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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Wallace Reynolds’s, Duane Sewell’s, and Elmer Kelly’s Interview

In this interview, Wallace Reynolds, Duane Sewell, and Elmer Kelly recount their Manhattan Project experiences at Berkeley and Oak Ridge. This trio was part of the first group to arrive at Oak Ridge. They discuss the difficulties and obstacles that surrounded the cyclotrons and isotope separation, remarking that there was never a doubt that the job could be done. They also talk about Ernest Lawrence’s role, describing him as a natural leader completely dedicated to the project.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 2022
Location of the Interview:


Groueff: It is February 8, [1965] at Berkeley, California. We have Dr. Reynolds.

Wallace B. Reynolds: It is Mr. Reynolds.

Groueff: It is Mr. Reynolds.

Duane C. Sewell: Mr. Sewell.

Groueff: Sewell.

Elmer Kelly: Elmer Kelly.

Groueff: There is Mr. Kelly.

You understood my problems? I want to even dramatize the difficulties. If you have some examples of things that were considered impossible practically to solve with the technology and science in the ‘40s, that would be even better for my purpose. Then describe how little by little they were solved by some invention, discovery, or just by teamwork.

Reynolds: I do not think we considered anything in the electromagnetic process was impossible. It is not impossible. This was one of the points of that process, that if you worked at it hard enough, you could make it go even though it might take a large number of units or not be very efficient.

You could produce something. We did not quite have the feeling – at least I never did; I do not think Ernest [Lawrence] ever did. You had a situation such as the barrier problem. The question of being space-charge limited on the beam was a question only of the amount of beam you could carry around the separator. It was not whether you could get a beam around.

The problems were a different kind or order. There were lots of problems, and they were really difficult. But they were not impossible.

Groueff: You knew it would work since the beginning?

Reynolds: Yes, we knew it would work.

Sewell: Actually, it was because you had small mass spectrographs that had worked. You could separate the material in the laboratory on a small scale.

Kelly: My recollection was that [Alfred] Nier made the statement that we would never get enough, no matter how we did it.

Reynolds: That was correct.

Sewell: That was the big question of how fast you could produce the material.

Kelly: That was the question of what would be space-charge limited.

Reynolds: That would take such a large number of units that we would never get them built in time to have it for the war.

Kelly: That is another thing.

Groueff: Actually, the problem, if I understand it correctly, was not whether it can be done or not, but it is whether it can be done on a big scale.

Reynolds: It is scale and in time.

Sewell: Is there time enough to get enough material to do the job that you wanted to do? At that time, enough material was not defined. You did not know how much it would take.

Groueff: You did not know how much enough was.

Reynolds: At the start of the war, you did not know what the critical mass was.

Groueff: You were working in the dark, in a way.

Sewell: There were some calculations made at that time. It was a back of the envelope type of thing, figuratively speaking. You did not know for sure what this would be. Of course, as time went on, that number was refined more and more by the people working at Los Alamos. They separated some material.

Reynolds: They needed some. They needed small amounts of material in order to help try and determine this.

Groueff: Dr. Lawrence, all the way since the beginning, said it could be done also on an industrial scale.            

Reynolds: That is right.

Sewell: Frankly, everyone working here at Berkeley felt the same way. It could be done, but somehow you would –

Groueff: It is pounds and kilograms.

Sewell: That is right.

Reynolds: Yes.

Groueff: I saw some people at this W. K. Lewis Committee when they visited the three different processed metals. They went to Columbia, Chicago, and here. When they went back, in their report they said that the least promising was the electromagnetic. They even suggested that it would be dropped more.

Reynolds: I think it was just due to the fact that they did not think you could get enough beam out of a single unit. These would be so small that you would require such a tremendous thing. You just could not get it done in time. I do not think they thought that it could not be done. It was just the timing and the quantity.

Sewell: It was quantity versus time.

Reynolds: It was quantity, yes.

Sewell: And as it turned out, their statement or their evaluation at the time has turned out as everybody thought it would be to be partially true. Actually, we did separate enough material enough.

Groueff: This was from enriched?

Reynolds: No.

Sewell: No, we started from scratch.

Reynolds: We started from scratch.

Sewell: You did separate enough material. However, the diffusion process turned out to be far and above the best way to do it from a long-term production standpoint.

Reynolds: Nobody ever claimed here that this was the most economical way of doing it.

Sewell: No.

Reynolds: The idea was that it was certain, and we felt that we could do it in time. There was a certain method of doing it.

Sewell: That turned out to be correct.

Reynolds: That turned out to be correct. Very early in the game. As a matter of fact, I could look up dates. Several of us sat down in the course of ten hours and produced an estimate of what it would cost to build a plant to produce 100 grams of material over a certain length of time. It was not too long a period.  This was done on what we considered an optimistic performance of a plan. They did not turn out to be that way. But nevertheless, we felt so certain early that this could be done.

Groueff: How many people here were on the team for the electromagnetic?

Reynolds: The laboratory had a gross top peak of people employed of approximately 1250 people during the war. At the peak, there were roughly 250 of those at Oak Ridge. That was 1,000 a year.

Groueff: There were 1,000 people who work here?

