Oregon?

Sherwin: I do not know [inaudible].

DeWire: I think it is in Willamette, I guess they pronounced it.

Sherwin: Probably Washington.

DeWire: Yeah, well it is the states and then the cities.

Sherwin: While you are looking that up, were there any discussions of why they were not going?

DeWire: No, I do not know. I think it was a question of—no, I do not know why there was any discussion. The people who decided they did not want to go—no, there is no one listed under Willamette here. I do not know. I would have to look at this for a while to see. I just do not remember. No, I do not know of any particular discussion. I am trying to remember if any of the people who were physicists and were really involved decided not to go, and I cannot think of any of them. I think they all decided they wanted to go.

Sherwin: When you got there, what was the relationship between the group and Oppenheimer? Was it a good relationship? How would you describe it?

DeWire: I think so, yeah. It was quite an adventure, after all. When we went there, we stayed in a guest ranch for a little while down the Hill, and every morning we would go up and down. There were not any places to live up there, except for the few that had been there in the school, and we did not have any power in the laboratory for a little while.

Sherwin: How do you mean?

DeWire: Down in Pojoaque Valley there.

Sherwin: I have been there.

DeWire: We were in a ranch called Rancho Ancon, which was off to the east of the highway.

Sherwin: Were all of you there?

DeWire: No, there were several ranches there. There was another ranch nearby that several other people from Princeton stayed in. They were scattered. There were a number of these guest ranches where people stayed and would go up the Hill. Actually, we went up the Hill to stay. We were only at that ranch for a few days. And then we went up and we stayed for a few days and maybe a week or so in Fuller Lodge.

Sherwin: That’s the big—

DeWire: Up on the second floor. We had a room up there. Then they finished a three-bedroom unit. There were four apartments in these green buildings that they built. They finished one with three bedrooms, and they asked us if we would move in with a couple of our friends from Princeton. There was one bachelor and one fellow whose wife had had a very small baby who was still back in Princeton. The two of them we knew very well, and the four of us moved into this apartment together. Right next door was a similar situation, where Harold and Beverly Agnew and Bernie Waldman and some guy who later went to Nebraska.

Sherwin: It is kind of like a little dormitory. Everybody had their room.

DeWire: We did not eat there, in general. We did not do any cooking, because I do not think there were any facilities set up yet for cooking. The apartments were sort-of finished, and there was a dining room over there that we all went over to eat at. It was sort of fun, because we saw our place being built. It was nice. We had a very nice place. It was down over the Hill, and there was nothing between us and the fence, and the canyon on the west side. We had a beautiful view of the mountains from our place. We saw it being built, and we knew that was going to be our apartment. That must have gone on for several months, until we moved into that one. We stayed there all of the time when we were there.

Sherwin: What did you think of Oppenheimer as an administrator?

DeWire: I thought it was quite a show. After all, he had an enormous group of very shining stars plus a lot of young, eager kids around the place. I thought he handled them very well. I am somewhat prejudiced, because for some reason or another I never saw him an awful lot. We also got along very well together. He was always very pleasant and had something nice to say. Even after I left there, when I would see him, it was always—

Sherwin: When did you leave?

DeWire: We left there in January of ’46.

Sherwin: Oh, I see. I thought you were implying you left before—

DeWire: Oh, no, no. We came here.

Sherwin: I see.

DeWire: I showed up here in February sometime in ’46.

Sherwin: Now, when all of this was going on at Los Alamos, Robert Wilson, near the end of this experience, organized and impacted the Gadget meeting.

DeWire: Yeah, I was there. I can tell you of some impressions, but boy, I will tell you something. I am really upset that I never kept a diary, just to know dates. You certainly appreciate that. I thought about it, and I deliberately did not because we were told we were not going to be able to take any written material with us when we left. And I took it seriously. I have to confess, I was really furious when I found out Luis Alvarez pulling out his diary at the Oppenheimer hearings and quoting from them. That really made me furious. I mean, here is a guy, according to what they told us, he should have been jailed for that, and here he is carrying on and quoting from his diary about things that happened.

