Project Y:The Los Alamos story. 9780938228080, 0938228080

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Project Y:The Los Alamos story.
 9780938228080, 0938228080

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A Series In The History of Modern Physics, 1800-1950

The History of Modern Physics, 1800-1950

EDITORIAL BOARD Gerald Holton, Coeditor Harvard University Katherine R. Sopka, Coeditor Fort Lewis College Stephen Brush University of Maryland Roger Stuewer University of Minnesota Spencer Weart Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics John Wheeler University of Texas

The History of Modern Physics, 1800-1950


Volume I A Isos by Samuel A. Goudsmit

Volume II Project Y: The Los Alamos Story Part I: Toward Trinity by David Hawkins. Part II: Beyond Trinity by Edith C. Truslow and Ralph Carlisle Smith

Volume III American Physics in Transition: A History of Conceptual Change in the Late Nineteenth Century by Albert E. Moyer

Volume IV The Question of the Atom: From the Karlsruhe Congress to the Solvay Conference, 1860-1911 by Mary Jo Nye

INTRODUCTORY NOTE The Tomash series in the History of Modern Physics offers the oppor¬ tunity to follow the evolution of physics from its classical period in the nineteenth century when it emerged as a distinct discipline, through the early decades of the twentieth century when its modern roots were estab¬ lished, into the middle years of this century when physicists continued to develop extraordinary theories and techniques. The one hundred and fifty years covered by the series, 1800 to 1950, were crucial to all mankind not only because profound evolutionary advances occurred but also because some of these led to such applications as the release of nuclear energy. Our primary intent has been to choose a collection of histori¬ cally important literature which would make this most significant period readily accessible. We believe that the history of physics is more than just the narrative of the development of theoretical concepts and experimental results: it is also about the physicists individually and as a group—how they pursued their separate tasks, their means of support and avenues of communica¬ tion, and how they interacted with other elements of their contemporary society. To express these interwoven themes we have identified and selected four types of works: reprints of “classics” no longer readily available; original monographs and works of primary scholarship, some previously only privately circulated, which warrant wider distribution; anthologies of important articles here collected in one place; and disser¬ tations, recently written, revised, and enhanced. Each book is prefaced by an introductory essay written by an acknowledged scholar, which, by placing the material in its historical context, makes the volume more valuable as a reference work. The books in the series are all noteworthy additions to the literature of the history of physics. They have been selected for their merit, distinc¬ tion, and uniqueness. We believe that they will be of interest not only to the advanced scholar in the history of physics, but to a much broader, less specialized group of readers who may wish to understand a science that has become a central force in society and an integral part of our twentieth-century culture. Taken in its entirety, the series will bring to the reader a comprehensive picture of this major discipline not readily achieved in any one work. Taken individually, the works selected will surely be enjoyed and valued in themselves.


A Series In The History of Modern Physics, 1800-1950



Project Y: The Los Alamos Story Part I. Toward Trinity Part II. Beyond Trinity

PUBLISHER’S NOTE This book is an edited version of the LAMS-2532 report written in 1946 and 1947, originally titled, Manhattan District History: Project Y, The Los Alamos Project. Editors at the Laboratory in Los Alamos have added material declassified since the orig¬ inal report was issued, and have made minor alterations to the text in the interest of clarity and readability. In no way has the original factual material been changed. We are grateful to the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the photographs that appear with the text, and to its staff for the considerable effort expended in editing and typesetting the volume. Special thanks are due also to Robert D. Krohn who has so ably coordinated this joint effort.

Project Y: The Los Alamos Story


Toward Trinity by David Hawkins

With a New Introduction by the Author


Beyond Trinity by Edith C. Truslow and Ralph Carlisle Smith


Copyright ® 1983 by Tomash Publishers. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Manhattan District history, Project Y, the Los Alamos Project. Project Y, the Los Alamos Project. (History of modern physics, 1800-1950; v. 2) Reprint. Originally published: Manhattan District History, Proj¬ ect Y, the Los Alamos Project. Los Alamos: Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, University of California, 1961. (LAMS; 2532) With new intro. Includes indexes. Contents: pt. 1. Toward trinity / by David Hawkins — pt. 2 Beyond trinity / by Edith C. Truslow and Ralph Carlisle Smith. 1. Manhattan Project—History. 2. Los Alamos Scientific Labo¬ ratory-History. I. Hawkins, David, 1913. II. Truslow, Edith C. III. Smith, Ralph Carlisle, 1910. IV. Los Alamos Scientific Labo¬ ratory. V. Series. VI. Series: LAMS (Los Alamos Scientific Labora¬ tory); 2532. QC773.3.U5M25 1982 ISBN 0-938228-08-0