Reynolds: There were 250 laboratory people at Oak Ridge. We had people there.

Sewell: It was for the better part of two years.

Reynolds: We were the liaison, the interpreting, the developers, the explainers, and all of everything else.

Groueff: But 1,000 people worked here? In what building were they?

Reynolds: The main one was the big cyclotron building up on the hill.

Sewell: It was twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.

Kelly: And there was a machine shop and assembly shop adjacent to it. We started with—

Sewell: The big magnet – the cyclotron magnet, as you probably heard, was used – it was put together and used initially for all the laboratory work for large-scale design and proof testing of the prototypes for the plant down at Oak Ridge.

Groueff: It is the big cyclotron on the hill?

Kelly: Yes.

Sewell: It is the 184 inch.

Kelly: 184.

Sewell: There is more than one on the hill. This is the 184 inch.

Groueff: When they started building at Oak Ridge, some of you would go there and come back and join in and control—

Reynolds: Some went and stayed.

Sewell: Some went and stayed.

Kelly: More probably stayed.

Sewell: I was out there for the better part of two years.

Groueff: You lived there?

Reynolds: Oh yes, we moved families there. We moved families there. Of course, there is a little sidelight on things – there are certain children of our employees that I know just when they were born. You had to keep track mentally. You did not want to move the family a week before a child was going to be due, the week after, or something like this. It became firmly fixed.

Kelly: What we ought to mention here is that it was a very small group in December of ’41 when they started.

Sewell: Yes, it was very small.

Kelly: It was less than fifty I think, but I do not know the exact number.

Reynolds: You can look it up.

Sewell: It seemed to me that there were about two dozen of us.

Reynolds: It was very small.

Groueff: It was the very first team in ’41.

Kelly: It is when we first undertook to do some on the old ’37.

Sewell: Yeah, in fact I remember that project started on the 26th of December in 1941.

Reynolds: The work started before that.

Sewell: Well, it did. But it was not as the  ORNL [Oak Ridge National Laboratory] project.

Reynolds: OSRD [Office of Scientific Research and Development].

Kelly: Yeah, it went a month or so before that.

Reynolds: It went longer than that. It was going longer than that.

Kelly: On the 37-inch cyclotron, I remember is what I started.

Reynolds: It was effective January 1 of that year. An OSRD contract was effective. We started working in the lab doing a higher rate of work. On January 1 – I think it was January 1 – the first day, we had [inaudible] come up here to hoist some stuff up into the building and start doing some large-scale work. Otherwise, we did not have the money together.

Sewell: At that time, though, this magnet was not put together. This building was not finished up on the hill. We worked down at the old Radiation Laboratory, which had the original cyclotron – the 37-inch. I do not say the original one, but it was the small one. It was the one that made all of the big news. It was the one that Lawrence really got his Nobel Prize from. It was that cyclotron. We tore that apart. That was the one we were working on at that time in the old wooden building, which has since been torn down. It was not until, as I remember, May of that year that we moved up the hill.

Reynolds: In May, we moved up here.

Groueff: It was in ’41.

Sewell: It was May of ’42.

Kelly: It was ’42.

Reynolds: It was ’42, I think.

Kelly: I know I came here in ’41 of August. I helped wind the coil on that cyclotron, so I remember quite well when it was.

Sewell: Elmer was the chief coil winder and welder in those days.

Kelly: Yeah, I made all the joints on the swing shift. I had Red – what is his name?

Reynolds: Red Gordon.

Kelly: Red Gordon made them on the day shift. I used to worry that his joints were going to break, but they never did.

Sewell: Just bring it back to mind. At the time we started on this project, I remember early in ’42, there was a small group of people working in the old Radiation Laboratory. The initial guarding job was done by the employees themselves. Each one of us had a certain shift during the week. I can remember going around that building on the midnight shift with a flashlight, looking around under the building and guarding the place. I was keeping the door locked and making sure that when the people came in, we allowed them into the place. There was a guard force of our own, which was kind of moonlighting on the guard duty.

Groueff: That was before the Manhattan?

Sewell: That was before the Manhattan Project took over. This was shortly after this got started up. Of course, everything was done on personal recognition. You knew everyone that was working on the project and that had a right to be on the project.

Groueff: You were a small group?

Reynolds: It was less than 100.

Sewell: It sure was way less than 100 at that time.

Groueff: So 1,000 became after the government and the Army?

Reynolds: You really have to count 1,250 because it was one unit, even though 250 of the people were over at Oak Ridge. You see,  the Stone and Webster, the Tennessee Eastman, and the other industrial companies were brought in in January, roughly, we will say. There was a large-scale in 1943. Then the main detail design working drawings for the plant were done in Boston. I had an office in Boston and a small group of people there. Tennessee East had a small office group in Boston.

Groueff: I see. In other words, the scientific part was done here, and the design for the industrial was done at Stone and Webster?

Reynolds: There were representatives from Stone and Webster here continuously. There were representatives from Tennessee Eastman here continuously, and from General Electric and from Westinghouse.

Kelly: General Electric had an Alpha-2 process.

Reynolds: No. GE built all the cubicles and all the electrical stuff. Westinghouse built the Ds, the Es, so forth and so on.

Sewell: Allis-Chalmers built the magnet.

