[At top is the edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995.
For the full transcript of part 1 of the interview that matches the audio of the interview, please scroll down.]
During the early days, before the Manhattan Project, when Du Pont was building smokeless powder plants, TNT and other plants for the war effort, I had contacts with then Colonel Leslie Groves, who was helping to operate the military construction program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
My personal analysis of Groves was that he was a qualified engineer as well as an outstanding military officer. At all times in my many years of contact, I found him to be very understanding, and at all times a gentleman. He was stern, he was demanding, and like many other great leaders, he was egotistical, to the point of being overbearing to some people. People were in awe of him, for several reasons. He had a good solid engineering background. He was a handsome man, tall, very solidly built, and was an impressive personality.
But, to identify myself and my Manhattan Project work, I reported to the assistant chief engineer, and I was responsible for procurement from the design, getting the orders placed, the inspection and the expediting of all materials for the Du Pont war plants, including Hanford. At one time, I had 500 engineers throughout the United States expediting and inspecting equipment. In addition to that, I was the major liaison with General Groves for all the logistics concerned with Hanford, on materials, priorities, and allocations of materials.
For instance, we had to take equipment away from utilities in order to build Hanford. We couldn’t get copper for the electrical stations, for the trans-mission stations, for transferring power from one voltage to another. Following General Groves’ arrangements, we borrowed ingots (mostly silver) from Fort Knox to use as conductor substitutes at Hanford. The electrical capacities were different from copper, but it worked.
Initially, we had a hell of a time getting the graphite block program through Union Carbide. I had to go up to the Union Carbide New York offices and present the program to their senior executives as to how important this was, and why we had to have it in large quantity and on schedule.
The graphite blocks were laminated with a very special composition of fiber board. The machining was very, very interesting and requiring very high precision. And the only people who could do this was Vermont Marble in Rutland.
The aluminum tubing and canning programs were the most difficult. Extrusion is an art. You would start with a stock and you would extrude at the right temperature, cooling atmospheric conditions had to be just right. Alcoa did a tremendous job.
The welding of the (uranium) fuel cans (containers) was intricate. You had to have the right alloy, you had to have the right temperature and atmosphere, the right welding techniques and equipment. The welders working on the aluminum cans to contain the uranium fuel were not like you would see welding a steel plate to a steel beam or two steel beams together. These men were artists. They were the top of the craft, like the old goldsmiths.
I remember we had difficulties obtaining the required delivery of switch gear for electrical equipment. At that time, the major producer of switch gear mechanisms was Westinghouse. They made the best and we had their major capacity, and we had to jog them to improve delivery dates, that was a real problem, but Westinghouse met the challenge. Structural steel was terrible. Steel was needed also for steel plate for ships and for making tanks.
Military logistics leading to an objective are exactly the same as an industrial engineering construction program leading to an objective, namely a plant that will produce a product. Much has been said about the scientific and the technical factors of the atomic program. To my knowledge, very little has been said about the importance of logistics and the great part American industry played.
It was very necessary that we establish specifications, availability, quality and quantity on a time schedule of all the major equipment for the construction site. There were times when we didn’t have the quality or the quantity, and we had to substitute. Materials of construction were extremely important because we were handling reactions and processes that had never been handled before outside of the laboratory. We had needs for new materials, new alloys, and for great quantities that people could not understand. They couldn’t understand why we would require miles and miles of concrete pipe, miles of transmission cable, why we would need such quantities of special alloy steel, why so many valves, the type of valves used in boiler plants, chemical plants and shipbuilding, especially submarines.
This brings up the point of some of the conflicts we had with other defense programs. We were at the height of the shipbuilding effort. Kaiser was building ships on the West Coast, there were shipyards on the Gulf Coast, the East Coast. Landing vessels to battleships. This required labor, we were competitive for skilled labor, we were competitive for the materials, particularly steel piping and tubing, steel plate. All were used in shipbuilding and we needed them for the atomic program. At times, we ran head to head in conflict with shipbuilding, Army tank and projectile programs.
We were looking for skilled labor. Welders, electricians, pipefitters, steel workers, carpenters, masonry people. These people were in demand. Many in their trade were in the armed services. The Kaiser Corporation was building ships on a production basis and they had a great demand for the same type of labor we wanted. We ran head to head in recruiting. Kaiser had recruiters throughout the United States and so did we.
