Top 10 Cool Facts About the Manhattan Project
The birth of the use of nuclear weapons in the United States was during WW2. It started on May 12th 1942, with The Manhattan Project. It was a top secret project that was signed into action during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. This project was considered to be the answer to the nuclear weapons race that was occurring during this time, where Germany, Japan and Russia were also developing their own nuclear weapon capabilities. In an attempt to be the first to win the nuclear race, the US began the project to create a nuclear weapon. The project was led by Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie R. Groves along with a team of scientists from the United States, Great Britain and Canada.
It was secretly carried out in three main locations with in the United States. Hartford, WA, Oak Ridge, TN and Los Alamos, NM. The purpose of The Manhattan Project was the development of the atomic bomb, which was later used on the country of Japan during the later portion of WW2. Its secrecy was to protect the nuclear technology that was in development from potential enemy spies, which in turn, could be placed in enemy hands and help aid in their further research in the development of nuclear weapons. This could have posed a potential threat to the United States and could have changed the course of events in the future.
There are many interesting facts about The Manhattan Project. Some of which, much of the general public may know, and some that are simply quite cool. So, here are the top 10 cool facts about The Manhattan Project.
10The Manhattan Project is the Stuff of Science Fiction
There was a novel published in 1914, by the author H. G. Wells called “The World Set Free.” This, in itself, is not totally cool, as there were a lot of novels published during this time. What made it extra cool is that it predicted the use of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. In fact, it is part of a series of books that leads to a nuclear future. Although, the story is science fiction, it tells of the details of a pending nuclear future for the planet. It speaks of the making of nuclear weapons, the potentially horrific power of these types of weapons and the changes it would create in world society as a whole. This book was read by one of the leading scientists of The Manhattan Project, Leo Szilard in 1932 and has been believed to have been one of the influences for his work in atomic physics, and his work on The Manhattan Project itself.
The science in the book itself was based on the author’s already known knowledge of the real science of atomic physics and radium, which already had its history known in the science community for a number of years. In fact, the book is praised by other scientists within the community of atomic physics. Although, not a directly known scientific influence to The Manhattan Project, it did help bring light to the nuclear age with a vivid description based on real science. The events of The Manhattan Project, and its completion almost mirrors this intriguing book, and it is a must read for anyone interested in nuclear weapons.
9Defectors from Germany Helped the Project
There were many influential people and notable scientists that participated in The Manhattan Project. They also came from a few of the allies of the United States that were also fighting and participating in WW2. What isn’t widely known is that the majority of these scientists were German defectors and other scientists that fled the impending war movement before and during WW2. With them, they brought their own knowledge of nuclear physics and weapons development from German nuclear projects, as well as individual works and knowledge.
These scientists were not in agreement with what the Germans did during the war, and in protest, came to the assistance of the United States and The Manhattan Project. The discovery of nuclear fission by the Germans in 1938 was a factor that prompted the mass exodus of scientists to the United States.
Who were some of the notable scientists that came to the United States? One was Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist and inventor who attended college in Berlin. Another was Hans Bethe, a German born theoretical physicist, came to the United States and obtained his citizenship in 1942. He was later recruited to work on The Manhattan Project and was the lead of the Theoretical Division. Unfortunately, there were some of these defectors that were also spies. One of the most notable spies was Klaus Fuchs. He worked on the The Manhattan Project after he came to the United States through Great Britain. He was later discovered delivering classified information on nuclear weapons programs to the Soviet Union.
8Albert Einstein Played a Part, But Not a Big One
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Contrary to popular belief and having the title of being “The Father of the Atomic Bomb,” Albert Einstein did not directly participate in The Manhattan Project. He was, however, part of the project in its infancy with his long penned atomic theory. This not only was an influence in the scientific community in general, it also paved a path towards nuclear weapons development.