Reynolds: Allis-Chalmers built the magnet.

Groueff: Now building the magnet, was that an extraordinary job because of the size?

Kelly: It was really the size.

Sewell: It was the size. Also, it was extraordinary in the sense that at that time it took a large amount of electrical conducting material. The story is well known that they used silver. This is ingenuity on the part of the US way of doing things I think.

Groueff: Who decided? Who had the idea about silver?

Sewell: I do not know.

Reynolds: Gosh, I do not know.

Kelly: It was a very obvious thing to do.

Reynolds: It was sort of an obvious thing.

Groueff: It was an extraordinary story because they took the decision without asking the Congress or anybody.

Sewell: That is right.

Reynolds: Yes.

Kelly: Of course, this is another thing. When you come down to the wire during the war, people went ahead and did things. They just did it. They took the chance. This was one of the things you have to hand to Groves, is the fact that when it came down to the wire, he would stick out his neck and sign whatever had to be done to keep the job going.

Groueff: He told me that the building at Oak Ridge was finished before they knew exactly the size of the equipment – the magnet.

Reynolds: That is right. As a matter of fact, I made a sketch on an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper guessing at the size of things at the time they started digging holes down there. This was the way you had to do it. You had to do it  on a basis of your educated guess.

Sewell: There were no long formal approvals or anything.

Reynolds: That is right.

Groueff: If it does not work, it is quite a risk.

Sewell: As it turns out in a lot of areas, one thing that impressed me a great deal about the project was the fact that on the basis of strictly personal relationship between people – even in different organizations – they would get to know one another and trust one another’s judgment. They would get information. On the basis of that information that was passed on in that more or less personal way, major decisions would be made.

This is typical to what Wally is talking about here, where people trusted him. “Okay, fine. Write out a sketch.” He was not the A&E for the job at all. He would write out a sketch, and they would trust his judgment well enough to go ahead, act, and commit funds, people, and material to go ahead and start something. Otherwise, you would never have been able to get the job done in time.

Reynolds: You would never do it. The other thing is, too, I think this is the case that here were all these people. It is in not only the laboratory, but people at Stone and Webster and the other places were just as dedicated. They lived this job day and night. After a while, they generated a sense of perspective, crystal-balling, or whatever you want to call it. It was extraordinary.

Groueff: Also, you were all given some extraordinary freedom and power. In normal times, you would not.

Reynolds: That is right. But in effect, this was never written down. It was never written down.

Sewell: It was never formal. It was done on a personal basis of a man taking on responsibility. If he was right, most of the time the group got to know he was right most of the time. Therefore, the group accepted it.

Groueff: It is amazing that most of the time it proved to be right.

Reynolds: That is right. The batting average was extraordinarily high. It was extraordinarily high.

Sewell: There was very little waste, really, during the wartime.

Kelly: Yeah.

Groueff: This team was mostly composed of very young men?

Kelly: Oh yes, it is by necessity.

Reynolds: One thing that has to be remembered is that compared to some other research things and development things in the war effort, this started late. Radar was started well before. As a matter of fact, the Radiation Laboratory was one of the main contributors to radar. Luis Alvarez, Ed McMillan, and others were recruited out of here and went to MIT. This was a late start. This whole thing was a late starter.

Groueff: Some of the people in the laboratory worked on other projects. Some of them worked in other aspects of the bomb like Los Alamos. A lot of people came up. The three of you worked in the electromagnetics?

Reynolds: That is right.

Sewell: Yes.

Reynolds:  People also worked on the electromagnetic. Then later on during it, they were transferred to Los Alamos to help them out.

Sewell: That was about the last year.

Reynolds: Yes. Dick Canal,  for example, went down to Los Angeles to help out the purchasing situation in Los Angeles for the benefit of Los Alamos. Other people here went directly to spend time at Los Alamos in various phases. For all practical purposes, the laboratory’s job was really finished in May of 1945. You knew when the war was going to be over.

Sewell: Yeah, I did not have much interest in working on a project after that day.

Groueff: Your role was finished when the plant was built in Oak Ridge?

Reynolds: No. No, that is not right because you kept on improving it and making changes, keeping it going. Here also.

Kelly: Then all the way through the manufacturing plant that built the equipment for Oak Ridge.

Reynolds: They urge you. If you stepped it up by – the output of a single unit – by ten percent, what that meant – you just constantly kept on this all the time. [Inaudible]  used to be one of the people to handle all these change orders out of the plant, for Stone and Webster.

Groueff: Once it was built there, who was the manager or the boss?

Kelly: Tennessee Eastman ran it.

Sewell: They were the operating contractors.

Kelly: They were the operators.

Groueff: During the building, Stone and Webster had the general contract?

Sewell: Yes, they were the general constructors.

Groueff: You people were supervising them, consulting with them?

Kelly: That is right.

Sewell: That is right. I will give you – again this personal touch end of business, Stone and Webster used that to a very good advantage. They knew the people in all organizations that they could depend on to get what sort of information. They did this by just getting to know the individuals.

Kelly: Too bad Gus Klein is not alive.