I know the meeting. I know where it was. We had a tradition that goes on here still, that Bob [Wilson] set up here when he—well, I guess we were doing it even before he came here—Friday afternoon journal club. We always had our Friday afternoon meeting, where people would talk about physics. Sometimes it was about things going on out there. Sometimes it was about other stuff that had been published, or something like that.

At this meeting, he decided we ought to talk about what we thought we should do about the bomb. I do not know—Bob can tell you this—I do not know if he knew or if he had said anything to us about that there had been any movement in Chicago or anything of that sort. I do not know.

Anyway, we had this meeting, and my impression of that to this day, was that there was a general consensus that the only thing you could do about this meeting, about this thing, was that if you got it made, you ought to use it. You ought to give people warning about a terrible weapon or something like that, but you ought to use it. So, some of what you said today, I think was part of the argument involved with it.

Sherwin: Yes, well, yes, he has said that. He also says that that was the burden of Oppenheimer’s comments at the meeting, that he came to the meeting.

DeWire: He came to it. [Edward] Teller was there also, incidentally.

Sherwin: Do you remember what Teller said?

DeWire: No. I also went to other meetings, and now I cannot remember if they were before or after Hiroshima, which was sort of the group that later became the association of Los Alamos Scientists. I remember very carefully being in this room up in the building up on the Hill, sitting there, just talking about it. But I cannot remember the context of whether the thing had gone off already or whether it still had not. I think there was one of those meetings before the fact, but I am not sure.

Sherwin: Do you have any impressions of Oppenheimer? If you had to list two or three points about Oppenheimer from your experience during those years, what would you emphasize?

DeWire: He represented to me law and order. He was the one who was setting the tone of the place. The tone was very serious about our secrecy and very, very serious about our commitment to the thing. He, at the same time, did things that I thought were great.

For instance, there were a lot of GIs working in the lab. In fact, this fellow, W. Stanley Hall, in spite of our efforts, got drafted. So, through our efforts, the colonel took him down to El Paso and gave him the one-day indoctrination, and brought him back that next day as a GI. He got promoted up to Sergeant by the time he was there all of the time maintaining the cyclotron. So, there were these GI people.

There were the SEDs, the physics-trained either undergraduates or graduate students that got drafted and were sent to Oak Ridge and then sent out. You know about those, Val Fitch and Paul Huff, and a lot of those people were SED.

Sherwin: I did not know Val Fitch was one.

DeWire: Yes, he was an SED at Los Alamos. Who was the colonel? It was—Wilson hated so.

Sherwin: A G2 person?

DeWire: Yeah.

Sherwin: [Peer] de Silva?

DeWire: Yeah, Peer de Silva. For a little while, he was sort of the boss out there. I think there was in interim period. I do not think he was recognized over a long period. I went to a coordinating meeting one time where Bob was not—I do not know where he was—but anyway, he asked me to go. I remember that De Silva was all upset because of the fact that these young SEDs were not obeying military protocol and were not saluting the officers.

Of course, Oppie made de Silva furious by saying, well, he thought up here in this little community, it would be better if people just forgot about saluting. Of course, De Silva was furious over this. Marvelous. It was great.

Sherwin: You saw that?

DeWire: Yeah, I was at the meeting where this happened.

Sherwin: Could you describe it?

DeWire: I came back and reported this with great glee to the people in the group.

Sherwin: Could you describe that in more detail, because it becomes important in the sense that de Silva spent a lot of energy trying to undermine Oppenheimer, to show that he was a security risk, he was dangerous, he should not be cleared. He wrote a letter at one point saying that “Oppenheimer, we controlled his ambitions, and he was very ambitious. We can make him do our bidding.”

DeWire: My impression was there was no evidence that this was a piece of a longstanding feud or anything. But de Silva, I remember saying that there were problems with this military discipline on the Hill and this was serious.

Sherwin: How many people were there?

DeWire: I suppose twenty-five maybe, or something like that.

