Stephane Groueff: Recording. Now we are recording the interview with Mr. Walter Carpenter, DuPont, Wilmington, [Delaware].
Walter Carpenter: I usually have great difficulty remembering what I did yesterday. If you could lead me on, I’d be very glad to try to follow. Of course, Mr. Groves, I imagine that he kept pretty good notes and he has a better recollection than anyone. He makes things sound a little picturesque in spots, but that’s alright. By the way, I think that he did an extraordinarily good job. I think he was placed in a position, which was a rather difficult one for him.
He was elevated to very high position of course. He had to, over the course of this thing, make a number of decisions on very important matters of course involving huge sums of money. He did that without hesitation and I think with great courage and ability as far as I know. Now, I suggest while you have one of these machines going, I feel that I ought to keep talking all of the time. You kind of lead me on. Your principle question there I suppose is why we undertook this.
Groueff: How did the job look to you when you first were informed about what they wanted to do? What was your opinion?
Carpenter: I think that our reaction at that time was that we were asked to take on a job about equivalent to perpetual motion. Recovering the power of the atom just seemed to be one of those things at that time, which was just beyond all conceivable reach. And so, it was a tremendous hurdle we felt that we were undertaking this. But, Groves laid it on the table, and he insisted that it was a matter that the president and the president’s advisors wished to go ahead with. They must go ahead with.
They had selected the DuPont Company as being, in their minds, the one best able to do that. It is true that we have a very scientific background, though this was in the physical area—well, in the chemical area—but we were well equipped with scientists. We certainly had an engineering department that had undertaken and accomplished great things.
Of course, at that time, we were involved in many other projects. We had I don’t know how many government plants, very large plants, which were being constructed and operated by us throughout the country. This was just one more added burden.
Of course, a great deal of the product of our regular commercial plants was going into the government. So, we were, at that time, in the course of doing a great job for the government. But here was the thing that they had felt that we should go along with. We were impressed with the fact and we were urged to feel that the Germans may be working on this same problem, and it was sort of a race in a way. It was for us to come through and do our part. We had really no alternative, but to go ahead on that basis.
We were, after all, an American company. We had a great long history of contributing to the American effort in times of emergencies going back 150 years or so. It just seemed unthinkable that we wouldn’t undertake this however great the problems were—and they were very great. We wished to go ahead, however, on the basis that we would do everything that we could in this connection; that we wished to make no profit out of it. We arranged, as you know, to go ahead on the basis of one dollar.
That was not entirely unselfish on our part. We felt that, of course, after the First World War, we had been severely criticized—as had all contributors to that war—on the basis that we endeavored to incite the war in order to ignite profit by the manufacturer of materials. There could have been nothing sillier than that because there’s nothing more disrupting and more damaging to current industry than to have a war. So, the whole claim was without substance at all, but nevertheless that didn’t mean that we wouldn’t be subject to it again.
We wished one thing, and then also we thought this could have some bearing on the basis on which we entered into it. The losses conceivable in connection with this thing were just appalling. They were cataclysmic. At the time we actually started up our operations at Hanford, I suppose that we had 50,000 people there on the property. No one was quite sure that this might not get out of hand. And, if it did, it might devastate that entire area there.
We had arranged with all of the communities in that area there within 100 miles, I think, of how they could evacuate in the short period of time in case this operation started a chain reaction, which we were unable to control. As I say, we had this enormous number of people there, both at Hanford and at a nearby village there. I think that we had something like 50,000 people there, who had been gathered there as the result of our efforts to do this job. We had organized an automobile program there under which we could get them all off of the property in the limited space of time. We didn’t know how fast this calamity might arise.
And so we did insist in connection with our agreements for the government—and they were very glad to assume—all the risk in connection with that because it could have wiped out the entire company without having the protection. And so on that basis, we agreed to go ahead and do our best.