his volume tells an important part of the story of one of the greatest scientific achievements in history—the story of the founding of the Laboratory at Los Alamos through the success¬ ful completion of its secret mission to create the first atomic bomb. The celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Lab¬ oratory provides an appropriate occasion to reprint this important and significant historical report, compiled in 1947, from internal documents. Few individuals, even those who are knowledgeable about that early era, will read this work without feeling a sense of profound discovery at the importance of those daily events which led to the most dramatic techno¬ logical development of this century. The United States and the free world in general, owe a great debt to those who, prior to World War II, saw that science and technology could be vital for the preservation of freedom. It was such a group that assem¬ bled at Los Alamos. Science and technology have long shaped the out¬ come of international conflicts, domestic policies, and society in general. But World War II created two important watersheds. First, the magnitude of developments from the world of science was far greater than those in any previous conflict. Second, the public recognition of the positive results of scientific developments was extensive, deep, and profound. Those results have created the problem of how science and society can best survive and prosper together. We constantly struggle with this issue, sometimes successfully, sometimes with less serenity about the outcome. This account covers three critical periods: the initial formation of the Laboratory, the successful completion of the monumental task assigned to Los Alamos, and the sudden changes that occurred in the sixteenmonth period after the abrupt end of hostilities brought about by the technological developments produced at Los Alamos. Each of these per¬ iods created tremendous strains for those who guided the activities at Los Alamos during these years. Each period was successfully managed by the hand of a wise leader supported by brilliant and dedicated workers. This history does not pretend to provide the entire record of the activi¬ ties at Los Alamos, nor is it couched in the rich language appearing in some of the histories that have been compiled since the publication of this volume. Time did not allow such polish. But this history has an authen¬ ticity, readily apparent to the reader, that flows directly from its foun¬ dation resting in the extensive documentation provided by the reports of the technical divisions and from other material written at Los Alamos. IX

The account of this successful venture provides stimulating reading. Those who examine this volume will agree that the men and women who made this massive undertaking into a successful reality rendered a pro¬ found public service to their country. Los Alamos today continues in the tradition which began with the for¬ mation of the Manhattan Engineer District Project. The current work of the Laboratory, though much broader in scope than during the war, continues the effort of exploring the frontiers of science to search for con¬ cepts and applications that will be of use in meeting the important needs of national defense and energy security. The Laboratory has always been a place that is alive, and that has meant new growth and development. Los Alamos is now many times larger than it was during the Manhattan Project. More than forty percent of our programs fall in nonweapons activities such as energy technology development, life science research, magnetic fusion energy, and environmental assessment. But our major activity remains weapons research and development, both nuclear and nonnuclear. We build upon the fine foundation laid by the people of vision who, forty years ago, knew that concentrated scientific work would be of great value in solving important national needs. That tradition and that vision guide our path today. Donald M. Kerr, Director Los Alamos National Laboratory Los Alamos, New Mexico November, 1982




Volume I, was first produced in 1947 as a manuscript of the Los Alamos Laboratory, Manhattan District, U.S. Corps of Engineers. As its author, I had the privilege of decid¬ ing upon its security classification—Secret or Top Secret. It had been argued, by our Intelligence Officer, that its synoptic and qualitative treat¬ ment would make it attractive reading to a foreign power: he recom¬ mended Top Secret. I opted for Secret-, the book did not tell a reader how to make a bomb. It was a history, not a recipe book. The recipe book, by contrast, would be a ton or two of documents and drawings. In any case, the half-life of secrets, even top-secrets, is short. The book and its sequel were declassified in 1961, with only fairly minor deletions. Norris Bradbury, who, at that time, was the second Director of the Lab¬ oratory, sent me a copy of the report. With it, he enclosed this letter: he present history,