Sherwin: All physicists?

DeWire: Well, I think each group had a member of the coordinating—it was called the coordinating council. I only went to a few of those meetings, and I think it was generally the usual thing. I think that the military commander showed up there as well. He made this speech about something had to be done about these technical soldiers, who however felt that because of their position, and he wanted cooperation. Oppie sort of just dismissed it, is my recollection, by saying something about he thought it would be better if people just forgot about saluting. That was sort of the end of it.

But I can just see if this were the problem—one thing, an impression that I had that maybe tells you something. They posted a guard outside of Oppie’s house sometime during Los Alamos, twenty-four hours as far as I know. Whenever he was in residence, and he was there most of the time. I mean, you did not run around those days the way you do now. There was a guard there outside in the little guardhouse outside of Oppie’s house. It was a big shock to me to learn that when the Oppenheimer thing came up, to realize that one of the first things I thought of was that I suspect that guy was put there to watch Oppie and not to protect him.

Sherwin: That is interesting.

DeWire: Now, I do not know whether that is right. I have never heard anything to know why that guard was placed there, but I had never given it a thought that there was anything of suspicion of Oppie during all of that time. That just never occurred to me. I do not know how many people knew about the various interviews and so forth that he had with the G2 people. I just do not know. I was always amazed of the way General [Leslie] Groves and Oppie seemed to get along, because they were about as different as night and day. Yet somehow or other, the general really was obviously very fond of him, very much impressed by him.

Sherwin: Well, he wanted to get that bomb built, and he wanted it done efficiently. After the first couple of months, it was quite clear that Oppenheimer was going to be—

DeWire: Not only that. Somehow or other Groves, for all of his appearance of being such a—I do not know, he sort of had the feeling of bumbler of some sort. I did not appreciate it at the time, but really, he had a fantastic organization going. We ordered things either through Chicago or Los Angeles. They were shipped, except for local things in Santa Fe, were shipped through there. Yet, I do not think we have ever been able to get the kind of service at Cornell here that we ever got there.

Sherwin: You do not have the same—

DeWire: You wanted something, you got it. We even bought a—I do not know if Bob ever told you about it—we had an experiment up at the bomb down at Trinity. We needed 200 little photomultiplier tubes. They were, I guess in those days, they were called 931A’s. Later a somewhat selected version came out that people used a lot in nuclear physics later on. It was called the 1P21 or something like that. Anyway, we could not get any, and we needed about 200 of them. RCA got a directive from the War Department saying, “Make them.” They made them and sent them out to us.

Sherwin: How long did it take?

DeWire: I do not know, but we did not suffer. Well, I can tell you the following thing. This experiment was—in February of ’45, it was recognized that while there were a few people who were thinking about instrumentation and photography. In particular Julian Mack, who’s been dead for quite a while, was in particular thinking about taking pictures of the first bomb and so forth, and in fact, was preparing shelters to put his equipment in and so forth. I guess they was making it a little bigger, so I guess other people could put equipment in. There were very few other people doing anything down there. I guess the people that I did not know about were measuring pressure waves and things like that, but I am not even sure much of that was going on.

In about February of ’45, all of a sudden they recognized that they really were not prepared to adequately see what was going to happen and get measurements, particularly if it did not work, to find out why it did not. So the call went out that said, “The people in the physics division, their work is—what are they going to do now?”

Although we were doing experiments on nearly critical things, the look of some fast responses, there was land, and we were working on that. Nevertheless, the important thing was—we could go down there, and we could see the whole thing. I remember Wilson coming down and saying, “Well, I figure we’ll build a few Geiger counters, and go down there, and we will be able to see it. Imagine that. We are going to see this thing go off.” Then he got this wild idea about how he wanted to measure the initial rise of the nuclear reaction. We worked like dogs from then on until June and into July.

Sherwin: To develop?

DeWire: To develop this. These photo tubes were part of it.

Sherwin: Oh, I see.

DeWire: In February, I would guess maybe in March, we decided we wanted them. And certainly in July we had them.

