I'm talking about the Manhattan Project, and a unique town in Tennessee called Oak Ridge.
I'm talking about the creation of the atom bomb.
While visiting friends in Tennessee over Labor Day weekend, we visited the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge... the ideal place to learn more about this little town's role in the Manhattan Project.
This picture depicts the genesis of the Manhattan Project. Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt, expressing their concerns about the possibility of Germany working to create an atomic bomb. Einstein urged the U.S. to achieve this goal before the Germans did.
The government agreed.
Approximately 1000 families were displaced, and they were notified by letters, such as the one shown in the picture. They were given no choice, and little time to vacate the premises. In the end, a total of 60,000 acres were acquired, at a total cost of 2.6 millions dollars, or about $47 per acre.
Residential plans were originally designed to accommodate 13,000, but by 1945, Oak Ridge's population peaked at 75,000. Another 40,000 commuted in from surrounding communities to work in the plants. The town-within-a-compound bustled with soldiers and civilians, men, women, and children... all protected by barbed wire, roadblocks and armed guards.
And not just the enemy. Approximately one in four workers was a government informant, and all workers were subjected to periodic lie-detector tests.
Then again, if the truth be known, very few people had any idea what they were doing.
We couldn't train them properly because we couldn't tell them what they were doing... We'd have to say, "On that gauge, when that needle turns to the right, you turn this knob to the left." But we couldn't tell them why. L.W. Anderson, Union Carbide engineer
We cannot tell you what you are going to do, but we can tell you how to do it and we can only tell you that if our enemies achieve what we are trying to do before we do, God help us! Gladys Owens, who worked with an electromagnetic separating machine known as a calutron. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was separating uranium atoms.
Dubbed the Trinity test, the first nuclear device was detonated in July, 1945.
Oak Ridge workers didn't realize what a monumental role they'd played until the atom bombs known as Fat Man and Little Boy were dropped on Japan the following month.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. [Albert Einstein]
There was so much more to see at this museum, too much to cover in a simple blogpost. Photographs of children playing in a schoolyard, of Girl Scouts laughing, of people dancing and having fun... while living within an enclosed compound with a nuclear reactor and radioactive materials struck me as particularly surreal. But this, this was a page in our history. A fascinating page, where an entire city was built in less time than it takes to build a house nowadays. A secret city. A city where things like Teflon and HEPA filters were used for the first time. A city where the atom bomb was born.
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.