Sewell: Yeah, I was thinking of Dick [inaudible]. He was down there at the time when we were accepting that last batch of units. He came over one day and said he had been looking around to find somebody that could give him some help of how to inspect these things. “Go through and inspect them.” He had never seen me before at all. I got to talking with him. We finally ended up working.

It was about ten to twelve days straight of putting together the total acceptance procedures for these given units. I do not know how many millions of dollars’ worth of them we were receiving.  Again, how he knew how to contact me, how he knew how to get a hold of me, and who he had talked with to find out that yes, a young kid as I was at the time, he could accept my word on what he should do and should not do. This was for the multi-millions of dollars’ worth of equipment that was coming in. Then set up the procedure for going ahead and handling it.

I have a good story on this, I think, that is a human-interest story. We have quite a few GIs down there during the war. During the process of bringing in these units, what we did is—they were built by Westinghouse. They were shipped to Oak Ridge. They were accepted by Holmes or by Stone and Webster—

Reynolds: I will give you an eye on the parts we were talking about here. Do you know how one of these things works?

Groueff:  Not too well.

Reynolds: In the first place, here we have been looking down. We had what we called a BM. This looks down on it. It is looking down. The magnetic lines, of course, are going through it. They are perpendicular. We had coils around these things. Anyway, you have magnetic lines, of course, this way. Then we put on a faceplate. This was back in January. It looked like this. A faceplate was built. It went on this. It bolted on tight. Then it was pumped on by vacuum pumps. On this faceplate were Js, they were known as. This was the source. Then there were receivers over here. The original one started out with only one feed going around like this. This beam would go this way and separate. That is where you got your separation. This would be richer at [U-2]35 than it would at [U-2]38.

The later ones had several beams all at once in a single tank. You see, you need no more magnets, and you got greater output. Then the Alpha tanks, which were the first stage tanks, were quite large. The Beta tanks, which were the second stage tanks, started out with slightly enriched material. They were smaller.

Kelly: Slightly enriched is—

Reynolds: It is slightly enriched.

Kelly: Just a few percent.

Reynolds: A few percent is all we ever had, in the original one. They got up higher than that later on. You know, you could build a magnet. We still had a problem building big magnets, too. We made a couple of bad guesses. We wanted to reuse four magnetic beams, so we called these things “racetracks.” It is an oval.

Groueff: It is a racetrack, yeah.

Reynolds: They were just 96 minutes all the way around it.  It was all the way around these. Then these had high voltage on them. That high voltage had to be supplied from a power supply that had control. The actual voltage is controlled. That was in a side room.

These high voltage units were all built by General Electric. Westinghouse built this faceplate of the Ds with the liners. Allis-Chalmers built the big tanks. These were the cells, the electrical things to start the jobs. I think stories have been told how one of them came out to Berkeley. It was put in the middle of a passenger train with guards on it. This gondola was coming out here in the middle of a passenger train.

Groueff: No, I did not hear that.

Sewell: That is the way the first unit was delivered out here.

Groueff: It was delivered out here to be tested.

Sewell: I remember it was the Overland Limited, was it not, that brought it out on the old SP.

Kelly: Did Kenneth tell you the story?

Sewell: I do not remember any more than that.

Reynolds: I think [Harold] Fidler knows more because he had part of the security problem of looking after it.

Sewell: We needed it in a hurry. That was the best way to get it out, on a passenger train. Here was this funny looking gondola car with this sitting on it and a couple of guards sitting. It was going out on the passenger train.

Groueff: You started telling me a personal—

Sewell: Oh, let me go back to this question of accepting many of these units for a particular part of the plant. These were units that were built by Westinghouse, as I remember it. They were to be delivered to Oak Ridge to Stone and Webster. They would then go through the acceptance tests on these units, turn them over to  Tennessee Eastman Corporation, who would install them into the racetracks and operate them.

The acceptance tests were the question. How do you decide what to go through to make sure these things are acceptable? You go ahead and put them into the plant. Stone and Webster, with the guidance I gave them, put together this big thick checklist book that we got everybody to agree to. Again, everybody was a key individual. Nobody officially agreed with this thing; there was not any such thing officially.

Then there was the question of, who will we get as the inspectors that can look over the group of construction workers? They were a typical construction group of people. They were older men that had been around the business for a long time, that you could get at that stage of the war and in that part of the country. They put together the construction crew. I suggested that I can probably find a couple of fellows that I thought could do pretty good job. They were two GIs who were assigned to us during the war from the engineering.

Reynolds: It was the SED – Special Engineering Division.

Sewell: It was SED – Special Engineering Detachment.  Torkelson and Knight, I never will forget those. Torkelson and Knight were the two names. Incidentally, Knight – Roger – I think is still down at Oak Ridge doing work. I think he has since got his PhD. I do not know where Torkelson is.

Reynolds: Those fellows were all handpicked.

Sewell: Yeah, these were two young fellows. They were sergeants. I think they both had their Sergeant stripe at that time. We brought them over there and said, “All right, you are going to be the inspectors on this. This is what we want you to do. Here is the group of people you have to work with.”

Stone and Webster put a very good foreman in charge of the group. He was the superintendent over this group. They were a group of, as I remember, about seventy-five people, or something like that. They were construction craft workers, plumbers, electricians, and so on. It is the general run of people. As it turned out, these fellows just got to worship these two GIs. There was a problem in those days of good hand tools that you needed for making intricate measurements – micrometers, special calipers, and so on.