Here’s a little sidelight, hearsay only. Baseball was a great source of relaxation and at Hanford each craft, like carpenters, fitters and so forth, had its own team and there was an organized league between the crafts. One craft in particular was not doing too well. The head of the craft, the superintendent, said he wanted some changes in the league standings. He instructed recruiters in that craft to do some screening in the selection of candidates for hiring. This craft superintendent, unnamed but known to me, told his recruiters to concentrate on the Pacific Coast League baseball players. As a result, the craft went from the bottom to the top of the league. Du Pont corrected this method of recruiting labor.
In aluminum, we were asking the manufacturers, mostly Aluminum Company of America, to extrude aluminum tubing that they had never extruded in quantity before. We were running in competition with shipbuilding and aircraft builders. Aircraft builders needed aluminum tubing for struts and wings and aluminum sheeting for the fuselage. In no time, Hanford had exceeded the aluminum company’s capacity in this tug of war for war materials. If we weren’t getting what we thought we should, we would raise strong voices. Calls would come into Wilmington and sometimes I had to contact General Groves in Washington, D.C. In many cases, Groves personally would have to call the president of a company. Groves would quiz me about the problem, if we had tried alternatives, if we had done everything we could to get a particular item. You might say I made the snowballs and Groves threw them. But I had to make sure the snowball was well packed and we knew why it was necessary for him to throw it.
After he was convinced of the need, he would get on the phone with the company, not rant and rave but calmly point out to the executive what was going on, that Hanford was an important job that had the personal endorsement of the president of the United States and that it was the highest priority in the country. Groves would ask that the president of the company look into the matter personally. We had to do this a few times and never did we have any resentment or have anybody complain about undue pressure. And, it worked.
Occasionally, a company president or industry group would meet with Groves in Washington. I recall once there was disagreement and Groves asked his secretary, Mrs. O‘Leary, to go to the office safe and take out President Roosevelt’s letter which gave the atomic work presidential priority, which Groves read to the group. These situations did not come about because of lack of integrity or lack of planning. It happened because the industries were over-taxed.
Remember, at Hanford we were embarking into an area where there was no experience. We were plowing new fields. We couldn’t take chances. I remember when Groves first came to Du Pont in 1942, he challenged us and told us we not only had to do the job on time but we had to do a quality job. He recalled when he was a company commander the barracks toilets were always clogged because of over-use of toilet paper. He said if you needed to put larger lines in to prevent this, do it. Get it right the first time.
I think I should talk a little bit about General Groves and Du Pont. He wanted the Du Pont Company to participate in the Manhattan Project because of the company’s capability and integrity, its history in the explosives program and because of his direct connection with Du Pont through his position in military construction. Groves recognized not only the construction requirements for the atomic program, but he was a very strong advocate of on-site construction safety, and in that Du Pont was proud of its record.
Another thing, General Groves never, to me, expressed any misgivings about the atomic bombs. To his death, I believe he felt it was the humanitarian thing to do. It certainly saved American lives, the casualties to the Japanese, although not desirable, and there was great grief to the Japanese people, you had to equate that to the casualties on the battlefield if there had been an invasion. That very definitely also is my view. I guess I’m still a hard-nosed patriot, but I think the bombs were necessary, a humanitarian thing to do. A bit on the vindictive side, but the Japanese played damn dirty to us.
Full version (part 1):
S. L. Sanger: This is Roger Fulling, July 11, ‘86, in Tequesta, Florida.
Roger Fulling: I’m Roger W. Fulling. I was an engineering student, graduate, at the University of Delaware. I grew up in engineering work in the DuPont Company, starting in 1934 in field construction. Prior to World War II, in the middle to late 1930s, I was exposed to military personnel who ultimately became very important in the military explosives program between the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, Corps of Engineers and the DuPont Company. These programs entailed smokeless powder, TNT, RDX, chemical warfare elements, and later, atomic energy at Hanford, including the initial heavy water distillation units.
