Stephane Groueff: Where did you come from? Probably we’ll start chronologically and then—
Dr. Samuel K. Allison: I was born here in Chicago, just half a kilometer from where we’re sitting at this moment. I went to school at the public schools in the city of Chicago and entered the University of Chicago in 1917. I got my PhD in 1923, went away for six years, but have been here ever since. So, I’ve been here ever since 1929, 1930.
Groueff: Teaching or research?
Allison: Regular job of a university professor teaching and research, yes.
Groueff: What was your specialty?
Allison: Well, everybody worked on X-rays when I was taking my PhD in the 1920’s. I then changed and worked on nuclear physics beginning about 1935. When the war broke out, I was called to Washington in the fall of 1940 to work on rockets. We were trying to help the British who were interested in rockets, although at that time we were not in the war.
During the fall of 1940, when I was in Washington, Professor [Arthur] Compton sent me a letter asking me to return to Chicago and work on the uranium chain reaction. I wanted to return to Chicago to my family. I hadn’t moved my family to Washington, so I did come back to Chicago.
In early 1941, I started some work here on the initiation of the chain reaction using Beryllium as a moderator. This was a very modest project and soon became completely overrun by the rush of events as the project escalated very rapidly. Then of course, there was a drastic change in pace at Pearl Harbor time when we became involved in the war. It was obvious that a large effort should be made to initiate the chain reaction. It was decided, after agonizing conferences, to concentrate the effort on the chain reaction at Chicago, the University of Chicago. So, I didn’t have to leave home. A group was gathered here, beginning long in January and February 1941. [Eugene] Wigner came from Princeton.
Groueff: ’41 or ‘42?
Allison: That would be ‘42. You’re right. Sorry. Correction, it was ‘42. Wigner and [Enrico] Fermi came and many others. The first effort of course was to get the chain reaction going as soon as possible. Fermi was of course an extremely brilliant leader and everybody paid attention to what he said. His opinion was that although the chain reaction would almost certainly go with sufficient heavy water, that of course we didn’t have sufficient heavy water, and he said we must make it go with the materials that are at hand and don’t require new factories built for the production. Graphite was at hand, although we had a considerable time-trouble getting it pure enough. Uranium was not at hand, but was at hand in the form of the ore and in the form of uranium nitrate, which was rapidly transformed into uranium metal. Although uranium metal was a problem in itself since we’d never seen any when we started the project.
In May 1942, we had an assemblage of materials—that is, graphite and metallic uranium and some powdered uranium oxide. This assemblage was not sufficient to start the chain reaction, but put together it multiplied neutrons sufficiently so that we were sure that if we had enough material of the same kind, the chain reaction would begin. In other words, the question was simply one of enlarging the small structure we had built with the stuff we could get.
So the period from May 1942 to December 1942 was mainly one of waiting for industry to make tons of material, which we had only available in pounds in May. But industry responded, the stuff began to come in, and on December 2nd, 1942 the last shipment came in. It was immediately stacked onto the structure and Professor Fermi demonstrated that the chain reaction would initiate, would begin, would carry on, and could be controlled. And the last, of course, was just as important as the other, that it’s one thing to begin the reaction it’s another, equally important to show that you can stop it and control it. But this was very successfully demonstrated. There was never any question of the thing getting out of control.
Groueff: In this period, in ’42, all of you worked on the chain reaction? That was the main problem?
Allison: Here in Chicago it was. Of course there was the SAM [Substitute Alloy Materials] project in Columbia, etc.
Groueff: But in Chicago you had different groups, each one working on different problems—like Fermi had a group or Wigner had another group? And you and Szilard? Or everybody was more or less working on the same?
Allison: No. There was already beginning to be sub-divisions. Fermi and his crew, Dr. [Walter] Zinn, Dr. [Herbert] Anderson, were intensively working on stacking up graphite and uranium to make test to see that the chain reaction would begin if they had enough material. Wigner was head of the theoretical group, whose main job was to design a reactor which could be cooled. That is, water could be pumped through it and enough power could be developed to make plutonium.