Kelly: The alignments were to a few thousandths of an inch.

Sewell: That is right. Tools like that were hard to come by in those days. There was a question of how to get them. I remember Byron’s wife, Lorna. I had forgotten what her name was at that time. I got ahold of her, and she was the expediter. She kept track of all the stuff that came in down in this great big warehouse. She got to know people down there. Again, that is personal contact to get the tools that were needed to bring them down. We turned them over to these two GIs. The statement was made, “You will never keep those tools. They will just disappear on a construction job like this. It just would be impossible. Those fellows will swipe you blind. That is just part of the game.”

It turned out that the construction group down there thought so much of the two GIs, and the GIs had instilled in them a spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm even though they did not have the slightest idea what they were doing. The GIs did, but the other people did not. They did not know what they were doing at all and what they were working on. If these fellows were that enthusiastic about it, by golly they were going to work hard on it.

We gave two big toolboxes there that had several thousand dollars’ worth of these fancy tools to the two GIs. We told them, “You fellows are going to be responsible for these tools. If any of these tools are missing, you two GIs are going to have to pay for these.” This was known throughout the group. We never lost a tool in the six months we worked with that group.

Reynolds: That is typical.

Kelly: The purpose of telling you this is the general camaraderie or feeling that was instilled by a matter of a few people like these two GIs working with this group of fellows. It is to the  place where they just forgot everything else except the job they were doing.

Reynolds: That is the kind of thing that made it possible.

Kelly: That is what did make it possible.

Reynolds: It is really extraordinary. We had a dinner here a few months ago last November, which was really twenty years after when the plant was really going. One of the things I said is, “I will just never forget it.” You consider the time that was involved. It was a very short period of time, [to] do that enormous job. Everybody put out, night and day.

Groueff: There was no rivalry between scientists and industry?

Reynolds: Oh no, it was all forgot.

Groueff: Was there any between civilians and military?

Reynolds: No, it was all gone.

Sewell: It did not matter what uniform you had on, where you were from, or anything.

Reynolds: It did not make a difference.

Sewell: It was a team. Everybody was working towards this single objective. The team was so enthusiastic. The young group of people was really the key – leadership in the thing was so enthusiastic. It was just instilled in everybody in the place. There were very few arguments.

Reynolds: One of the most extraordinary jobs that Tennessee Eastman did was a job of just hiring people to operate that plant.

Kelly: They hired Tennessee Eastman girls from the hills.

Groueff: How did they know what to do – the girls?

Sewell: They were told. They set up a training course for it, so forth and so on.

Kelly: They had no idea what they were doing.

Sewell: They never knew what they were doing until the bomb went off. They operated it. They did most of the work of separating.

Kelly: They could run them better than those that did know.

Reynolds: Yes, they were content to let things alone.

Groueff: They did a good job.

Reynolds: They did a fine job. They did a fine job.

Sewell: It is surprising. Again, there was a feeling of an important job. I mean, all of this massive gear that they had seen – the girls had never seen anything like that before. Being given control of this, you could twiddle the knobs on it and know you were doing things. You had this little communication deal that you hung over your ear. It made them really feel important. The spirit that was developed made them understand that indeed they were important. This was an important job that they were doing.

Groueff: They were controlling the separation.

Sewell: They were actually operating the plant that made the separation.

Reynolds: Each one of these little things operated independently. It was each little cubicle.

Kelly: The little cubicle operated one of those things.

Reynolds: Towards the end, the girls got to operate four or eight of them. They would just walk back and forth.

Sewell: Four were grouped together, I think.

Reynolds: Four were grouped together.

Sewell: Incidentally, I saw some of those old power supplies. They are sitting out in the corporation unit down there at Oak Ridge, still.

Reynolds: Yeah.

Kelly: I was just thinking a little earlier. Some of these Alpha buildings were  still just coming up from the ground when the earlier ones were putting out material.

Sewell: That is right.

Kelly: It was just barely kept ahead.

Groueff: That is also without precedent. They go with basic research, laboratory, do construction, and mass production at the same time.

Sewell: That is right.

Reynolds: Yes.

Groueff: It is without prototypes?

Reynolds: That is right. There were, in effect, small prototypes. But construction was started down there before prototypes were ever run.

Groueff: It was before you knew what exactly it would look like?

Sewell: That is right.

Reynolds: For example, during the design stage I say I was in Boston. Bob Thornton was my principal contact at this end. At nighttime on the telephone, we would talk. We had to talk this mumbo jumbo because of classification things. We would need certain information. Now the information might be as simple as, “Now, I want to know how much water it takes through a particular circuit to keep the temperature in the proper bounds.” Well, the next day they would run the experiment here and follow it.

Groueff: You were not here?

Reynolds: No, I was in Boston.

Sewell: He was in Boston.

Groueff: In Boston, I see.

Sewell: It was with Stone and Webster. They were doing the design work.

Groueff: Thornton was here?

Sewell: Thornton was here, yeah.