During these early days of 1940, ‘41, ‘42, ‘43, when DuPont was building smokeless powder, TNT, and other plans for the war effort, I had contacts with Colonel Rose, Colonel Leslie Groves, and Colonel Strong. These gentlemen were operating the military construction program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I recall my first meetings with General Groves were in February, March, and April of 1942.
Sanger: That’s before there was a Manhattan Project.
Fulling: This is all prior to the Manhattan Project. I recall from my notes—which I have made available to Stephen Sanger—that on March 12, 1942, at the request of Colonel Groves to my department head, my superior by two levels, Granville Read, that DuPont present an engineering program to General Groves, his staff, and somehow the military constructors working on jobs unfamiliar to DuPont. I prepared a list of items, which I reduced to chart form, for discussion of how DuPont Company operates on the evolution of construction projects. These data sheets were prepared on a crash basis, working day and night, with less than two days’ notice for the conference in Washington.
During that period of ’42, ’43, which was again prior to the Manhattan District program, I had several personal contacts with Colonel Groves on the smokeless powder plant programs, such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Wabash, Gopher, the TNT special plants, and the chemical warfare plant at Rocky Mountain.
My personal analysis of General Groves was that he was a qualified engineer, as well as an outstanding military officer. At all times, in my many years of contact with General Groves, I found him to be very understanding, and at all times a gentlemen. He was stern. He was demanding. Like many other great leaders, he was egotistical, but not to the point of being overbearing. You knew when you were in a conference with Groves, who the person was that was running the show.
Sanger: Was he generally well-liked, would you say? Were people in somewhat in awe of him?
Fulling: People stood in awe of General Groves for several reasons. First is his general personality. He had a good, solid military engineering background, which some people resented and did not understand. He was a handsome man, tall, very solidly built, and was an impressive personality. The people on his staff thought very highly of him. That included some of the civilian engineers working in and out of his office.
I would like to say something about the relationship between my superior, Granville Read, who initially in the war program was assigned as a special assistant to the manager of construction, for the surveillance of the just then starting defense military construction program of DuPont involvement. This was prior to the advent of the war declaration.
Granville Read came to the construction division by way of the industrial engineering division, where he had been the assistant manager. The industrial engineering division was the top technical division in the engineering department, and served technical consultation to the several manufacturing departments of DuPont.
Read was not a construction man, but it did not take long for him to grasp the rudiments of construction. Like Groves, Read was a tall man. He was also substantially built. He was a man’s man. He was very firm in his opinions, sometimes to the point of being stubborn. But he would listen to people. He would particularly enter into the discussion voluntarily on his part with those with whom he had confidence, particularly technical confidence. Read, like Groves, was also somewhat inclined to be an egotist, but like Groves also, not overbearing. But he knew what he wanted. He knew how to get it, and he got it.
Read’s assistant, Mel Wood, was a man of a different background. Mel was a graduate engineer from the University of Delaware, civil engineer. He started with the DuPont Company in field construction during the early part of his career in DuPont, and has been responsible for the construction of cellophane and rayon plants. He left the engineering department for a time to become the plant engineer at one of our more sophisticated chemical manufacturing plants. And returned to engineering when it seemed important that the engineering department have experienced leadership of people who had a company background. Wood in all aspects was an excellent chief of staff. He carried out the policies and the desires, if that was the proper word, emanating from Read. He was a very good administrator, also very stern, and a bit on the tough side. Mel Wood was an outstanding engineer technically. He knew construction and he knew plant engineering.
The next in line—Frank Mackie in construction. He was an experienced construction engineer, a graduate of Union, and had worked previously to coming with DuPont as a plant engineer at the managerial level of Atlas Powder Company. Frank and I and some others I’ll discuss later started with DuPont at the Edgemoor Construction near Wilmington for a pigments plant in 1934. Frank was approximately five years older than the ones with his so-called contemporaries in line organization, and had had experience. Frank is a most affable person. He had the knack of getting along with people. He and Read made an excellent team working with the AFL unions of construction. Mackie could go in a room and in a few minutes, have everybody on his side.
Gil Church was a graduate of Cornell. I think Gil’s two years younger than I, which would make him seventy-six today, I being seventy-eight. Gil started in construction. He was a field project manager prior to the War. He was a very good technical man. Like Read and Groves, Gil was a handsome man. He was tall, very popular with most people, and Gil was a very hard worker. He was a dedicated engineering manager.