Of course, you realized at that time plutonium had never been produced. I think someone said that they found a particle of plutonium after some of these operations in the cyclotron, which they can put on the point of a pin, but that’s all. Plutonium was not a product like wheat or anything that anybody had ever seen or manufactured before. To undertake the manufacture of it was—
Groueff: Yes, and you were required to manufacture pounds and pounds.
Carpenter: Oh, yes. This area, I think, which we took over there was something like 600 square miles up there, so as to avoid any contamination or contagion, which might result. The expenditure of money I think was something of the order of $300 million or $400 million, which we have greatly exceeded in our new plant by the way.
Soon after the war, we didn’t wish to pursue further the matter and General Electric was very anxious to take over that operation. So, we turned it over to General Electric, so that we could get out of it entirely. And then, we were presented with another one. So, we didn’t gain very much by that operation, and I think that the expenditures on this new one have been three or four times what they were in the old ones.
Groueff: Yeah, I know it.
Carpenter: That’s a huge project.
Groueff: When and how did you learn for the first time about this project from the government? Was it through General Groves?
Carpenter: I think so. I think that Groves was the only person at all, General Groves and Colonel Nicholas—an associate. I think they were practically the only ones that we had contact with at that time; they came here and saw us here. And then he and Colonel Nichols, I think, met with our executive committee at that time.
Groueff: But, who took the decision? You and the executive committee?
Carpenter: And later the board. It was ratified by the board.
Groueff: The board. Because General Groves mentions about a meeting of the board, I think, in which you had to tell them about this project. Each member had papers in front of them turned down. And then, you just told them almost what you told me. You said, “The government and the highest executives insist that it’s very vitally important. And, I ask you to accept. Of course, if you want all of the data, they are in front of you.”
Nobody turned the papers to read.
Carpenter: Well, whether or not that’s a little dramatic on the part of the General, I don’t know. I can’t recall enough one way or the other. I would not say that that was not true, because I don’t recall it. I think that the general was a little dramatic there. He’s written that. That appeared in something or other.
Groueff: Yes, in his book, Now It Can be Told.
Carpenter: It may be wholly right.
Groueff: But you don’t remember the details?
Carpenter: I can’t recall it. Now, this idea of the papers being face down, we don’t usually go into dramatics of that sort in our director’s meeting. On the other hand, it may be that we all had reports there, at this thing, and the Board did not go into it great detail. They accepted the conclusion of the executive committee as I presented it to the board. I think that I recall using the word that the results might be catastrophic in connection with this thing.
Groueff: You realized that?
Carpenter: Yes. We realized that.
Groueff: That as something both for the company, and for the area?
Carpenter: Yeah. And so the paper or the position of the paper I don’t think contributes a great deal to it, except that it’s rather picturesque. I think that it is true that the matter was presented to our board as being conclusions of these officers and of its executive committee. The board gave its approval to ratify that without further discussion.
Groueff: You did not have to give them all of the details?
Groueff: How many people are in the Board more or less?
Groueff: Thirty, and the directors, executives?
Carpenter: Well on the Executive Committee there were probably be nine.
Groueff: Nine? So those nine people took the decision, and they knew the details? They knew what it was about?
Groueff: And the thirty people on the board knew only about the importance of the job, and about the risks?
Carpenter: I think so, but they were all cleared. The board was all cleared, as I recall at that time; we’d have to confirm some of this perhaps. But they could have been told anything that we knew, so that there was no effort to withhold from the board anything which they may have wished to ask about. But, as you know, with a board of thirty, their action is apt to be rather perfunctory if they have confidence in their officers and directors.
Groueff: For you personally, was that the first time that you heard about splitting the atom and plutonium and all of these things, which was a very new science?
Carpenter: Yes, very. We were not very well equipped with physicists. That’s more in the physicist area than in the chemists’ area, though there was a great deal of chemical work in connection with the operation. We continued to work with these physicists who were active in this. They continued to do all that they could. I think Mr. Greenewalt, at that time, served in excellent capacity as kind of an intermediary between the University of Chicago and ourselves.
Groueff: I saw Mr. Greenewalt.