Reynolds: The next day, they would run the experiment. The following night, or afternoon, or however long, I might get a telegram giving this information, you would say. Things were happening in that kind of a sequence.

Groueff: That is very good. There was no time to waste?

Sewell: No. I was trying to think of some human things along the line. I remember the first large group that went down to Oak Ridge. I remember leaving here on the fourth of January in 1944. There was difficulty with the plant. They felt that they –

Kelly: Was it that late in ’44?

Sewell: Yeah.

Reynolds: Oh yes it was. You bet it was.

Sewell: It was. The first part of the plant had just started up down there. They had gotten into difficulties. They had asked this group then to come down to see if they could help out. There was supposed to be a complete silence on the connection of work here at Berkeley and the Oak Ridge plant. No one was supposed to know that there was any connection at all. This group was put together, put on a railroad car – an old Pullman car down here at the Berkeley station on the night of the fourth of January. I remember that very distinctly. There were about thirty-five or forty people.

Reynolds: It was something like that.

Sewell: It was something like that, whatever the old Pullman car would handle. We stayed on that car then. That car stayed with us all the way to Oak Ridge. It turned out in Chicago. We got off the train in the  normal station that the Chicago Northwestern goes into, because we had gone in on that route. Then we picked it up, I think, on the L&N, which is another station. They shuttle it around through the yards during the day. They turned us loose for the day in Chicago. They went back down.

We got on the car then at the other station down by the waterfront. I have forgotten what station that is. It turned out that while I had been shuttled around on the sixth of January, it was colder. It froze the pipes in the car.

This gang of civilians got on. What were we on? We were right in the middle of a troop train. We are this one group of civilians in the middle of a troop train. It was cold. My God, it was cold in that car because it was well below freezing, and we could not get the pipes thawed out. We just said we would go in the next car and at least get warm. GI stopped us in each one of the cars: “No civilians allowed.” We were on our way, but we were freezing to death. Finally, there were about a dozen of us that got in the end of the car and took turns at kicking the pipes in the vestibule alongside of where the washroom was there.

We finally got the plug of ice out of it and got heat in that car. We got to Cincinnati or Cleveland. It was Cincinnati. In that, actually I had gone to bed. I was the only one in the car at the time. We were shuttled around in that yard. I had never had such a ride in my life. It finally ended up then that we were hooked onto a milk train, and I mean a milk train.

Groueff: It was with milk?

Sewell: It was with milk. It collected milk. In this darn thing, we went from there down to Oak Ridge. We ended up at Oak Ridge. There were a few old cars behind us. They were so old that they had coal stoves in them. They were the old cars at the end. There were a few people riding on them, so it was a local train. Then there were these milk cars in front of it and this one crazy Pullman car. That finally got shoved off on the siding then at Knoxville, and that is where we got off the car.

Those were the arrangements that were made by the Manhattan District for doing things. That was a convenient way of keeping supposedly out of the public’s eye, there was a group of people being transported.

Reynolds: For example, people had said the mailing address for most of the people down there for a long time was Room 400 Donner Laboratory. That is, the attic at Donner. The mail would arrive down here, and then it would be put—

Sewell: That is on the campus. Donner Laboratory is here on the campus.

Reynolds: The mail would arrive down there for people. Then it would be put into special pouches and get sent down to Oak Ridge. Mail arrival was a big occasion down there.

Sewell: The mail was distributed down there by the laboratory administrative groups. It never went through the post office there. When we sent mail from there, we put it in the pouch. It was brought back out here and dropped into the post office in Berkeley, so it had the Berkeley post office marks.

Groueff:  Nobody knew where you were?

Sewell: That is right. On our badges, every badge had a name on it. It said USED – US Engineering Department was the group that we were known as down there. It turned out that in time, that was quite a label to have. It got to be known that this group knew what the hell was going on down there.

Kelly: Yes, we got a badge of distinction out of it.

Groueff: Could you think of some particular technical difficulty or some moment of discouragement?

Reynolds: One of the biggest moments of discouragement down there is these coils were wrapped – the original first ones were with copper strap. They were wound up with bare copper strap with insulation in between to be cooled with oil. We started up and boy, we could not get the currents up or anything else.

What had happened was in the mad rush of doing things, not enough attention had been paid to getting the system free of all metallic matter that was loose. The fine particles had bridged across these bare things, and were in effect partially shorting out the coils. It had to be torn apart quick with all systems all cleaned up. The coils were re-wound. Elaborate measures were taken to clean out the circulating system with fillers in it, so forth, and so on. That was a very discouraging time, I might add.

Sewell: It was shortly after that that this group was sent down.

Reynolds: Yes, it was very low. Then when you actually went to start, things did not start up smoothly as might well be expected. There were troubles with the electrical supplies. There were all sorts of other things. But bit by bit, every day you would find the output would be a little bit higher, a little bit higher, and a little bit higher.

Kelly: I do not think of many things. I think what you are looking for is really the crucial disastrous type of things that you thought, “Oh my God, the world has come to an end.” Then the next day there was a bright idea.

Groueff: They had them in the gaseous—

Reynolds: Oh, they did there. They did there.

Groueff: There was a little bit in the plutonium—

Reynolds: Yes.

Sewell: That is right.

Groueff: There were some things they did not know how to work.