You already know my background, starting with construction and eight years of field construction from the very bottom up to field project manager. During the war, I was moved into Wilmington to set up the logistical part of the department for construction, of planning and scheduling and control of projects, organization, etc.
Skipping over to the other side of the ledger, the design, which was part of the engineering department. The design division was responsible for obtaining the basic data from the research and technical people of the industrial departments, plus the output from our own engineering research division, and translating this basic data into drawings of buildings, process, electrical, power, all of the facilities that make up a plant. The design division also was responsible for specifying the equipment at the procurement end for a major job.
The equipment procurement for the construction jobs was the responsibility of a branch of the purchasing department of the company. This department was staffed by engineers, and they obtained the quotes for the specifications of the design division, discussed the specifications with the various vendors as to availability, quality, cost. After the purchase orders were placed. It was the responsibility for the engineering department construction division, part of the logical program, to expedite and inspect the equipment and see that it had got to the plant site in the proper time.
Heading the design division was a man also very forceful, Tom Gary, who came to the DuPont Company via the acquisition of the Grasselli Chemical Company to DuPont. Gary was in the technical end of the engineering department, industrial engineering division working at times with Read prior to going to the design division. Gary was one of our major contacts with General Groves and the other personnel of the Manhattan District.
Gary had two senior right-hand men, Fred Pardey, a chemical engineering graduate of Princeton, an outstanding technical man who also came to the design division via the industrial engineering division. Pardey was teamed with Ray Genereaux, whom I understand you have talked with. Each of these men, in my opinion, were outstanding technical people. They had the capability of managing others. Genereaux turned out to be my superior later when he became head of the industrial engineering division, since named the engineering service division, and I was his assistant after leaving the construction division.
I’ve already given you copies of the organizational charts prior to the war and after the war. My purpose of these brief profiles may have been a bit confusing to you, but I wish to point out that these people—Groves, his staff, Read, Wood; their staff, Gary, Pardey, Genareaux, and their people—all worked as a team. Surely, we had differences of opinion, mostly technical differences. We were able to resolve our various personalities. All of us were cut from a different piece of stone, but we all had our strong points and our weak points. We supported one another. Like any other organization, we fussed about one another. But ultimately, we were a good, solid team. We worked hard and we played hard, and we understood one another. Time has shown this over the many years since the 1930s and ‘40s. We still are friends. We still see one another socially. Unfortunately, many of the ones I’ve mentioned have departed, hopefully to heaven.
I’ve talked to you about the logistics. The main reason I acquiesced to your request to talk with me was my desire to point out that there were elements of the atomic program and the whole military construction program that very few understand, particularly the uninitiated public. These programs were successful, and they were a tribute to many people. The ones I mentioned before were a great part in this program and in obtaining the success.
This tribute is to the cooperation and the understanding and the tolerance between the military people and other parts of government and American industry. Putting it in perspective of the immediate, our relationships with the military, via the Army Ordnance, the Army Corps of Engineers, mainly General Groves and the Ordnance, General Hardy, indicate that we understood one another. We had a common objective, and that was for the welfare of our country. If we had not this cooperation and understanding, these programs would have fallen flat on their face or other parts of the anatomy.
I talked about the project charts and I’ve given you a copy of these charts, which I hope sometime you’ll analyze slowly and get the feeling of what was behind the need for a sensible, scheduled, logical program. As I indicated to you earlier, the military logistics leading to an objective are exactly the same as the logistics of an industrial engineering construction program leading to an objective, mainly, a plant that will produce a product.
Much has been said about the scientific, technical, and the political factors of the atomic program. But to my knowledge very little, if any, has been said about the importance of the logistics and the great part that the American industry played in making the atomic program a success. If it were not for the great and small companies of our country contributing their all-out effort to the program when needed, the atomic program would not have been successful in the time element that was required.
I mentioned some of the major companies, but not all of them. Companies like Union Carbide, namely graphite, Westinghouse, General Electric on electrical equipment, switch gears, transmission equipment, generation, generators. Babcock & Wilcox did combustion engineering on boiler plants. Aluminum Company of America on all kinds of aluminum products and for Hanford particularly, the tubing program, which was a nightmare. This was one of the toughest things that American industry had to take on. We had no background on the extrusion of this type of tubing. The metallurgy of the tubing was different. It was very, very difficult to extrude and to weld and to seal. These were tremendous problems never before faced by man.