Then Dr. [Glenn] Seaborg and Dr. [Frank] Spedding had chemical sections here who were studying the properties of plutonium before it existed. That is, they had minute amounts that were too small to see with the naked eye, but they could get some idea of the compounds of this substance and get ready to study how it could be separated out from uranium when the slugs in a big pile are being processed.
And we had engineering groups under Ed[ward C.] Creutz who were thinking about the problems of how to take the radiated material out of a pile and begin to place it in places where it can be chemically processed. This is not easy because you can’t get near it. It’s too radioactive. Everything has to be done by remote control.
And when we decided on the Columbia River as the water supply for the first power reactors to produce plutonium, we had people working with fish.
Groueff: There was a Dr. [Lauren R.] Donaldson, I think.
Allison: I’d forgotten the name of the man, but I know the Army was very fearful that we might make the water in the Columbia River radioactive or do something to it such that it would damage the salmon in the river. And they said this would be the end of the uranium project if it killed the salmon in the river. So, we had young salmon here in tanks and we were testing them with radioactive materials seeing how much they could stand.
Then of course there was a big section on what we called Health Physics and still call Health Physics. That is, we knew there would be levels of radioactive which had never been seen before. How much radioactivity could a person stand without danger? This was really not known in those early days, although there was some data from the exposure to X-rays. We had this big biological and health division. Month by month, new compartments were added.
Groueff: You personally were in what division?
Allison: Well, before Professor Fermi came here, I was in charge of making what we call “exponential piles.” That is, the first structures which might chain react. Then when Dr. Fermi came, I had various jobs. But the job I had longest was the director of this Metallurgical Laboratory. Professor Compton was director of the Metallurgical Project, which was bigger than the laboratory. It included the work at Oak Ridge and the work at Hanford and the work here, which has now become the Argonne Laboratory.
Groueff: Site A.
Allison: I’ve forgotten. Site A, that’s right.
Groueff: And you were the director?
Allison: I was the director of the Metallurgical Laboratory, which was just a part of it here at the University of Chicago.
Groueff: So you worked with all the groups?
Groueff: And Dr. Compton, did he work as a scientist, or he had no time anymore? He was more in administrative—
Allison: Oh no. I mean, my goodness. He didn’t have time to breathe. No there was no time for Professor Compton and very little time for me to do any scientific work.
Groueff: Where was the laboratory here, in what building?
Allison: Well, we emptied out two buildings, the Ryerson and Eckhart. Ryerson and Eckhart were emptied out. Mathematics was moved out of Eckhart and physics was taught in another building somewhere, although it practically ceased being taught. And those two buildings were used. Later a large part of Kemp Laboratory was used, and then a new building was built.
Allison: Specially for the chemistry. That building has been torn down since.
Groueff: So it was quiet a big project here at Chicago. How many people, about 100 people?
Allison: Oh, I think at the height of the Metallurgical Laboratory there must have been five thousand people.
Groueff: Five thousand?
Allison: But these people weren’t all scientists by any means. In fact, the majority were not. But there were technicians, secretaries, machinists, guards.
Groueff: Five thousand people?
Allison: Somewhere there is an official figure. You better look up “The New World” and see whether I’m right, but I am sure it of that order of magnitude.
Groueff: So the main effort until December ’42 was to prove the chain reaction and the first pile. After that, the purpose was to build something on the industrial scale for Hanford.
Allison: Well yes. The official instructions that we were operating under, which became clearer after the feasibility of the chain reaction was demonstrated, were to cooperate with the DuPont Company in the construction of the Hanford Plant. I had to sign all the blueprints for that plant which were in any way special. That is, I didn’t have to sign a blueprint for every beaker, but for machines that had to be designed because of the special nature of the project. They were all reviewed by our people.
Groueff: And the design of the actual Hanford pile was made here? No, it was Wigner who—
Groueff: Made the concept. And it was actually designed at Wilmington.