Carpenter: Oh, you did?
Carpenter: Then their physicists would come down here at the time. Occasionally, this operation—It was so complicated and so obscure. What made it go well, and what made it go badly? I recall one time we had a meeting down in Washington called at Secretary Stimson’s office, at which all of his high associates were there.
It happened to be at a period when the operations were particularly in the low depths. I remember Secretary Stimson practically saying that the war depended upon DuPont Company at that time. He said that we are looking to you for results on this. There were representatives of the other companies there at that time. I did think that that was one of life’s dark moments because I knew, at that time, that the operations were not doing very well. Later on, they came through alright.
Groueff: It’s an enormous burden of responsibility.
Carpenter: Well I think it was for the whole company.
Groueff: Do you remember of any major opposition in DuPont against taking the jobs on technical reasons that it would be foolish or impossible?
Carpenter: Well, I don’t know that it was opposition. There was certainly a lack of enthusiasm in certain spots, I think even among some of our high technical people. The overwhelming importance of the thing seemed to overshadow all of those considerations.
Groueff: So, you did it mostly as a duty because it had to be done as a patriotic contribution?
Carpenter: Yes. I think that’s proper to say that.
Groueff: The odds were definitely against you, you felt? I mean, all of the techniques had to be developed or invented, and the whole science had to be invented. You had to work without pilot plants.
Carpenter: We certainly did that. We can’t say that the odds were all against this. It developed that they favored us eventually. It was more of the uncertainty of the whole program that bothered us at that time. Of course, as I say, I don’t think that it would have been very much different if we had been asked to undertake a process involving perpetual motion.
The recovery of the power in the atom, at that time, was very, very remote. I think that if we had had the same knowledge that some of these profound physicists had at that time, we would not have felt that it was as uncertain as we must’ve felt at that time with our lack of knowledge. We had to feel it was—
Groueff: But, on the other hand, you didn’t know some of the difficulties which were in store for you for the next several months.
Carpenter: No. Of course the organizational problem was quite a problem at that time. I mean to set up a show of that sort at the other end of the continent. Also, one of the amazing aspects of the thing was that nobody in Wilmington here seemed to know what was going on out there. The secrecy of this thing—were you around at that time?
Unidentified male: No, sir. I wasn’t.
Carpenter: Well, people whose families were out there didn’t know what was going on. It had to be kept very secret, and of course it was kept very secret.
Groueff: Did you go to Hanford yourself?
Carpenter: Oh, yes.
Groueff: You were connected directly. You were supervising—you personally—but then, there was Mr. Greenewalt and the whole new department that you established here—TNX.
Carpenter: That was a division of our explosions department and that was headed by Roger Williams. I guess that you haven’t had a chance to talk with Roger Williams.
Groueff: Not yet. Probably that would be a good. He was the man in DuPont, the highest authority on this particular job?
Carpenter: No. Here is our board, here, and our Board has two major committees: one is the executive committee and this other is the finance committee. Now under the executive committee, we have these operating divisions. We have eleven of them now, or twelve of them now. Here we say that this was the explosives division. Now the explosive division had their regular commercial exploders, dynamite and black powder, and so on. Here we organized the TNX department.
Groueff: As a subdivision of explosives?
Carpenter: As the subdivision of the explosives department. Roger Williams—you’re planning to see him?
Carpenter: I think that you ought to find him. He was the head of that. Of course he had his associates there.
Groueff: I see, but he was reporting to the explosives [division]?
Carpenter: He was reporting to Mr. Yancy.
Carpenter: Who has since died. He was the head of the explosives department.
Groueff: To the executive committee?
Groueff: Oh, I see. So, the other departments didn’t know what was going on?
Carpenter: Theoretically they didn’t, yes. I suppose some of—
Groueff: They knew only as much as they had to know?
Carpenter: That’s right.
Groueff: You wouldn’t discuss all of the details with them?