Well, here is the famous history after all these years with really rather few omissions on account of classification! Although nearly sixteen years have passed, I expect the words will seem very familiar to you and will bring back additional vivid per¬ sonal recollections. We thought you would enjoy having copies of these two volumes for your own personal library. The volumes as thus edited were published by the Office of Technical Services, U.S. Department of Commerce. Before that time, they had remained on the shelves of the library at Los Alamos. If my story was read in that interval, it was read as a technical summary; I doubt that the motive would often have been one of historical curiosity. To use Robert Oppenheimer’s expression, voiced in the wider military-political context of that period, it was “too soon for history, too late for advocacy.” During those years, I was, myself, so to speak, declassified, and had no access to the book or to our erstwhile files. I well remember my first rereading of it after declassification, early in 1962, and some of the reac¬ tions it provoked. The first was a strong revival of memory, though not strong enough to spot readily those deletions referred to above. The sec¬ ond reaction was a kind of disappointment, a sense that of such extra¬ ordinary people, events, and developments I had produced a record so limited by the style and restraint of an official military history. Could I not have emulated, say, the style of Sir Thomas Mallory, or that of a Ber¬ nal Diaz in his chronicle of the conquest of Mexico? Actually, the charge I had been given, to write this history, was, in fact, more restrictive. In early 1945, Robert Oppenheimer offered me the chance to produce a technical, administrative, and policy-making history xi

of the wartime Laboratory, and I had accepted with great pleasure, though not without misgivings as to my competence: I had no historio¬ graphic training. I arrived at Los Alamos in early May, 1943, some six weeks after the formation of the Laboratory, having hastily left a job in Berkeley as In¬ structor in Philosophy. I was a partial and junior replacement for my friend and department chairman, William R. Dennes (see below, p. 33), who had earlier come to Los Alamos but decided not to stay. As a youth¬ ful amateur of physics and mathematics, I soon learned something of the underlying commitment and substance of this extraordinary project, and of the style of those who worked at it. In its early months, the Labora¬ tory was distinguished by an almost total lack of professional adminis¬ trative officers. As an administrative assistant to Robert Oppenheimer, I was therefore given many odd jobs and was able, as a result, to develop a fairly coherent picture of things as they evolved in the Laboratory with regard to our relations with the U.S. Engineers and with the civilian community. I came to know most of the scientific staff personally, and in the interest of getting the young ones deferred from the draft, which was one of my jobs, it was necessary to learn about their professional backgrounds. The young ones were, in fact, most of the staff (see Graph 1, p. 483). When the time came to write this story, I surely did not know enough to deal with all of the technical problems and policy questions, but at least I knew enough to probe further, to ask some of the right questions of some of the right people. It was an odd experience, after the rather in¬ tense activism of the first year and a half, to become the observer and chronicler of things still in the state of being born. My very competent assistant, Emily Morrison, and I even played a bit at the game of draft¬ ing an account of things which had not yet happened. I was aware, at the time, of this shift in perspective, and commented on it in the Preface. Soon I began to see how the various divisions of the work might flow together to a predictable end. Where those involved in the work mainly saw uncertainties and problems, I began, too easily, to smooth these over, seeing inevitable outcomes. So I think I could indeed have tried harder to encapsulate the life, its personalities, presuppositions, and tensions. I do not now think this failure was a serious distortion. General Groves remarked to Oppenheimer, with a touch of official hu¬ mor, that he might as well get someone to do the history who was a loyal supporter. Indeed, I was that, like most others of us in that place and time. When he first read my manuscript after the war, Oppenheimer remarked, rather darkly, that I was surely adept at





Graph 3. Percentage distribution of personnel among civilians, WAC, and SED. Data of previous graph replotted on percentage basis. Project changed from being 100% civilian during first five months to 50% civilian in July 1945.


Graph 4. Distribution of personnel by occupation groups. Classification of personnel into five large categories, according to occupation, as of May 1945. In the chart for the total number, one sees the preponderance of scientific and technical personnel; in the civilian chart, the preponderance of scientific personnel; in the SED chart, the preponderance of technical personnel. The chart of terminations shows the very small proportion of scientific personnel terminating and the relatively large proportion of skilled labor terminating. The latter fact reflects some of the difficulties encountered by the shops in retaining personnel, as well as a difference in motivation. Information was obtained from card files in Tech area and SED personnel offices. Un - Unskilled (Laborer, Messenger, or Warehouse Assistant) Wh - White Collar (Clerk, Secretary, Nurse, or Teacher) Sk - Skilled (Machinist, Toolmaker, or Glassblower) T - Technical (Technician, Draftsman, or Scientific Assistant) Sc - Scientific & Administrative (Junior Scientist and up)


Orap'. 5. T'/i ptrvr.TA. c str.b -rior. b> divisions. grc-. ' v c • sons, reflects change :n emphasis from research to engineer 'i. evpecta. . rier^or .r. August 15*44. Engineering divisions G. X. arc O c argt proporjor.• - -..e research divisions R and T remain small. :'X" -at obtained ,'rorr. gro-p assignment records of Tech Area and k aet at.vr.t arc lettert refer to various div isions. Exp Shops R O Chem £r^ Acrr>:n G T F Theo





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