LANL Materials Illuminate Manhattan Project at Los Alamos

LANL Materials Illuminate Manhattan Project at Los Alamos

Enrico Fermi. Photo courtesy of LANL.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Archives recently provided the Atomic Heritage Foundation with hours of video, thousands of photographs, and numerous audio recordings related to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. These materials document some of the pivotal moments and people behind the making of the atomic bomb.

AHF has posted a number of these films to our YouTube channel. One film, “Tinian, Little Boy, and Fat Man,” features 24 minutes of silent footage depicting the final preparations and use of the atomic bombs against Japan. You can watch the loading of the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” atomic bombs on Tinian Island, as well as the takeoff and return of the Enola Gay. The film also shows the mushroom cloud above Nagasaki.

Another film compiles unique home movies shot by physicist Hugh Bradner, whom the Army granted informal permission to use his video camera around Los Alamos. These films, which were rediscovered and released by LANL in 2012, provide vivid snapshots of life on “the Hill” during the Manhattan Project. Probably unbeknownst to the Army, Bradner captured footage of scientific experiments, including the RaLa (radioactive lanthanum) experiment, which was critical in testing the design for the plutonium bomb. On a lighter note, the movies also show project scientists relaxing and enjoying activities such as hiking and skiing.

Additional films illustrate the Laboratory’s role during the Cold War. On AHF’s YouTube channel, you can watch footage of 24 nuclear tests. These include Ivy Mike, the world’s first thermonuclear test, and the Castle Bravo explosion, the largest nuclear test ever carried out by the United States. Another film documents President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Los Alamos on December 7, 1962, and incorporates excerpts from his speech to a crowd of more than 6,000 people at Los Alamos High School. In the coming weeks, AHF will post additional LANL films, including a documentary on Edward Teller and lectures by prominent Manhattan Project veterans including Harold Agnew, Priscilla Duffield, and Frederick Ashworth.

Approximately 900 of the photographs depict the preparations for the Trinity test, as well as the test itself. Other images show members of Project Alberta and the 509th Composite Group on Tinian, and the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See the gallery below for a sampling of these images.

The materials also include oral history interviews with members of the British Mission to Los Alamos, including Sir Rudolf Peierls, Ernest and Peggy Titterton, and Joseph Rotblat. Other recordings feature reminiscences by Laura Fermi, Enrico Fermi’s wife; Nobel Prize-winning physicist Edwin McMillan and his wife, Elsie; and Bernice Brode, who was a “computer” at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. AHF will seek funds to transcribe these audio materials and make them available on the “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website.

We will post additional photographs and videos on our website and YouTube channel soon. Many thanks to LANL historian Alan Carr and his staff for sharing these materials, which capture Los Alamos’s seminal role in the nuclear age.