Carpenter: Oh no, not at all. As a matter of fact, all of the people who were permitted to know anything at all about it were cleared. They went through a certain formal clearance with the government. Those who were cleared were not supposed to talk with anybody who was not cleared. Now, the President is the chairman of our executive committee.
Groueff: I see. Did you know General Groves before that had to be done?
Groueff: That was the first time that you saw the man?
Carpenter: Yeah. There’s no reason why we should’ve known him.
Groueff: He was with the Army, but he was not in chemical probably?
Carpenter: No, that was not unusual that we would not know him. There are probably lots of people in his position down there now who we don’t know. I don’t know just what the circumstances were which lead to the selection of General Groves for this purpose, but he was a good selection, I think.
Groueff: You think it was a good selection? How did he impress you the first time, do you remember? He was supposed to be [inaudible], and now he has mellowed down. Everybody says he was supposed to be a very dynamic, but rather tough officer.
Carpenter: I didn’t think that he was all of that.
Groueff: Very militaristic?
Carpenter: Yes, I think that he was all of that, but I think that we got along with him famously when you consider the difficulties of the problem. He was tough.
Groueff: But you trusted him immediately, I mean.
Carpenter: Yes, I think that we had great confidence in him, and I think that fortunately he had great confidence in us.
Groueff: Oh, yeah. He speaks very highly of DuPont and you. He was a little bit irritated by the scientists on the other hand from Chicago. So there was some friction between scientists and him; he simply didn’t think that scientists could do the job, and of course they didn’t like at all hearing that. He put it probably too bluntly, so there was a lot of tension.
Carpenter: Yes, he was very direct. We had a long and trying experience with him, but I think I always had great admiration for Groves.
Groueff: Who was the man who advised you mostly on this particular job from the scientific end, engineering technical points, whether it was feasible or not?
Carpenter: Well, it would depend of course a great deal on [Charles] Stine and [Elmer] Bolton at that time.
Groueff: Stine and who?
Carpenter: Yeah, Stine was a member of our executive committee at that time. You better check that, too.
Groueff: General Groves talks about—he was the first man, I think, that he saw in Washington first and then, he came here to see you. So probably he explained the job first to Stine and [Willis] Harrington.
Carpenter: Harrington, yes.
Groueff: And they came to you and explained so that you were prepared, more or less, when Groves came to see you.
Carpenter: Yes, we were keeping close contact for that. And then there was a committee organized that [included] Stine, Bolton, I guess Greenewalt, and [Thomas] Gary.
Groueff: The reviewing committee?
Carpenter: I think that that was headed by Mr. Lewis.
Groueff: Lewis, W.K. Lewis, yes. And, Mr. [Eger] Murphree was supposed to go, but he was sick.
Carpenter: That’s right.
Groueff: So they went with Greenewalt and Gary and another DuPont man, and W.K. Lewis to see the three different methods at Berkeley, Columbia, and Chicago. I have the impression that they thought that DuPont probably was getting the most difficult job. But, when they came back, it’s reported that the [Ernest] Lawrence job in Berkeley was even more sort of fantastic.
Carpenter: Yeah. I think the other man of whom you speak, that was probably Dr. Bolton.
Groueff: I have the name somewhere because I saw Mr. Gary who told me about this.
Groueff: Yeah, he’s quite the colorful guy.
Carpenter: Yes, he is indeed. He’s retired now.
Groueff: He told me very interesting stories how they traveled and in the compartment of the train, all of the discussions.
Carpenter: Well, the design of this plant was really a tremendous undertaking. I think that there’s where a great deal of credit goes to the engineering department because after all, plutonium had been produced in a cyclotron, which means that the atoms are flying here and there, and eventually you get something that’s a microscopic amount of the thing. Well now, to build a $300-million plant and design it and construct it and so on—
Groueff: Quite a different job.
Carpenter: Yes, a rather different job. I think that it’s amazing that our engineering department was able to convert the theories—the theoretical ideas of the physicists—into an actual operating plant. I think that was a terrific job, and of course, a plant that operated, which it did operate.