I know of a case where we built a shelter in the meantime down there. We had one at 1,000 yards north of the thing. There was a man named Roy Carlson, which also is the name of some infamous character, but this man was an engineer they had hired. I worked with him to build this sort of semi-underground concrete structure that we put our stuff in. We really were stupid.

Bruno Rossi got an idea of an experiment. He was going to put his stuff in this same place. All of a sudden, we realized quite late in the game, it was pretty embarrassing, that here we were planning to put all of this electronics in there, and we were going to run it with a putt-putt generator outside. You could buy these units from the Signal Corps, things that were made for field operation. They were some kind of cheap engine or something plus a generator on them. And then we were going to run it all off of that.

Everybody was happy. We had the thing copper-lined inside so that we would not get any pickup and stuff like that. We never thought about how we were going to take the heat out of it, and there was a lot of heat in there, because vacuum tubes were not like semi-conductor electronics. And all of a sudden we were panicky. Where were we going to get an air conditioner?

So, we went to the Dana Mitchell, who was the guy that did all of this stuff up there on the Hill. Pleaded with him and said, “Look, we are in trouble. We need an air conditioner, field, fully contained, that you can take out of the box and make work.” We had some estimates about how big it was.

I was really amazed. We got a telephone call. I do not know if I got a call at Los Alamos. I was down there three weeks. Whether it was down there at Los Alamos, I remember getting this message saying, “There is a carload of air conditioners over at Carrizozo, which was the town to the east, if you go across the road north of the Trinity site, that goes across from Socorro.

Sherwin: Socorro?

DeWire: Well, south of San Antonio. Then it goes straight east and it goes to a town called Carrizozo, which is on a railroad over there. There there was a flatcar with six of these units on it. It had been requisitioned, and it had been taken out of a freight going across the country up in Wyoming someplace and headed for the Pacific, I suppose. It was taken off of this freight and came down there and we had our air conditioner. It worked.

But things like that took a lot. Those are little incidents. But you can imagine this project, this is just a little piece of it. Where the big main stuff of determining whether the material was made, and whether the bomb pieces were made, and all of the stuff that had to go on, he knew how to organize things. There was no doubt about it.

Sherwin: What do you think about Oppenheimer in terms of an organizer?

DeWire: He did some things that were very valuable. First of all, General Groves wanted him to say that the people with the Van de Graaff machines were supposed to do their thing and tell him what they were doing. We were supposed to do ours and tell him. I am not sure General Groves ever knew what he did, but it was pretty wide-open. We had a Tuesday night colloquium that met regularly and there were a lot of people that had white badges that could go to that thing. Practically the only thing that was off limits there really had to do with details like—there were people doing ballistic measurements on the bomb.

He was Carl Anderson’s student at Cal Tech, and he was interested in cosmic rays, mostly. He created an atmosphere that was as near to an academic situation as you can make, and I think that was probably his biggest contribution.

It was lively. One night I sat between a guy named—I just saw his obituary. He wrote a book on—Staub, Hans Staub. He worked with [Felix] Bloch.

Martin Sherwin: How do you spell that, S-T-A?

DeWire: S-T-A-U-B. He worked with Bloch at Stanford. He was a very excitable guy, Staub was. The other person who was sitting on the other side of me was—Staub and Bloch had done measurements on measuring neutrons, some neutron detection scheme. Whoever else was there had also been working on this. Somebody got up and gave a talk, only I did not hear any of the talk because they would say two words and these guys were in front of me yelling at each other about this thing. For a very young and sort of somebody that came out of the woods into this affair, it was really pretty impressive.

Sherwin: How old were you when you got there?

DeWire: I was twenty-six. But even so, I had plans to go and interview for an industrial job, when this guy showed up at Columbus one day. My professor said, “There’s a fella here who’s recruiting. He’s got some jobs. You want to talk to him?”

I said, “Sure.” This man told me that there was this project, that it would involve nuclear physics and he told me the people working in various phases of the project. I lost all interest in my industrial. I was supposed to go talk to RCA and to US Rubber, and I forget where else.