Einstein fled Germany in its beginnings of WW2 and came to the United States, ultimately becoming an American citizen in 1940. Becoming aware of the destructive power of his atomic theory, Einstein was openly opposed to the making and use of nuclear weapons. However, in light of the potential of Germany being successful in developing its own nuclear weapons, he wrote a letter in collaboration with Leo Szilard to the President in 1939. In it, he warned of the dangers of nuclear capabilities and what they could mean to the United States if it did not take action. This, in turn, was his only direct influence on The Manhattan Project.
Because of his pacifist views, he was essentially denied the security clearance to participate in the project. He may have opened the doors to the world of the atom, but ultimately did not participate in its use. Einstein both feared and respected what his discovery started, but he worked towards ending the further use of nuclear weapons. Peace and diplomacy where his hopes for the world.
7The Project Duration Was Many Years
Even though the science that has led to the discovery of the atom, then to its development took decades to discover, The Manhattan Project was formally approved by Franklin D. Roosevelt in January, 1942
The project officially began on May 12th, 1942 and officially ended in August of 1947. However, the science of nuclear usage began a few years prior to 1942. The discovery of nuclear fission in 1938 by Germany, captured the attention of physicists and scientists around world, and the nuclear weapons race began. However, the United States did not enter it until 1942 with The Manhattan Project. The time for The Manhattan Project to build, test and create a successful atomic bomb took roughly four years to accomplish, but before it was done, Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away and Harry S. Truman became his successor. Four months after the death of Roosevelt, the first atomic bomb was used in warfare. It worked successfully and paved the path to end the war shortly afterward with the surrender of Japan on September 2nd, 1945.
Towards the end of The Manhattan Project, The Atomic Energy Act was signed into law by Harry Truman on August 1st ,1946. That placed the use of nuclear energy in the private sector and out of military control. The United States Atomic Energy Commission was then established, further keeping this great power under control.
6Flying Fortresses Were a Part of the Manhattan Project
Within The Manhattan Project was also Project Silverplate. Project Silverplate was a separate project that over saw the plans of specially designed B-29 bombers, which were aptly nicknamed the “flying fortresses” due to the plane’s immense size. From the testing phase to the actual use in WW2, it was ultimately decided that these planes would be used to carry the bombs.
Once this phase of The Manhattan Project was complete, there was also Project Alberta. Also known as Project A, this part of The Manhattan Project addressed the issues of where the delivery targets of these bombs would take place once they were built and ready to be used. There were two aircraft that were built and used for the purpose that these two projects declared. The most well-known of these was the Enola Gay, which was named after the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. The other aircraft was named Bockscar, which was derived from the name of its commander, Captain Frederick Bock. They were two of the fifteen B-29 bomber “super-fortresses” that were used and redesigned specifically for The Manhattan Project. The Enola Gay delivered the first atomic bomb that was code-named “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima in Japan on August 6th, 1945. The Bockscar delivered the second atomic bomb, code-named “Fat Man,” on the Japanese city, Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945.
5The Bombs Had Code Names
During The Manhattan Project, there were many different bomb designs created and used. Four different size casings were designed for the atomic bombs for use during the testing phases and for the intended use during the war. Each bomb was given a code-name. These bombs were the “The Gadget,” “The Thin Man,” “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” There were also many test bombs, or dummy bombs, that were used during the project that were called “pumpkins.” They were a mustard color and were approximately the size and the weight of the bomb that was code-named “Fat Man.” The bombs that were first used in wartime were the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.
The “Fat Man” was a primarily plutonium fueled bomb. It weighed over 10,000 lbs. and was approximately 10 feet in length. It had the destructive power of 21,000 tons of TNT. The “Fat Man” was the second bomb dropped on Japan, and it was focused on Nagasaki. The first bomb dropped on Japan was code-named “Little Boy.” The “Little Boy” was a bit smaller than the “Fat Man” in both its size and destructive power. This bomb was primarily fueled by highly enriched uranium. It weighed over 9,000 lbs. and was around 10 feet in length. This bomb had the explosive force of about 15,000 tons of TNT. Approximately 200,000 people were killed after these bombs were dropped and many more after from radiation poisoning.