Allison: There were two, at least two, rival designs. The main question was how to get the heat out of the pile so it wouldn’t melt down under its own heat. And the first suggestion was to blow helium gas through the pile, because helium doesn’t absorb neutrons and we were very much afraid of putting anything in the pile which did absorb neutrons and might stop the reaction. We had engineers here working on helium blasts and how to pump it. We had some machinery set up for pumping helium. But Wigner insisted, and it turned out he was quite right, that the thing to do was to cool it with water. It was so much easier to do than with helium. He kept saying that somehow, although water does absorb neutrons more than helium, somehow we could make it go.
Groueff: Isolate the uranium.
Allison: Isolate the uranium from the water and make it go. The problem of isolating the uranium from the water turned nearly to finish us off. I mean, we almost didn’t solve that one. It’s a terrific job of putting a can, a coating of aluminum around uranium and having it absolutely watertight and having it in contact with the uranium to conduct away the heat. Proved to be an extremely difficult problem. And for a time, it seemed as if the project might fail because of the technical difficulty. However, it was eventually solved with cooperation with the DuPont Company. The enclosure of the uranium was completed.
Groueff: So, the Wigner design became feasible?
Groueff: Who were the people who designed that? It was Wigner and a few assistants around him? It was mainly his conception, no?
Allison: Well, Wigner insisted that the cooling agent had to be water and went on to calculate some of the constants of the pile, that is, how much water could we stand, how much uranium, how much graphite had to be put around it. The details of the actual inches of measurements of things were done by the DuPont engineers. Maybe this is understatement a bit. I mean, they did more than that. They were creative and in one particular point they really saved the whole project by building in more safety than we had recommended.
Groueff: Xenon poisoning.
Groueff: I saw some of the DuPont people. They gave me part of it. And, Dr. [John] Wheeler also told me.
Allison: They’re right about that. I mean, they were so eager to win the war and get it going that we objected to them building in so much extra capacity and safety, but it turned out that if they hadn’t done it, the thing wouldn’t have worked.
Groueff: Was there any antagonism, especially in the beginning, when you were told that DuPont will do the job? I understand there were some criticism and some opposition from part of you.
Allison: Very powerful antagonism, yes. Scientists and engineers didn’t get along at all. In the first place, the DuPont Company sent its young engineers out here to be taught some radioactivity. Radioactivity had never been investigated by the DuPont Company and their engineers weren’t trained in the subject. They came out and we gave them courses. We soon found that the pupils in the class were getting paid about three times as much as the instructor because the instructors were working on the old academic salaries and the DuPont engineers were getting paid commercial rates. Well, this was—
Allison: Irritating. There were others that felt that the DuPont Company would use the new invention to their commercial advantage. The feeling was that a thing as big as this shouldn’t be used to any company’s personal or individual commercial advantage, but should be the property of the nation as a whole. Fear was expressed many times. Actually, it turned out that the DuPont Company did not use the process to its own advantage. In fact, they came to the somewhat erroneous conclusion that it wasn’t a profitmaking field and abandoned it shortly after the bomb.
Groueff: So all of you here, or most of you, felt that you should continue to direct the project in the building of Hanford. But you didn’t have the industrial experience. How did you intend to solve that—just to hire the services of DuPont or somebody else and direct them?
Allison: Well, I don’t know just exactly what to say to that. I feel that the physicists were proud of their own profession. They had their professional pride. They certainly had no inferiority complex. They had a feeling that they could do all the engineering themselves. This I did not share and I still believe it was wrong. I mean, the physicists had been working in the university laboratory-scale and they simply did not conceive of the problems that would arise from constructing a several hundred million dollar plant. It’s doubtful to me whether the physicists could have done it. They thought so, however. And there was a good deal of irritation and antagonism. But everybody realized that things had to move fast. Since the Army had decided that the DuPont Company was going to be in charge.
Groueff: Did Compton also line with the Army, no, in his decision?
Allison: Compton, yes. He agreed with the decision to allow the administration or construction, major construction decisions of the plant to be made by the DuPont.
Groueff: How did Fermi feel? Did he feel strongly against that? Or he wasn’t one of the spokesmen of this feeling?
Allison: No. Fermi, his interest was always on the basic fundamental physics. As soon as people started talking about building plants and large machinery and administrative problems, he rapidly became disinterested. He only wanted to go back to his own lab and his own notebooks and his own studies. Along as he could see that it wasn’t going to involve him and prevent him from doing physics the way he wanted to do physics, he was not very much concerned.