Reynolds: This was a different kind of thing. As I said, we were dead sure it could be made to work. It was just the question of the scale and the time. Nobody ever held out that this was going to be the cheapest way to do it. It was just pushing a certain way—

Groueff: It was time, “Do it on time.”

Reynolds: As far as we were concerned, yeah.

Sewell:  I am sure there were a lot of discouraging times.

Reynolds: I am sure there were.

Sewell: I am sure at times, we felt the whole thing was going to fall apart, and people would come up with ideas. These were not long lived. There were no real, what I would consider, break-through inventions. That was not required for this.

Kelly: No.

Reynolds: No. There were some darn good ideas. They increased the output and so forth and so on.

Groueff: Probably the companies like Allis-Chalmers  or Stone and Webster will tell me some stories.

Reynolds: They sure can.

There are a few other people here we ought to get out. You are going to be around tomorrow?

Groueff: Tomorrow, yes, I will come here tomorrow.

Reynolds: I will give you some, yes.

Groueff: Also, there is a list of names.

Reynolds: I will give you names and addresses.

Groueff: What was the nucleus of Lawrence’s team – the first team that started on that?

Reynolds: Oh yes, we have that too.

Sewell: You will have that.

Groueff: How was Lawrence as the leader of this group? What was his manner of working?

Reynolds: Of course, he was a rather extraordinary person. That, of course, was not only his personal enthusiasm, but he was perfectly at home whether he was talking to the richest man in the United States, the head of a corporation, or whether he would go into the shop and talk to somebody working at a tool shop. He was perfectly at home and makes everybody else feel at home that he talked to.

Sewell: I remember when we were up on the hill early in the game. I was in charge of the owl shift up here for many months. Frank Oppenheimer worked the day shift, and I worked the owl shift. There were two shifts in the day, then seven days a week. It never failed that sometime during the owl shift – it could be anywhere from ten o’clock, which was when it started, until ten the next morning – Ernest would either show up or he would call up. Many times at four o’clock in the morning, I would get a phone call. “How are things going? Are there any problems? Is there anything that ought to be done tomorrow that we did not think about yesterday?”

What you never knew – you would turn around and four or five o’clock in the morning, and there he would stand. He just could not sleep, so he wanted to come up and see how things were going. He would come up for an hour or so and talk with you. He would get some ideas. He always had good ideas. Then okay, he would go back to bed for a few hours.

Reynolds: I have said it and other people have said it too. On many things, you would rather take Ernest’s educated guess or hunch rather than somebody else’s studied view of the  situation. He had that intuition, which can help.

Kelly: He did, and he really instilled it in other people.

Groueff: He was friendly in his manner.

Reynolds: Oh extraordinarily.

Kelly: Oh yes, he was very friendly.

Sewell: He was extremely friendly. He loved people. Do not let me give you the feeling that he was easygoing. I have had some good strong discussions with him saying, “Listen now—”

Reynolds: He did say so or get someone, yeah.

Groueff: He was very demanding?

Sewell: He was demanding by personal example. That is the way I would put it. He demanded a lot of himself. Therefore, he made you feel that you ought to demand a lot of yourself too.

Groueff: You all felt that he was the leader, and he knew.

Kelly: There was no question about it.

Sewell: He was the leader just by the fact that he was. It was not by the fact that he accepted authority.

Groueff: Everybody talks about his enthusiasm and optimism.

Reynolds: Yes, he certainly was.

Reynolds: It went into everybody else, too. It was not optimism of the kind that is impractical optimism. He was not a Pollyanna.

Sewell: Let me give you an example. There came a time when there had to be an estimate made. It was one of these peg points. It was an estimate made of what we really thought the plant would be producing twelve months from the day that we were talking about. The plant had not even started up yet. We had only run a few units up on the hill. What did he do? He went around and he talked to, as far as I know, everybody that was around that day. He said. “I want you to give me your minimum that you think we are absolutely sure of getting, your maximum that you think we can possibly get out of this in each one of these units. Give me a few reasons why you feel this way.”

All of us turned this in. He took a look at it. From this, he made a judgment of what he thought the plant would produce. That was the number that he turned in to give an estimate of how big to build the plant or whatever decisions were being made. I never knew at that time. Here was a case of – okay, it is optimism for sure. He got a lot of pessimistic answers that day, and a lot of very optimistic answers, both of which he threw away. He did not take the extremes on them. It turned out that the extremes on the high side were the better ones. But again, he was not that optimistic.

Groueff: He sort of had an informed optimism of the knowledge?

Sewell: That is a good term. He was very knowledgeable. He had a very good feeling, even to the day that he died. It was amazing how he could come into a conversation, sit around the table, and discuss what was going on. He would ask a few very penetrating key questions. “Have you thought of this? Have you thought of that? Might this be the way that you could work? Is this a possibility?”

This is the sort of way he injected himself into a conversation.  Boy, he could bring it up so short, of why you sat there thinking about it all day long and then be so stupid as to not see such a straightforward question.

Groueff: Did he get along with Army people and industry people? General Groves speaks very highly of him.

Reynolds: Yes.

Sewell: Yes, he did.

