Manhattan Project Research
October 30, 2007 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My grandfather, about whom I know very little, worked on the Manhattan Project. Any ideas where I can look to find information about him?

He died more than 50 years ago, and relatives provide little information beyond "he was an efficiency expert," "he traveled around the country for the project," and "he lived for a time in Louisiana." I also understand he was working on a patent, but do not know if this was during the project or during the six years he lived after the war ended. Other than this, I know his name, DOB, DOD, hometown, and the university he attended briefly. I am looking for suggestions of primary and secondary sources, databases, libraries, or other institutions that might illuminate what he did on the project, and all of the sources I have consulted so far focus only on the top physicists involved.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe they would be able to help you at the LANL (Los Alamos National Labs) library. At the time, work on the Manhattan Project was kept very hushed up. Depending on what he did, you might not be able to get much information. Your relatives probably didn't know much about what he was doing at the time.
posted by yohko at 8:11 AM on October 30, 2007

You probably want to call the librarians at the University of Chicago library, they have a special collection about the MP. The deal with this stuff is that it's rarely well indexed, so I'm sure you've seen the list of the popular scientists who worked on it. You can also try searching the finding aids via this form. So for instance if your grandfather corresponded or worked wiht one of them, there might be a subfolder in the Famous Scientist folder with your granddads name on it. You'd have to search that form by looking for "manhattan project" and whatever part of your grandfather's name is most specific (and be aware that if his name is Tom you may have to search for Tom and Thomas). I'll poke around some more and see what else I can find, but see if that does anything diffeent than what you've already done.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 AM on October 30, 2007

Best answer: Wow. My grandpa did the same thing on the Manhattan Project. He was also an "efficiency expert." My understaning of what my Grandpa did is that part of the project involved building a gigantic building to gas-diffuse uranium to pull out the uranium capable of chain-reaction fission. The building was truly huge and thousands upon thousands worked on it. My grandpa explained that he just basically walked around all day pointing out to people that it might be smarter to drive the building materials right up to the worksite, or suggesting that they do things a little differently to save time. Time was of the essence--the leaders of the project wanted to beat Germany to the bomb. When the bomb was dropped everyone basically looked at each other and said "so that's what we were working on" and they were right.

My grandpa also guessed what it was they were doing. I think a lot of people knew it was involving atomic physics in some way or another, becasue splitting the atom was done just before the war and was big news. (It was done in Germany).
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 AM on October 30, 2007

I think you should focus on the national archives in Seattle, Washington. Most of the people involved in the project weren't physicists at all but were involved in building the facilities needed. A ton of that work was done at Hanford, Washington. Your grandfather may have worked there. I would suggest looking first at any records related to living spaces at Hanford, because a huge town was created out of scratch there. Finding out where he lived and all of that will help you unravel the mystery.

I would bet that the University of Chicago's archive will deal mainly with the scientists involved because the work at U of C was really theoretical and small. If your grandpa worked with the physicists, then it might be something to look at.

However, I think it highly unlikely that he was involved in the theoretical and engineering work in actually building the weapon itself and more likely involved in the gigantic construction projects. Sheer numbers make that the likely explanation.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:10 AM on October 30, 2007

I forgot to add that my Grandpa was at Hanford. His description of the size of the place was amazing. The brawls were apparently legendary as well.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2007

Hanford Technical Library
posted by normy at 9:31 AM on October 30, 2007

Just to chime in - you might have a hard time getting any information about your grandfather at all. I don't know much about efficiency experts, but my grandfather was an AF Colonel working in intelligence at the time. I know that he was involved some in Manhattan (from speaking with other servicemen at his funeral), but I have never been able to obtain any official information about him.

Good luck!
posted by kaseijin at 11:36 AM on October 30, 2007

Unfortunately, this question is the number 2 in google searches for "Manhattan Project" & Louisiana. Not a good sign.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:04 PM on October 30, 2007

You should write to (or, ideally, visit and speak to someone at) the National Atomic Museum in Alberqurque, NM. I was just there a month or so ago, and as an institution they seemed very thorough about preserving the history of Manhattan project. There is also a museum in Los Alamos which I found to be not as engaging, but it did have special exhibits on the many roles played by supporting staff (i.e. not top-name physicists) during the project.

I suspect that a conversation with someone employed at either of these two institutions will yield you some very directed leads.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:52 PM on October 30, 2007

My grandfather was an operations research expert (PhD in history by training; he was hired on as the historian to the lab where he worked and ended up learning a good deal about how to get things done while he was working there) who worked on "something top secret" during the war. Even on his deathbed he wouldn't tell. We think it was probably radar related but I think you ought to count yourself lucky that you know as much as you do. Best of luck!
posted by crinklebat at 12:18 AM on October 31, 2007

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