My God, then what does he tell me? He says, “Well, tonight,” he says, “I’ll call Professor [Ernest] Lawrence and I’ll call Professor [Arthur] Compton and I’ll call Professor [Henry DeWolf] Smyth and we’ll see where they need you most.” I was off in seventh heaven.

The next day he said, “Well, they would like very much to have some people at Princeton. Would you like that?”

I said, “Sure, I’ll go there.” Then you see all these people that you have been reading their papers and books and so forth.

Sherwin: I remember my first experience with that in history. It is a process that young PhDs go through.

DeWire: Well, for three years they were there all the time. I remember reading in Time Magazine about their getting [Niels] Bohr out of Denmark. I said to Ruth, “You know, any day we’ll see that guy.” Sure enough, in a few weeks, he showed up there. I remember having a conversation with him one day for about an hour down in the cyclotron building. He came down, wanted to know what was going on, what we were working on, and so forth. It is an experience that you never thought you would have, and it was sort of unreal at the time.
[Tape switch]
Sherwin: Professor DeWire and I were talking about the “Last Straws Committee,” and you were saying?

DeWire: The bulletin of the Physical Society came out on a certain Monday here before our weekly colloquium, and it had the announcement that [Lewis] Strauss was to be the banquet speaker. After dinner, I reported to the group assembled there that this was going to happen. There was a general [inaudible] reaction. They said “Gee, we ought to do something about this.”

Because at that time, he was being considered for the Secretary of Commerce. I felt that—and this was the general feeling—his appearance before the Physical Society in this role would be used as evidence that he was accepted by the scientific community. Certainly the scientists I knew, he was not accepted; he was a real problem, largely because of his involvement in the [J. Robert] Oppenheimer situation. So we decided that evening that we would do something about this.

Sherwin: Who were the people here?

DeWire: The people here were [Robert] Wilson, [Edwin] Salpeter, Jay Orear, and I. Down in Brookhaven, it was Willy Higinbotham. The speaker was Harry Poleski. There were two other people who I cannot name offhand.

Anyway, we organized a mailing to the whole Physical Society. These days I am sure we would not be able to do it, but we made up a postcard asking them if they approved of this invitation. We got back a very large fraction of the ones we sent out. I cannot tell you offhand the exact results. But I think in spite of the fact he had already been invited, more than half the replies that came back said that they felt they did not approve of this.

Sherwin: Was it eighty percent of the replies?

DeWire: No, I would say it was in the sixty percent area. There must be something in the APS [American Physical Society] information at the time. I do not know what it was.

Then, there was this APS meeting and we went to Washington. The student newspaper here, I do not know what their axe was to grind, but they pictured the four of us here. They had a cartoon, showing us as animals. Their whole thing was, we were down in Washington trying to seek a lot of publicity. I remember my wife was terribly upset when I got back. She showed me this, and she was always upset about it.

Anyway, we had a press conference down there, which was not—I would say none of us were very good at [laughter] handling the press. It was a pretty sad affair. It turned out that none of us ever went to the society banquet. That was the first thing they asked: “Are you going to the banquet?” What were we going to do? You have to be honest. You say, “Well, I’ve never been to one in my life. Why should I go to this one?” Well, that dropped like a lead brick.

At the same time, the hearings for his nomination were going on. I spent quite a bit of time down at those hearings. In fact, I was sitting there very close to that day where Drew Pearson saw the—what was it? They claimed that Strauss had with him some document which he should not have had, which came from the intelligence people about somebody or other.

Sherwin: I do not know anything about that.

DeWire: Oh, it is a wild story.

Sherwin: [Inaudible]

DeWire: Oh yes. In fact, he came and testified later on that he saw this. He was asked to be sworn in and testified and made a big deal out of it. In fact, I had breakfast in his office that morning, because there appeared for the Federation of American Scientists, a guy named Dave Inglis, to oppose—

Sherwin: I-N-G-L-I-S?

DeWire: Yes. From Chicago.