Groueff: He is usually a difficult man – that was Groves with other scientists. But Lawrence speaks very highly of him.

Kelly: Oh yeah, there is no doubt about it. He had very high respect.

Groueff: Industry people understood him?

Reynolds: Yeah, he had respect for their problems. He did not depreciate the other guy’s problems as many did. He did not say, “Oh, that is just an engineering problem, or that is something else.” He appreciated that other people had problems too.

Kelly: In fact, again I can remember him bringing the key people from the various industries that were working on this with us out here. They were around and showing them in the laboratory. He made them feel that, boy, “You are a part of this project. The success of it depends on your contribution. We cannot do it all. We will tell you what we think ought to be done, but you have a very important part in this.”

He made them feel that way. He made the people in the laboratory feel that way. Again, it was part of the general personal relationship from the top to the bottom that instilled a spirit in everyone. Here is an important job to be done. It is difficult, but not impossible. Everybody has to put every bit into it that he can, or we are not going to get it done in time.

Groueff: Did he personally live in Oak Ridge?

Reynolds: He was there a great deal of the time.

Sewell: He had an efficiency apartment down there, as I remember it, that he stayed in while he was there. I would not say he lived anywhere really during the war. He was on the go most of the time.

Groueff: When was the first uranium-235 separated? Do you remember?

Reynolds: It would be first – actually, the first was separated down here.

Groueff: No, was there any day or moment?

Reynolds: No. I recently tried to find something, but there is not anything.

Groueff: There is no particular date? It was all sort of gradual?

Reynolds: Yes, nobody cared a hoot about it .

Sewell: It was the only day, and I did not put it down as a day. It was after we worked at a run-down at the old Radiation Laboratory down on the campus here. I remember this little yellow liquid in a vial about so long. It was sealed off. Everybody looked at it and held it because we had worked so many days to turn this thing out. This was the initial material that was sent.

Reynolds: It was 100 milligrams.

Sewell: Yeah, it was sent for chemical evaluation.

Groueff: I could not pin it down to a first day.  Some of you all waited ready to work, and some of you did not.

Reynolds: No.

Sewell: No, but here it is again. You were sure you could separate the material because it had been done in the laboratory long before we started. The question was time and amount. It was one of those things that built up gradually over time. There was never a great day that said, “Ah, you have solved the problem.”

Not like the plutonium in the reactor – for the first criticality, that is a special day. It is a very special day in history.

Reynolds: Such didn’t exist.

Sewell: There is nothing like that in this.

Groueff: Or the bomb.

Sewell: The bomb is another very special day, too.

Groueff: Even the gas that they did with the first good barrier, you did not have such a thing.

Reynolds: We did not have such a thing.

Sewell: There was not such a thing as that.

Kelly: We did not have such things.

Groueff: You had to change several times, for instance, the number of what you call Ds.

Reynolds: That is correct. There were new designs—

Kelly: It started with a high voltage at the receiver end. Then it switched over at least on the alpha units.

Reynolds: Those are minor changes.

Sewell: Yeah, those are minor changes.

Kelly: They are minor to us. But back at the factory—

Reynolds: They sure did. They were not with this kind of thing with the reactor suddenly going critical, or an intervention.

Kelly: No, there was not any.

Reynolds: It improved performance. It made the performance a little better.

Groueff: Actually, it was the same performance of the Radiation Lab here, but it is multiplied.

Sewell: It is multiplied manifold in terms of units, and multiplied many fold in terms of output per unit. You went both ways. It was quantity per single unit, and total number of units.

Reynolds: We kept fighting for enrichment to get the enrichment up. It got up, and up, and up, and up.

Kelly: These beams were fuzzy. You see, one overlapped the other. Then the separation was not good.

Sewell: You could have perfectly clean separation. Of course, you added one stage and it used to spark.

Kelly: If it sparked, then it would sweep across. Then it would show up in the wrong pocket.

Reynolds: There was the gunk. Say they used uranium tetrafluoride – not tetrafluoride, but uranium tetrachloride. That produced an awful gunk. It was heated then. Then INIs had gone around. There were all sorts of messiness connected with this process, but it worked.

Kelly: The unit would run four or five days, then it had to be all taken apart, cleaned up, and charged.

Sewell: There was this green, corrosive, and gooey substitute. It was gunk.

Reynolds: “Gunk” is what we called it.

Sewell: It was like cleaning the sewer.

Groueff: In this process, you could stop it for a nice clean?

Sewell: Oh yes, that is correct.

Groueff: It is not like the gas, where the reactor would be restarted?

Reynolds: No.

Sewell: In fact, each unit can be stopped independently.

Reynolds:  They are stopped and started independently. A racetrack could be started or stopped.

Kelly: This was a normal thing. It ran out a charge normally, and then had to be cleaned and recharged. There was no continuous—

Groueff: Do you remember any pessimistic evaluation other than the Lewis Committee?

Sewell: I do not.

Groueff: Some people in the professional world would say, “No, it would not work.”

Reynolds: No.

Kelly: I think that was the most significant one.

Reynolds: That was the most significant one. There were other people that say, “Oh gee, you cannot.”

Kelly: There were some people on other processes that said if they had only had Ernest Lawrence pushing theirs, it would have also turned out.

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