The Atomic Heritage Foundation has released a new, expanded edition of A Guide to the Manhattan Project in Tennessee to raise public interest in the recently created Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The guidebook can be purchased on our online store or through Amazon.
Once a “Secret City,” Oak Ridge, TN is one of the three Manhattan Project sites which are part of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. As the site of the pilot X-10 graphite reactor and uranium enrichment plants, Oak Ridge was transformed from a sparsely populated farming area to sprawling industrial complex with 75,000 inhabitants in just three years during World War II. The guidebook explains the key role that Oak Ridge played in the Manhattan Project, and highlights the sites tourists may be able to visit as part of the new park, such as the X-10 Graphite Reactor and the Calutrons at the Y-12 Plant.
The guide opens with the story of John Hendrix. Known as the “Prophet of Oak Ridge,” in 1900 he predicted that a city would be built on Black Oak Ridge and help win a great war. On September 19, 1942, General Leslie Groves approved the selection of Oak Ridge as the enriched uranium production site, just two days after accepting his role as director of the Manhattan Project. During the Manhattan Project, Groves never allowed himself more than an hour to make a decision.
Much of the initial uranium enrichment research was done at Columbia University, the Woolworth Building, and other sites in Manhattan. Many of the physicists and engineers who worked there were later sent to Oak Ridge. Donald Trauger remembered working at Columbia University’s Pupin Laboratory on the gaseous diffusion separation process, “We were working 7 days a week and long days. It was really a privilege and wonderful learning experience.”
“Clinton Engineer Works,” the code name for the Oak Ridge operation, is the first section in the guidebook and offers readers an overview of life in the top-secret world of Oak Ridge. Knoxville, whose population was 111,000, was the main entry point for Manhattan Project workers headed for Oak Ridge. Because of secrecy, most people did not know where they were going or why. Robert Dyer recalled, “I got drafted. I figured I was on my way to Japan but then they put me on a train and I wound up in Oak Ridge. And I’ve been here ever since.”
“Production Plants” brings readers to the main production facilities used for enriching uranium, including the Y-12 electromagnetic separation plant, the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, and the S-50 liquid thermal diffusion plant. By translating complicated processes to concise descriptions and diagrams, the book helps readers appreciate the scientific and engineering innovations involved.
The guidebook features a tribute to the late William J. “Bill” Wilcox, Jr., a Manhattan Project veteran who worked in the Y-12 and later in the K-25 plants. Recognized by the City of Oak Ridge as their official historian, Bill was a tireless supporter of preserving the Manhattan Project history of the Secret City.
“Life in the Secret City” and “Oak Ridge Community” provide a glimpse into daily life in Oak Ridge. In the muddy city, residents coped with cramped living conditions, constant construction and long lines. Most people accepted the shortcomings as the price of contributing to the war effort. This section also explores the experience of African Americans who were recruited throughout the South and offered an hourly wage of fifty-eight cents or more as laborers, janitors and domestic workers. While the segregated housing and other facilities were far from ideal, most black workers were glad to have a steady, paid job and the promise of a brighter future.
Entering the workforce for the first time, tens of thousands of young women, many right out of high school, came to Oak Ridge as technicians, nurses, secretaries or office staff. Their employment at Oak Ridge was a significant opportunity, both economically and socially. Nurse Rosemary Lane recalled, “It was fun from even from the very beginning. We had a good time. It was a great life for single people in Oak Ridge.”
A new section explores secrecy and compartmentalization at Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge workers had to wear a badge at all times, and it was difficult for family members to get passes to visit. All mail was checked and censored. Despite rigorous security procedures, however, at least one Soviet spy, George Koval, succeeded in passing project secrets to the USSR.
James A. Schoke met Koval when they worked together on the Manhattan Project in Dayton, OH. Schoke remembers Koval as “a very nice guy. He was an excellent technician, knew his job very well, and was very friendly…Of course, I had no idea he was a spy. The amazing thing is that he wasn’t detected and got away with it.”
The expanded guidebook also features the establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2015. As the nation’s storyteller, the National Park Service will interpret the Manhattan Project at the park sites in Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, NM, and Hanford, WA. The book lists some of the sites and properties tourists can now visit to learn more about the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge.
The guidebook is perfect for students, teachers, tourists, and anyone who is interested in Oak Ridge’s complex history and legacy for today. Filled with colorful photographs and engaging stories, the book is an excellent introduction to Oak Ridge’s fascinating history.
Publication of A Guide to the Manhattan Project in Tennessee was funded thanks to contributions from Ellen Abelson Cherniavsky, Dieter Gruen, Lawrence S. O’Rourke, James A. Schoke, and Byron and Thomas Trauger.