Groueff: And Wigner or Szilard, they felt they should—in other words, who were the most exponents of this idea?
Allison: Wigner, at that time, he felt very strongly that this was the chance for physics to sort of justify itself before the world. He saw clearly that the Nazi government in Germany simply couldn’t be allowed to succeed. I mean, the world would have been a terrible place if the kind of people that were running the German government had won a big victory and had controlled Europe. Wigner thought that this was the time for physics to really come to the rescue of mankind and to stop the subjugation of Europe. He didn’t want this to be said that the DuPont Company did it and not the physicists. So, there was a good deal of antagonism there. But strangely enough, well not strangely, but after the war Wigner became a consultant for the DuPont Company and actually worked with them, and the thing calmed down.
Groueff: It turned out to be the right decision after all.
Allison: I think so.
Groueff: The results were good. If I wanted to get the flavor of the atmosphere of the work here, what did the—first, it must have been very busy and very hard work, a lot of people. Was it informal or was it tense because of emergency feeling or urgency of the war project? How would you describe it as compared to the usual atmosphere in the laboratory?
Allison: Oh, it was an atmosphere of incredible tension, incredible excitement and tension at the same time. University physicists are all individualists. It was extremely hard to get any order going.
I remember when [Crawford H.] Greenewalt of the DuPont Company came out to look over the lab and see if the DuPont Company could work with the organization. He was very much disturbed. He said, “There’s no organization to work with here.” I mean, there’s nobody at the head. He said, “You don’t have anybody who is in charge. People are tearing around the corridors and juniors are revolting against their bosses.”
The first impact was a shock to him. Greenewalt rapidly saw that underneath it all was a very high morale. Sure enough, people did explode occasionally and there was apparent chaos. But underneath it all there was a very great drive.
Groueff: That was the way I suppose the scientists worked. You can’t regiment them.
Groueff: But for the military people, that must have been very disconcerting for [General Leslie R.] Groves and the other people to see this lack of order or hierarchy.
Allison: Yes. They couldn’t understand the fact that there was practically no respect for authority. But still, things happened. I mean, young people would go out and do things which their superiors didn’t even know about, or certainly never authorized them to do. But they were the right things to do. And every person, every academic person, felt as if the whole project was his own personal responsibility.
Groueff: That must have been difficult for you as a director. Are you kind of a disciplinarian man in your temperament and your way of running organization, sort of strict? Or you let individuals work and you just are more of a liaison?
Allison: I just let people do as they want to. Many times I had to do things that were distasteful to me. I mean, some of the young people wanted to form a union during the war and wanted to have a scientist union and go on strike if their wages weren’t raised or something. I’m usually very sympathetic to young people and new movements, but my goodness. This was no time for anything like that. I had to go on and spend a lot of time arguing with them and persuading them that this is not the time to start this sort of business. They were being well paid. Nobody was hungry. This was time to get on with this business and not to sit around drawing up posters and so forth.
Groueff: They didn’t do it.
Allison: No, no. The movement sort of stopped by itself.
Groueff: Did you have difficulties with the temperaments and personal characteristics of some of the top scientists, very individualistic and very independent? I understand that somebody quoted you as having a very funny thing said about Szilard, that they should put him in a state of—what was it? What do you call it when you freeze somebody? Suspended animation, and take him out once a year and get all the terrific ideas and then put him back. Somebody describing Szilard say that you said that.
Allison: Well Szilard was an extremely brilliant person. The trouble is, he had too many ideas, if such is possible. He had more ideas than we could ever conceivably carry out. In the early stages of the project I tried to assign some young men to him to work out his ideas, but he had a different one every morning. He’d think up something and it would take a month or a couple of months to study, to do experiments on, and then if it wasn’t done by the next morning he would say, “It’s not important and let’s do something else.”
He was a very difficult person. Very brilliant, and I admire him greatly, but he was incapable of routine pushing day after day that’s necessary to get things accomplished in an enterprise like that, where you had to be at least consistent for a couple of months on end and follow an idea and see how far it would go.