Groueff: Yes, that’s the part that I want to describe. And actually with Mr. [Walter] McKinley, we were talking about finding some description and details of the designing department here—how they worked, Tom Gary’s people. I was quite surprised to hear that there were about 500 or 600 people. I imagine that usually there are, I don’t know, a dozen people designing, and then they send it to the construction people.
Carpenter: It’s too bad that you have not got Mr. Read. Slim Read, he was our Chief Engineer at that time. He has died.
Groueff: He was the man under whom the design was done?
Carpenter: Yes. He was the Chief Engineer at that time and also a very picturesque person. You would have loved him.
Groueff: What kind of a man was he?
Carpenter: Well, he was a good engineer. He was a driving engineer and a very dynamic fellow. He was a great piece of energy and a great deal of courage and a person who also had imagination. Slim, as a young man, went to art school in Paris.
Unidentified Male: Have you seen some of his work? He has done some beautiful—
Groueff: As a painter?
Unidentified Male: No. Well, I have seen some pen and ink drawings, which he made down at Hopewell, Virginia, which is superb.
Carpenter: But, if you ever saw Slim Read as an artist, that would be your last guess!
Groueff: Was he on the kind of artistic side? Did he look like an artist?
Carpenter: No. He didn’t look like an artist; he looked like the head of a union, really.
Groueff: I see.
Carpenter: He was entirely different than that. You’d never suspect that. I didn’t know that until I’d known him thirty years, I guess, that he’d ever been in artistic work, but he was very picturesque. His language was something too.
Groueff: What, swearing?
Carpenter: He was pretty tough, but a very delightful person.
Groueff: He was the driving spirit there in this department?
Groueff: A driving man with a lot of energy?
Carpenter: Very definitely so.
Groueff: He was the boss of Gary?
Carpenter: Oh, yes. Gary was in the engineering department.
Unidentified Male: And, [Gilbert P.] Gil Church as well.
Groueff: And, Gil Church.
Unidentified Male: He was the boss of the whole engineering operation.
Groueff: I see. So, Gil Church was in Hanford, and Gary was here. Did you have anything to do with the scientists yourself like [Enrico] Fermi or [Leo] Szilard or [Eugene] Wigner?
Carpenter: No Fermi visited here one time, but that contact with the scientists was largely through Crawford Greenewalt.
Groueff: Why did you choose Greenewalt, who was a relatively young man then and proved to be an excellent selection, but how come he was selected of all men? For instance, he was the only one who was in Chicago when the first pile [was tested] with Fermi.
Carpenter: Well frankly, I can’t tell you because I did not select Greenewalt. He was in one of the other departments at that time. At that time, the effort was made to set up this new department. They assembled the best people they could from all of the other departments. They would pick men out of all of the other departments. There again, was a feature of the DuPont Company, which made this thing possible; they had the call on practically anybody in any department.
Groueff: That’s interesting for me. I always imagine the DuPont Company, probably the biggest company in the world, as something so well organized that everything goes according to the rules. I understand that you at the age of thirty or so already had very important positions, or thirty-four.
I was surprised to learn that Tom Gary never had even a high-school degree, which I don’t think that the public imagines a company like that, as something that works like a clock with so many years—a promotion. Is that characteristic of the company?
Carpenter: No, I don’t think so. I think they were exceptions, the ones that you mentioned. You know that there is an awful lot of luck in business. You speak of my having an important an position—I think that I was a member of the executive committee at thirty-one, wasn’t I? Well that was a rather unusual thing; it was a combination of circumstances.
You see, the First World War was over. The members of the executive committee who carried the company through the First World War felt that they had so long dealt in matters of that character, enormous appropriations and everything on an enormous scale, that to get back to a normal running of a chemical company they ought to step out, perhaps, and let a new group come in and do it.
It was that turnover there that made it very fortunate for people who happened to be standing by. Except for that, they might have gone on for another twenty years and worked as the members of the executive committee and we would have come along twenty years later. They chose to get out; thought that it would be better to get out.