Sherwin: He’s in Maine now or something?

DeWire: Yes, he is somewhat older than we are. Dave appeared before this hearing, and was pretty bad. Namely, he made a lot of accusations, which he really could not back up. It was bad. [Hugh] Scott from Pennsylvania, Senator Scott, asked the chairman—I have forgotten who the chairman was—said, “Tomorrow morning, I want to be the first one to question him.”

Poor Dave was besieged by the television people. They were all asking him questions and so forth. Some of us were feeling sorry for him. I remember Ed and [inaudible] were both there, Raphael Littauer was there with us. We said, “Let us hang around and go to lunch with poor Dave. He is obviously shaken up.” So [laughter] I am out standing out in the hallway and a guy named—who is now with the Times—[Bernard] Nossiter.  

Sherwin: Nossiter.

DeWire: He was a young reporter with The Post at the time, because I have been impressed—I see his name—

Sherwin: Front page.

DeWire: Yes. Anyway, he came up to me in the hallway. He says, “Are you a friend of his?”

I said, “Yeah, we are waiting. We are going to go to lunch with him because it’s obvious that he’s been sort of raked over the coals.”

He said, “Well, this is nothing to me but you people, I can guarantee you tomorrow morning if that guy has ever done anything that they can pin on him” —you remember when this was, this was when things were pretty rough. “If there’s anything that he’s ever done, they’re going to know about it by the morning and they’re going to pin it on him. You ought to get him to go and have a conversation with someone, and sort of expose himself. Let the person advise him about what things he ought to be saying or not saying tomorrow morning.” And he left.

I guess he felt sympathy toward the guy and wanted to make sure that we knew what the story was. We did get him together with a guy who had also written some books in the past about atomic energy. He was sort of consultant around Washington.

Sherwin: Michael [inaudible]?

DeWire: No, he was a physicist by training.

Sherwin: Ralph Lapp?

DeWire: Yes, Ralph Lapp. We got ahold of Ralph Lapp, and Ralph and Dave spent some time that evening together.

I do not know how this happened, but somehow or other, we were invited. This part is never—[laughter] this part, I do not think anybody has ever said anything about, because I am not sure they wanted this to be said about it. But somehow, we ended up in one of the senator’s offices in the morning. Drew Pearson was there, and his present guy was there with him, [Jack] Anderson. In fact, every day I was in Washington I got a call from their office. [Laughter] I was so glad to come home; it was not even funny. It was terrible; it was just awful. I had never been in such a situation before.

We had this meeting in this senator’s office to discuss, and Dave just was bad. I mean, Dave Inglis was one of the few very, really, quite serious Republicans I knew among physicist friends, and he never even offered this as information. I got it out of him. I got him to say that he had been a Republican. In fact, they asked him this in the hearing later on, as a result of this.

Sure enough, the first thing that happened, Mr. Scott looked at Dave in the morning and said, “Have you ever been a member of one of these things?”

And Dave said, “Well, you know, maybe I was.” He had been at Johns Hopkins. He had been a professor there before the war, and somebody had come around with a petition to sign or something. They knew about it.

Anyway, I will tell you what I heard about why Strauss was not nominated. This I got from Harry Smyth who told me once. Harry Smyth incidentally was very sympathetic about all this. He is a very proper man, but he had always been very supportive of us in this thing and advised us about this business. He claimed that there was a man—you know Margaret Chase Smith cast one of the deciding ballots, and one of the members of the commission when Strauss was on it was a man from Maine. I forgot his name now.

Sherwin: [Sumner] Pike?

DeWire: It could have been Pike. I think it was. It probably was. He claimed that Pike just detested Strauss and the way he ran the Commission and so forth, with not bringing in the other commissioners at all, and that he got next to her and convinced her that she should cast that vote. He told me that once after. Anyway, it is an interesting story.
Sherwin: Yes, it is terrific. [Laughter]

Copyright 2005 Martin J. Sherwin. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of Martin J. Sherwin. Rights granted to Atomic Heritage Foundation.