Groueff: So, he wasn’t given a specific responsibility for one part of the project?
Allison: No, he was sort of a freelance. Idea man, wandered off through the place. Some of his ideas were excellent.
Groueff: He would go from lab to lab and see what they’re doing and give ideas and criticize or suggest things.
Groueff: But without having a responsibly of finishing one job.
Allison: That’s right. Szilard always was fascinated with the political implications of the discoveries, much more so than anybody else on the project. He was always thinking ahead as to what this would mean for international relations and whether we could prevent the universal catastrophe when these bombs began to spread.
Groueff: Even in the early days.
Allison: Even in the very first days, yes. He always was very politically minded.
Groueff: And most of you were just too busy with day-by-day—
Allison: Yes, most of us were meeting the problems of the laboratory day-by-day and staggered home and went to bed and got up in the morning and started all over again.
Groueff: Was Fermi difficult, being such a great genius?
Allison: No. Fermi was never any difficulty. I mean, you mustn’t ask Fermi to do things that you know he wouldn’t do. I knew Fermi very well. I knew that he had a great dislike for administrative activity of any kind. He got extremely nervous and impatient in long discussions and committees and that sort of thing.
Groueff: He wasn’t a committee man.
Allison: No, not at all. I knew that the best way to use Fermi was to keep him in close contact with a group of young people working in the laboratory. As long as that was done, that was fine. Now of course, he was extremely brilliant.
Groueff: There was no need of—
Allison: Oh no. You don’t have to push him. Oh God no.
Groueff: He was all dedicated and working overtime without being asked.
Allison: Oh sure. I mean—
Groueff: I understand he had a complete sort of self-assurance, and he was most of the time right.
Allison: Fantastic record for being right, yes. Well, I think Fermi was a phenomenon. That is, his mind worked from five to ten times as fast as a normal person, and he knew this. But the secret of the success is that even knowing it, he tolerated other people. He didn’t make himself offensive to other people. He learned how to reveal another man’s mistakes without making him angry.
Since Fermi was perfectly well aware of his extraordinary powers, he also had a tremendous amount of self-confidence. He always felt that he was equal to any situation. I never saw one that he wasn’t equal to.
Groueff: He was really one of the exceptional men that you would put in the category of genius.
Allison: Yes, as near a genius as I ever saw.
Allison: Yeah, absolutely extraordinary.
Groueff: It’s not only because of his knowledge and work, but his mind probably was built this way. It’s a natural phenomenon.
Allison: It was a natural phenomenon. He had an extremely active intelligent mind, plus physical vigor. I think both are needed. I mean, you have to have a body that somehow can keep up with such a mind. He was very strong, well-coordinated. Although he never spent much time at athletics, he was very good at it.
Groueff: He was.
Allison: He was a small man, I mean, not very tall.
Allison: But perfectly coordinated. He walked. He could out-walk anybody also on the project. He was good without being excellent at most games. He just gave an impression of great physical vigor at all times.
Groueff: How was Wigner as compared to Szilard or to Fermi? Was he a difficult man? Some people say that after Fermi, he was the next sort of near-genius mind. Do you agree with that?
Allison: Well, Wigner is still alive and my friend. I don’t want to talk too much about him. He was a very difficult person and he still is a very difficult person. I’m going to sit on a committee with him on Saturday and I know there will be trouble.
Groueff: Also a confident man?
Allison: No. Wigner doesn’t quite have Fermi’s self-confidence. He doesn’t have Fermi’s instinctive judgment of the worth of other people. Some of the troubles were due to the fact that Wigner would hear some chance remark of a young man on the project and that remark might make some sense, and Wigner would immediately decide that he was a genius and that he ought to be promoted.
Groueff: I see.
Allison: Other people who were just working day-by-day and doing very hard work but never said anything, Wigner thought were no good. I mean, his judgment of people was poor, I think. And I think it still is.
Groueff: He wasn’t like Szilard, sort of causing trouble by going and disturbing people with new ideas?
Allison: No, no.
