Little Bits of History

August 13

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 13, 2017

1942: The Development of Substitute Materials get official approval. The project was undertaken by the US, the UK, and Canada under the US Army Corps of Engineers. Headquartered at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, it eventually became known as the Manhattan Project. Major General Leslie Groves was the overseeing head and J Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory. The project began modestly in 1939. The year before Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman discovered nuclear fission in Germany. The theoretical explanation put out by Lise Meitne rand Otto Frisch made the development of an atomic bomb a possibility, at least in theory.

Scientists fled Nazi Germany and brought tales of the possibility of this new bomb technology being developed by the Nazis. Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner drafted the Einstein-Szilard letter and warned President Roosevelt of the possibility and the President was duly impressed. Einstein signed the letter, did not ever work on the Manhattan Project, and later said that had he known Germany would not succeed in developing the bomb, he wouldn’t have supported the US working to do so. The US began increased research into uranium-235 isotope and plutonium.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, work increased with “enthusiasm” and a sense of urgency. The US declared war on Japan and Germany and study into this new line of weaponry was essential. In May 1942, their proposals were being finalized and requested a budget of $54 million for construction of bombs, $31 million for R&D, and $5 million for contingencies. This was sent to the executive office and approval came back on June 17 with “OK FDR” written on the document. Security for the project was tightened and work began in earnest. Oak Ridge and Los Alamos were the two main sites for the project but there were several others areas in the US and Canada where essential work was also undertaken.

Two types of bombs were developed but the Thin Man gun-type design proved impractical. The uranium and plutonium issues were eventually solved. Little Boy, another gun-type bomb, was developed. Fat Man, an implosion-type weapon was also developed. They managed to create the bombs and the first firing test was carried out on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. Successfully completed, two bombs (the only other two bombs in the world at the time) were dropped on Japan the following month, bringing a Japanese surrender. The Manhattan Project cost about $2 billion ($27 billion today) to complete and had about 130,000 people working on it. The project was officially disbanded on August 15, 1947.

The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country. – J. Robert Oppenheimer

In this first testing ground of the atomic bomb I have seen the most terrible and frightening desolation in four years of war. It makes a blitzed Pacific island seem like an Eden. The damage is far greater than photographs can show. – Wilfred Burchett

I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two-thirds of the people of the earth will be killed. – Albert Einstein

I always go back to Harry Truman: Should we drop an atomic bomb to save 100,000 lives? That’s a hell of a decision to make. Did he make that decision by himself? No, he had advisers. – Lee Iacocca




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