Share Your Secret Story – Profiles from the Manhattan Project
The year 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the secret origins of the Manhattan Project. On Oct. 9, 1941, one of the most important and secretive decisions of World War II was made when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order that initiated the Manhattan Project.
In 2014, the Department of Energy declassified most of the Manhattan District History, a thirty-six volume history of the project commissioned in late 1944 by General Leslie Groves. The volumes record the Manhattan Project’s activities and achievements in research, design, construction, operation, and administration. It is available on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.
This important piece of history needs to be documented for future generations. Cold War Patriots (CWP) asks you to help by sharing your story. What did you do on the Manhattan Project? How did working on this secret project affect your way of life? Were you able to tell friends and family what you did for work? What secrets about the project did you have to keep?
Please mail your story to:
Manhattan Project Story
Cold War Patriots
P.O. Box 18916
Denver, CO 80218
We periodically select certain stories for inclusion in our CWP newsletter, CWP website, and in other capacities to help educate others about this unique time in history.
Click on a story below:
Years worked: 2
Facility and job title: Dupont, Combustion Engineer
Tell us your story:
As told by his daughter, Martha:
My father started working for Staley’s in Decatur, Illinois starting in high school and advanced his way up to “Chief Fireman” in “Pulverized Coal”. He studied engineering and mechanical drawing in college at night. At some point in 1939-1941 he was recruited to work for DuPont in Chicago on the war effort.
On Monday morning, December 8, 1941, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he joined Americans across the nation in lining up at the local U.S. Navy recruitment station. He explained to the recruiters that “I want to do whatever I can to help my country.” They replied, “If you want to help your country, you can do that best by staying right where you are and doing exactly what you are doing now (at DuPont.)” At this time, the Manhattan Project and the Manhattan Engineering District (MED) had not been formed, they would be formed on August 13, 1942.
The work was so secret that I have a “top secret” brother. When he was born, authorities could only give out the child’s name, date of birth, and the city and county where the birth was recorded. This was because of new state laws and local city and county ordinances dated July 21, 1941.
Scientists in Chicago had been recruited from around the world, those who had escaped war-torn Europe. They worked with U.S. government scientists, DuPont officials and workers, and the Stone & Webster subcontractors. The work went on in the secret Alonzo Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.
The “Pile” and the “Atomic Pile Project” was also known as the “Furnace” by Enrico Fermi, who headed the project. He had been born in Rome, and then had escaped Fascist Italy. Underneath the stands of the football stadium, on December 2, 1942, they achieved their goal: The world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
One of the DuPont engineers informed a scientist working in Washington, D.C., and the announcement was made “in code” that: “the Italian navigator has just landed in the new world.” The Washington scientists asked whether “the natives were friendly”? and the response from DuPont was that “everyone landed safe and happy.”
Eleven years later in 1954 Enrico Fermi ,”Father of the Atomic Bomb” would die at his home in Chicago of stomach cancer.
Harold O. McNeely (Mac)
Years worked: 40
Facility and job title: K-25 Oak Ridge, Electrician
Tell us your story:
I started my career working in Dayton, Ohio in a machine shop. There I did tool and die work and later decided to join the Air Force. In the Air Force I worked in radar mechanics which was like electronics. After that, I had a friend who told me K-25 was interviewing a lot of people but I needed to be in the top 12 to interview for an electronic training program. I was in the top 12. I worked in an area with electricians/linemen/cable slicers and ended up an electrician. I worked at K-25 from 1952-1992 when I left due to a shoulder injury. Our crew was adapt in heavy work, pulling big cables and anything hard. I still see some of my co-workers and just recently had my 87th birthday (they said the day I was born there was 22 inches of snow on the ground).
Facility and job title: Oak Ridge, Mechanic
Tell us your story:
I worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee as a mechanic when I was just a twenty year old young lady. I helped assemble the unit that split the atom; I’m very proud of saying I set the record by setting more carbon on the units which ran more minutes.
I rode an old GI bus to work from Maryville, Tennessee. Most of the time it had no heat and was very cold but we were told that our work would help to win the war. We were always treated with kindness. It was very interesting to watch the area grow even though no one knew what we were working on. We wanted to do our best and this was an experience I have never forgotten as I am now ninety years young. Today I enjoy watching the University of Tennessee football team and Lady Vols basketball.