Groueff: He was an extremely polite man I understand. I was told a lot of—
Allison: Oh, there are thousands of stories about Wigner’s politeness. He has a rather formal type of politeness, which we enjoy very much.
Groueff: He has never walked into a door in front of you or always—
Allison: Yes. Fermi used to say that if you’re walking with Wigner, the only complete and unsurpassable obstacle is an open door because neither one of you can get through first.
Groueff: Now who are the other people on the project? Seaborg was a younger man.
Allison: Seaborg came to the project from California as a relatively unknown young chemist. He had his PhD several years, I think, but he rapidly rose to an outstanding position on the project because of the combination of his grasp of chemistry and a remarkable organizational ability. He had a great ability to organize a group of people, keep them happy.
Groueff: A good administrator.
Allison: Very good administrator. He keeps people on interesting jobs. He keeps the loyalty of the people that work with him. If you gave Seaborg an idea on Friday afternoon, on Monday morning there would be ten people working on it and Seaborg going around from desk to desk helping them out one-by-one. He was very good at that sort of thing.
Groueff: Which is not true for most scientists. Like you said, Fermi and the others, they didn’t like administration work.
Allison: In that respect, Seaborg was not typical of the average academic scientist. Well, it shows now. He’s very successful as head of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Groueff: It’s a success?
Allison: Oh yes. His administration is a great success, I believe.
Groueff: He and his group were the ones who developed the chemistry of plutonium at the beginning, from scratch.
Allison: Well, I think that is a controversial statement. There are others who contributed things. But, I think the major part of plutonium chemistry was certainly done in Seaborg’s group—some of it before they came to Chicago, but most of it after they were here.
Groueff: You personally stayed here, the director part of the time, and then you went to Los Alamos?
Groueff: Did you go to Hanford?
Allison: Well, I went there on trips, inspection trips. But I never sat at an office there and stayed there. But I left the University, the Metallurgical Lab, in November 1944 and went to Los Alamos and stayed there until January of ’46.
Groueff: You saw the Trinity Test?
Allison: I was there at the Trinity Test, yes. I was the countdown man.
Groueff: In what group did you work there? Did you have special assignment in Los Alamos?
Allison: Well, Oppenheimer told me that I was the head of the technical and scheduling committee. I never quite found out exactly what that was, but certainly the job that I did was to try and see that all the components were assembled at one place and on time for the first test. And on July 16, 1945 there was parts coming in from Hanford, from all over the country, from factories and suppliers and the people at the lab had to get their work done. My job was to go around the lab and see how things were coming. Every two weeks I got out a report showing who was lagging or what had to be speeded up or what was in good shape.
Groueff: So, sort of a coordination between the work on different components.
Allison: That’s right.
Groueff: To see that one of them wouldn’t stunt the whole—
Allison: Yes. We were always afraid that some particular group might get into trouble, might get behind schedule. My job was at least to find out if that was happening, and if I could help them, I was to help them. But I was supposed to be aware of whether all the various groups concerned with the test were on schedule and coming together at the critical date.
Groueff: Did you have many contacts with the army or the General Groves here or later at Los Alamos?
Allison: Well, I’m sure I didn’t have as many contacts with him as Oppenheimer and Compton did, although I got to know him quite well and certainly had several conversations with him.
Groueff: How would you explain this, I wouldn’t say conflict, but this lack of mutual understanding that several people talked about between the Army and Groves on one side and what they call the longhaired scientists? I understand they didn’t get along at all with some of the scientists like the Hungarians. I don’t know about the others. But he got along with Compton.
Allison: Yes, I think so. Oh well, the academic civilian mind is at the opposite end of the earth from the mind of an Army officer—West Point graduate, Army officer. There just were too few points of contact. Now, I think Groves was extremely able. I think that he did his job really, extremely well in handling a group which were as foreign to him and really as antagonistic to him as the scientists were.
I think that if there had ever been an inquiry, if the project had failed and there of course then been an inquiry, that Groves could have shown and correctly shown that he never took any major scientific decision without consultation. He always, when a certain avenue approach was being considered or dropped or under taken, he always called scientists together and had them battle it out. He paid a lot of attention to their opinion. He certainly was extremely energetic in getting the cooperation of industrialists with the project.