Groueff: The whole executive committee?
Carpenter: Yes, so that that turnover made certain rather rapid changes. I say a big deal of luck.
Groueff: Thirty-one is very young, even for turnover.
Carpenter: Well, there’s a little luck there.
Carpenter: Great deal of it.
Groueff: Were you on the engineering side or the administration side of it?
Carpenter: I came up really through the financial side. My experience was more in the treasury and in the financial work. I had been for years in the development department. Now, the development is the department in our company that interested itself in new things that the company might be interested in. It happened to be at a very wonderful period of the development department, because you see right after the war, the whole of the United States was very backward compared with Europe in all of the chemical industries.
Groueff: It was?
Carpenter: We had nothing at that time but the explosives department. We were an explosives manufacturer. We didn’t have any of these other things, you recall or maybe you don’t recall, at that time. For instance, there was a great shortage of dyes. This whole country was very much crippled because of a shortage of dyes. We made no important dyes in this country. That was all made in Germany.
Well of course, the whole synthetic yarn business did not exist at that time. That has become a great thing. And, it was at that time that a great many of these things were brought through the development department. I was assistant director for a while, and later director of the development department.
It was a very busy time in the conversion of the DuPont Company from a purely explosives company to a chemical company on a broad scale. So I think that again was a stroke of luck; I happened to be around at that time.
Groueff: So you grew up with this side of the company?
Carpenter: Yeah, so that I was a participant at that time in the conversion of the company from an explosives company to a chemical company.
Groueff: It was purely explosives before that?
Carpenter: Yes, well at the time of the opening of the war I think that we had nothing at all but explosives, except fabric cord.
Groueff: When, in ’39?
Carpenter: No. 1914.
Groueff: Yeah, the first war. And after the first war, the transformation—
Carpenter: Yes, transformed in the many other things.
Groueff: I see.
Carpenter: I hope that you’re not entering me personally into your picture here. I’m just trying to give you kind of a background of the company.
Groueff: No, but I’m interested in your background too because after all, all of those decisions and all of those contributions were made by men. I’m trying to find what kinds of Americans made those decisions and why they made them.
For instance, I was fascinated by the background of General Groves or Colonel Nichols because that shows me one aspect of the military American, the West Point, which is a special mentality. To me, it was fascinating. I didn’t know many men like that—his sense of duty.
Carpenter: This might interest you. Here is this framework that I was talking about here. Of course the stockholders are the owners, and they’re the boss of the company. They elect the board of directors. Now, that’s the board of directors there. The board of directors operates not as an entity there except through committees.
The two principle committees are the executive committee, which I mentioned, and the finance committee. It has also a small committee on audit and a committee on bonus and on salary. But, the committee that operates the industrial affairs of the company are the executive committee. They have under them these twelve industrial departments. That’s electrochemicals, elastomers, explosives—that was the only company that I’m talking about originally—fabric and finishes, film department, biochemicals department, international department, organic chemicals, photo products, pigments, plastics, and textile fibers.
Now, each one of those departments is in a way like a separate company. They have over here, also under the executive committee, these auxiliary departments, which serve these departments just like an outsider might serve them. They have advertising, central research—that’s the development department of which I spoke—employer relations, engineering, general services, legal, public relations, purchasing, traffic, and economists.
Then over here is the treasury department. I was the treasurer for the company for a while. The treasury department reports primarily to the finance committee, though it handles all of the accounts and supervises all of the accounting for the company as a whole. Over here is the secretary department, which handles primarily our relations with our stockholders.
So, that’s the company. Now, a rather unusual thing about our company here is that the biggest members of our executive committee have no other job; they have no responsibility.
Groueff: They are not heads of the departments?
Carpenter: They are not heads of departments. Most all of them have been heads of departments and have been selected, but when they go up there—take for instance a man like Mr. Dawson there. He used to be the head of one of our departments. He was the head of our pigments department. But now, he is a member of that committee. He in a sense has no authority as an individual. Though as a group, they have the complete authority. You see?