It was very necessary that we establish specifications, availability, quality, and quantity on a time schedule of all of the major equipment for the construction site. There were times when we didn’t have the quality or the quantity, and we had to make amends. We had to make substitutions. Materials of construction were extremely important. We were handling reactions that had never been handled before outside of the laboratory. We had need for new materials, new alloys. We had need for great quantities that people just could not understand. People couldn’t understand why we would require miles and miles of concrete pipe. Why we would require miles and miles of transmission cable, for example. Why we would need such quantities of special alloyed steel. Why we would need quantities of valves, particularly the type of valves used in boiler plants, chemical plants, and shipbuilding.
This brings up the point of some of the conflicts that we had with other defense programs. We were at the height of the shipbuilding program. Kaiser were building ships on the West Coast. There were shipyards on the Gulf Coast and the East Coast, building all types of ships from landing vessels up to battleships. This required labor. We were competitive for the skilled labor. We were competitive for the materials, particularly steel—steel piping, steel tubing, steel plate. All of these items were used in the shipbuilding program, and we needed them for the atomic program. So we at times ran head-to-head in conflicts with the shipbuilding program, but we worked them out.
Valves were extremely important, and one of the real great companies that met our demands were Chapman Valve. They turned their plants and people upside down to meet our requirements. Because at the same time that they were furnishing us valves, they were furnishing valves to the shipbuilding people for the boiler plants of all of the ships of the Navy.
We had to resort to changing specifications. Copper was a commodity that was in great demand. We had to resort to the use of a special aluminum alloy transmission cable, in lieu of copper aluminum cable. We were also running amuck at times with some of the large public utilities of the country. They had to be kept in business to supply electrical energy for the cities and the factories throughout the country. They had demands on the same type of products that we needed for Hanford.
I’ve talked to you about some of the problems we had on taking care of the labor. We had some fifty-two, fifty-three thousand people at one time at Hanford. These people had to be housed; first they had to be transported there. They had to be processed. They had to be photographed. They had to be housed. They had to be fed. We had to supply some forms of recreation on site. These were major problems.
We resorted to obtaining the best personnel that we could in the country to help make the living facilities at Hanford amenable as possible. I recall that Gil Church, who was our field project manager at Hanford, sought the academic rosters and obtained an outstanding woman, who built a staff, who became like a housemother at college. She had a tremendous job, because when you have men and women in a confined area working long hours, eight, ten hours a day, six and seven days a week, you have social problems, men and women. Gil recognized this and obtained professionals who were qualified to cope with these problems. I don’t know if anybody else has ever mentioned that to you.
Sanger: Wasn’t there a mention of that woman in Groves’ book, the same one that you’re talking about? She was from the University of Oregon. I know that that was a big problem, with all of those people out there in that sagebrush.
Fulling: There were many interesting and funny episodes at Hanford, but I was only privy to them through hearsay. People like Frank Mackie and Gil Church, Colonel [Franklin] Matthias are far better qualified to tell you of these experiences than I am. I visited Hanford many times, but I did not live there.
Sanger: You mentioned—back up a second here—about the competition for labor in one of the shipyards. I want you to tell me a little bit something about that.
Fulling: We were looking for skilled labor. Skilled labor being, in my category of discussion, welders, electricians, pipefitters, steelworkers, carpenters, masonry people. These people were in demand. Many of their trade were in the Armed Services. They were shouldering the gun throughout the world, so that was one supply that we did not have access to.
Next we ran into the shipbuilding program. This was particularly true on the West Coast. The Kaiser Corporation were building shipyards on a production basis in their yards. They had a great demand for the same type of labor that we were, particularly welders, electricians, pipefitters. So we ran head-to-head in recruiting. Kaiser had recruiters throughout the United States, and so did we.