His extreme preoccupation was security and secrecy. It seemed a bit ridiculous to the scientists and I believe that the kind of security and secrecy that Groves advocated, if it had been rigidly and completely enforced, would have seriously damaged the project because information would not have gotten around through the project as to what was going on in different groups. And when a thing is new and things are being developed, you have to have the advantages of the circulation of information. It wasn’t like designing a new bolt for a rifle where it might be done in one plant. There was no communication with others.
Groueff: So it wasn’t reinforced too rigidly? I mean, he put the set of rules that were more or less observed?
Allison: They were more or less observed, but I know cases where the project was helped greatly by unauthorized passage of information between different laboratories.
Groueff: All of them of course—
Allison: Within the main framework.
Groueff: Not to outsiders.
Allison: The idea of Army security is that every small group should be self-contained and not communicate with any other group. You just can’t divide physics up that way.
Groueff: So that was the major, the main source of criticism from the scientists, against Groves. He thought that was ridiculous and exaggerated. But otherwise, they respected him as a—
Allison: I think so. Well, they were afraid the military would have too much to say on how the bomb was used and they were afraid that the military might, after the war, have a monopoly on developments—that is, that the development of the atomic energy work might be done in a secret military laboratory under some General or another. This they felt would be very bad. They always had the idea that they were doing something for humanity, that the democratic government should control the development and the output and not some specialized interest such as any private company or the Army.
Groueff: Turned out the Army doesn’t control it.
Allison: No. The scientists raised a very effective campaign after the war and prevented the passage of a bill in Congress, which would have given Army control of the developments, and insisted that it be set up under civilian agency when they won their battle on that one.
Groueff: The agency is completely civilian.
Allison: Well, it has a military liaison committee, but it is a civilian agency, yes.
Groueff: By the end they have this big campaign by [James] Franck and Szilard I think, no, to stop the dropping of the bomb. Which put them in fight with Groves and the other people.
Allison: Well, there’s a big book just coming out on that. The University Press here has a book by Alice Smith on this question of the— [Alice Kimball Smith, “A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists Movement in America, 1945-47,” MIT Press, 1965]
Groueff: The decision.
Allison: The decision to drop the bomb, on the scientists’ attempts to influence a decision.
Groueff: That’s very interesting.
Allison: I don’t know much about this because the big debate on that subject was at the Metallurgical Laboratory here in Chicago. But after I left I was—
Groueff: You were at Los Alamos.
Allison: I was at Los Alamos where there was not this internal disturbance and debate about what should be done. So, I really know very little about the Franck report, the famous Franck report, which we don’t know whether ever got to the president or not.
Groueff: I understand. It was sort of kept secret. Was Franck a member of the laboratory here since the beginning?
Allison: Well, since he had been born in Germany, there was some doubt about whether he could be cleared, whether he could be certified as eligible to get the secret information. This was rapidly cleared up and from a very early date he was a member of the lab. But I think it took about six months or so to get the Army to—
Groueff: In what group did he work? Theoretical?
Allison: Well, he became sort of head of the chemistry group.
Groueff: I see.
Allison: With Seaborg and Spedding.
Groueff: He was very well established by then, famous scientist.
Allison: Oh, certainly, yes. His enormous prestige was—
Groueff: He was a Nobel Prize—
Allison: Yeah, he won the Nobel Prize long ago and still is very active and very fine man, extremely fine man.
Groueff: So he was the head of the chemistry?
Allison: Yes. There were stresses inside the chemistry division, but nobody could say that Franck was not an adequate head and he succeeded in keeping the thing on a straight and narrow path.
Groueff: Generally, the collaboration between different scientists and groups was rather good.
Allison: It was very good inside the Metallurgical Labs, certainly yes.
Groueff: There were not very serious fights and conflicts and jealousies. They all designed a certain level, but nothing significant no?
Allison: Certainly nothing significant. The conflicts were all extramural with the army and the DuPont Company.
Groueff: I see.
Allison: That was enough to keep them busy.