Groueff: I see.
Carpenter: And, it’s been said that they can give orders to no one but their secretary, and that in a way, that’s right. But, while they’re in that position there, he may be advisor on production theories that come. He may be an advisor on sales. He may be an advisor on finance. So, to that extent, he may advise all of these groups here in connection with their production process or with their sales processes.
Groueff: The high policy of a company is decided by the executive committee?
Carpenter: Yes, but these people have complete control.
Groueff: The department heads?
Carpenter: Subject to the executive committee of their departments.
Groueff: Like independent companies?
Carpenter: Like independent companies, yes.
Groueff: With their plans and their organization?
Carpenter: Now, if they want to call in a lawyer over here to help them out, why they just get in touch with the lawyer, but it’s very much the same as if they were employing an outside legal firm.
The same is true if they wanted to work on the advertising. They’d call them in to advise them with respect to their advertising problem and so on. I think that there are a number of companies that are organized in that way now. But, I think that this was unique when it was set up originally. It was set up I think back in 1923, this type of organization. At that time, it was rather unique. General Motors was later organized along some of the same lines.
Groueff: But during the war when you took the job on the plutonium, what was the size of the company? Was it like now the biggest company in the United States, and the biggest chemical company?
Carpenter: It was the largest chemical company in the United States, yes. But, of course even at that time, it was considerably swollen by these large operations, which we’d undertaken for the government.
Groueff: How did the American chemical industry stand then at that period compared to the German or a European [industry]?
Carpenter: Well, at that time, there was a twenty-year period there, you see, between the two wars and they had advanced considerably there. We continued to have relations with European companies at that time. We got processes from them at that time and they got processes from us. But, we were more or less on an equal basis.
Groueff: You were not inferior to the IG Farben Industries, [Clayton] Aniline, all those?
Carpenter: No, I think that we would consider ourselves on the same.
Groueff: I see, which wasn’t true before the first war?
Carpenter: Oh my, no.
Carpenter: No. I suppose that the chemical industry in Germany may have been fifty years ahead of us at the time of the First World War. We had almost nothing over here. So there’s another part of that luck about which I speak. I happened to come along at the time of the growth of the American chemical industry.
Groueff: Yeah, and working on the future of things with scientists and laboratories and inventions and things like that. I wonder whether the Germans could’ve produced something similar with their industry at that time, probably not the bombs.
Carpenter: Well, they had great scientists over there. There was the fear here at that time that they were working on this.
Groueff: Luckily they were not. They were much behind. It’s amazing—I don’t know whether you read the transcript of the conversation between German scientists who were captured and put in a villa in England [Farm Hall]. And the day of the first bomb, Hiroshima, they didn’t know that the whole room was wired, so they were talking in German among themselves.
Practically all of them were sure that it was just a propaganda thing, and that it couldn’t be true. Some of the top men said that it’s not possible because we all know that theoretically it’s possible, but we know that industrially it cannot be done. Even one of them says, “Look, it’s ridiculous. Even we couldn’t.”
Carpenter: Right. Well it was, of course, a dramatic time. I remember at the time that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I was a member of the finance committee and the board of General Motors for a number of years. I was over at the General Motors finance committee that morning.
I got a call, a long-distance call from Washington. I came out of the committee and went to the phone. There was General Groves on the phone. He started in about explaining about how grateful he was to the DuPont Company for all that they had done in connection with this program.
I hadn’t heard a thing about it. I thought, “Well now, the boy’s been drinking.” He appreciated everything that we had done and now that we could see what the realization was of all of our work and so on. I, as I say, was quite innocent just as I am here.
Groueff: Oh, you hadn’t heard the news?
Carpenter: I hadn’t heard anything at all. I said “Well no, General, that’s fine, but why do you call me up to tell me about that at this time? I’ve been in the finance committee of the General Motors.”
He said, “Well haven’t you seen any of the papers?”
We’d been in committee for about three hours now. I hadn’t seen the paper or anything.
I said, “No. I have not.”