Our chief recruiter was a man from my staff, Samuel B. Colgate. Sam was a real tiger, both on and off the job. He was a tireless worker, and he too could charm people, men and women. Sam was responsible for directing the recruitment program for Hanford, to try to meet the demanding schedules that Gil Church set up for labor. Sam Colgate had recruiters out in the field at the union halls and other constructions sites, wherever there were people working. There were enticements. As I recall, Kaiser would recruit their people and tell them they were on the payroll and give them a train ticket to the site of employment. Sometimes these people would not use those tickets for themselves and sell them to somebody else.
Sam Colgate set up a rule, which we backed him on, and that was that the employment was at Hanford. The people showed up at Hanford, and they were written up initially at the site of the interview. If they came to Hanford under their own power and had legitimate evidence of having transportation expense, transportation only, to get to Hanford, they would get reimbursement. This program, I think, was beneficial to the job. It also encouraged a certain amount of integrity on a part of the perspective employee. It certainly saved the government money, because there was not any defaulting in transportation.
I have one little sidelight and again, this is hearsay. In the long line of recreation, baseball was a great source of relaxation. Each of the crafts had their own team, and there was an organized league between the crafts. One craft in particular was not doing too well, but the head of that craft, the craft superintendent, said he wanted some amends to the baseball standings. So he instructed his people, the recruiters who were craft people with the professional recruiters, to do some of the screening as to whether the prospective employees were capable of skilled work. They were given fundamental tests of their craft, whether they knew how to thread fit pipe and how they would rig lines or how they could square and saw panels in carpentry.
This craft superintendent—unnamed, but known to me—arranged for his craft representative to concentrate on the Pacific Coast Lake baseball players. As a result, the craft went from the bottom to the top of the league, until Gil Church smelled a rat and put a stop to such shenanigans.
Sanger: That is a funny story. I wonder how come so many of those players weren’t drafted, that were players.
Fulling: A lot of them were young, and they may have had families. I don’t know. Of course, the leagues existed for well into the war.
Sanger: Some of those guys could have been older.
Fulling: Yeah, they could have been older, or they could have had families, or they could have been physically incapable of meeting the military requirements.
Sanger: Yeah, like bad eyes. That is amusing. I’ll ask you something else a little later on, so go ahead.
Fulling: I do want to emphasize that someone should doff their hats and wave the flag in respect to American industry, for what they did on the war program. We all know about the War Bonds and the great sacrifices many families made in lives and upset families, but remember the home front had to give, too.
Sanger: By that, you mean that the industry, for instance, did more than they would have had to have done? In other words, they worked harder and cut corners and made sacrifices beyond what te contracts called for, obviously.
Fulling: I didn’t mention this to you, but on one of our recent trips to England, they were celebrating in England the advent of the Battle of Britain. It’s been my sincere privilege to have the acquaintanceship of a retired air commodore, James Leathart, who as a young man was a squadron commander of Spitfires. His squadron, like many of the Spitfire squadrons, were very, very heavy decimated, and only a few are living today.
During this trip to England, I noticed in the paper that the Chairman of the Board of the Rolls Royce Company was participating in this celebration, because of his association with the Rolls Royce engines, which powered the Spitfires and some of the other British aircraft. I mentioned this to Commander Leathart in social conversation recently, and he said, “Oh yes.” He said, “I knew that man. He was a young engineer, as was I. He was in the plant, in technical work. When we would return from a flight, we would tell them about the engines, how they operated and so on, whether there were any malfunctions, what caused them.”
He said, “I told him”—this is Air Commodore Leathart’s words—”I told him that we were at a disadvantage in the early war because the Messerschmitt’s could dive vertically on us, but when we would dive, our engines would conk out.”
He said, “I mentioned this to this Rolls Royce engineer. He immediately put his people together plus his own ingenuity. They came up with a redesigned twin carburetor, which would feed the plane fuel at whatever altitude the plane was.”
He said, “This was factual.” He said, “This man later became, as he progressed up the line, he became the plant manager of one of the Rolls Royce plants. One of the things he did was go down to London to see the results of the bombing. He took pictures and he came back, and talked to the plant personnel.
This Rolls Royce plant manager made available automobiles for transporting union and lower supervision to London to personally witness the effects of the bombing, so that they could come back and tell their people exactly what was happening. This was to spur the people on to greater efforts.
We did similar things in this country, although, fortunately, we did not have bombed out areas to talk about, and I hope this never happens.