He says, “Well you get the papers and read them, and you’ll find out what I’m talking about.”
So I sent downstairs immediately and got my papers. You remember the headlines at the time about the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Well, that was the first I’d heard of it.
Groueff: You didn’t hear about the New Mexico bomb?
Carpenter: Oh, yes.
Groueff: Yeah. So you knew that your effort was successful?
Carpenter: We knew that it could be exploded, yes.
Groueff: The plutonium device.
Carpenter: Yes, but Groves of course was very effusive. He felt very happy himself, of course. It’s very natural that he would have been enthusiastic at that time, and wanted to talk to someone about this thing so he called me up.
Groueff: It must’ve been quite a relief. He told me that if it didn’t work, the whole thing, probably he would have spent the rest of his life with all of these investigational committees.
Carpenter: Yeah, I’m sure. I do realize that, too.
Groueff: And probably you too; all of you all.
Carpenter: Yes. That was all a part of our arrangement with the government on this thing. We were finally decided, I said, to go in as partners with the government on this thing without compensation to ourselves. If the thing had gone on and been a tremendous flop, and we had made a large sum of money out of it, it wouldn’t have been a very happy situation naturally.
So, we thought that it would be very much better to go in on that basis. Also, that gave us the full protection, which we must’ve had at that time. If you think of anything further that you think that I can be any help on, let me know. I’ll be very glad to.
Groueff: That’s very nice of you. Probably when I sit down and start writing, there will be some questions then I can call. You’re from Pennsylvania, Mr. Carpenter?
Groueff: Could you tell me just in a few words about your background or early life, family, just to?
Carpenter: Well, that’s quite colorless. I lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I went to school there. I eventually went to Wyoming Seminary, which was a proprietary school. From there I went to Cornell. I left Cornell without graduating.
Groueff: What did you study in Cornell?
Carpenter: Mechanical engineering.
Groueff: I see.
Carpenter: I left there in my senior year, not because I was thrown out, but because there was a job opening with the DuPont Company. And so, I left Cornell about in November my senior year, and left the state two days after that for Chile, and stayed there for two years representing the DuPont Company in there Valparaiso office. Then I came back here. When I came back, I went into this work that I spoke about in the Development Department.
At that time, our whole source of nitrogen was from the nitrate fields of Chile. You see, we bought sodium nitrate down there. We purchased it in charter boats and loaded the boats and shiped them up here. That was the reason for our Valparaiso office. It was not a sales office, but a purchasing office. So that was my first experience in business.
Groueff: With DuPont. Ever since, you remained with them?
Carpenter: I supposed I was thirty years in General Motors, but representing the DuPont Company.
Groueff: DuPont Company, yeah.
Carpenter: We just disposed of General Motors this month.
Groueff: It’s final now?
Carpenter: Yes, the DuPont Company does not have a share of General motors today.
Groueff: I see.
Carpenter: Two or three years ago we had sixty-three million shares.
Groueff: Yeah, I read all of those anti-trust things in the paper. I understand that you were quite a tennis player?
Carpenter: Well, in a small puddle. They speak of me being quite a tennis player, but I was never a nationally rated player at all.
Groueff: But, locally, state-wise?
Carpenter: I made a little splash locally, but that’s all.
Groueff: It’s strange that General Groves was quite a tennis player, too.
Carpenter: Yes, and I never had the chance of playing with him, but I think that he still plays.
Groueff: He still plays, I understand, but I understand that during the war it was his only relaxation, and that [00:51:00] he was quite good.
Carpenter: He was good. I’ve seen him play. I saw him play.
Groueff: Champion. Oh you’ve seen him?
Carpenter: Yes. He doesn’t look very much like a tennis player.
Groueff: Not at all.
Carpenter: But, he does do alright.
Groueff: But, thank you very much sir.
Carpenter: Well, I don’t know that I’ve contributed a thing.
Groueff: Oh, yes. That’s exactly what I wanted to know about your thinking at that time and about the company’s attitude.