4The Bomb Site, Nagasaki, was Not Supposed to Be Hit
Once The Manhattan Project was underway, the project was close to designing a fully functional atomic bomb. Over the course of the four years of this project there was the question of where to use these bombs once they were ready. The decision to drop the bomb came in the fall of 1945 by new president, Harry S. Truman. The country and its allies were weary by the war, and wanting it to come to an end. Tokyo was already significantly damaged by the war, and was only briefly considered a viable target. So, the search for other targets came into play.
The decisions on selecting targets were to first, select places that the U.S. Military planes could reach and return successfully. Second, it was to locate targets of Japanese military advantage and further cripple it. Another important factor was the climate, so the crew charged with dropping these weapons could see their intended targets. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the chosen pair. Hiroshima fit within all the criteria for the selection, it was of strategic value and was relatively untouched during the war, which was good for the US, as it would display a full picture of what the atomic bomb was capable of. Nagasaki was the ultimate target for the second bomb, but it was not the first choice. Instead, it was the city of Kokura that was selected first. Once the bombers made it to Kokura, it was determined that the weather wasn’t suitable for a drop, so the decision to move on to Nagasaki was made.
3There were Many Atomic Spies and Espionage Surrounding the Project
Even though The Manhattan Project was a top secret one and security was its main concern, it was still vulnerable. Many of the people that participated in the project were spies from other countries, and these countries were also participants in the race for the atom bomb. Many people in the general public never knew this, but in the military world, it was well-known.
Germany implemented a special team of spies who made several attempts to steal technology and research from The Manhattan Project. They weren’t successful in infiltrating the project, however, and they were discovered quickly. Even though Russia, known as the Soviet Union at the time, was considered an ally during WW2, the United States did not want Russia to obtain information about the project, either. Being an ally, Russia was also considered a potential enemy to the United States, as there were concerns about communism and sympathizers in the US, which could cause even more destruction. The Soviet Union ultimately discovered the program in 1941 despite the secrecy, and began to recruit members of The Manhattan Project. This discovery was made by a British spy ring called the “Cambridge Five.” A member of the ring, Donald Maclean sent word to the Soviet Union about the project, tipping them off and leading them to successfully obtain classified information.
Japan also had its own nuclear weapons program to participate in the race for the atom bomb, but they were unsuccessful. Japan did become aware of The Manhattan Project, but they weren’t able to successfully infiltrate it.
2There were Many Secret Facilities of The Manhattan Project
There were many secret locations in the United States, and even allied countries, that were used during The Manhattan Project. However, there were three main locations that were built for and used for the majority of it. The first, is Hartford, WA. It played a major role in the project, and was the site where there was full scale plutonium production. The first full scale nuclear reactor, the B Reactor is in Hartford, too.
The city of Oak Ridge in Tennessee was specifically built for The Manhattan Project. There, the first productions of enriched uranium and plutonium were produced for the use of fission. The entire city employed and housed workers of The Manhattan Project, and at the start of the project, the site was called, “Site X.”
The third main location was Los Alamos, NM. This site was Project Y, and it housed the main atomic laboratory of The Manhattan Project. This site was so secret, that anyone who lived or worked there wasn’t allowed to tell anyone where they were or what they were doing. This city didn’t even exist on any map. Here, much of the building and testing of the atomic bomb was conducted.
There were also secret uranium mines across the country. Grand Junction, CO, for instance, was one of the main mining locations of uranium. Ames, IA was the location the military used to process the uranium production, which was developed at the Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University. Wilmington, DE, the home of the chemical company Du Pont, also aided in the fabrication of materials used during the project.
1Though the Bomb Won the War, the Negative Effects Were Great
The Manhattan Project was a grand endeavor, and it advanced and accelerated nuclear science, not only with the atomic bomb and weapons it produced. It also brought knowledge of the power of nuclear energy to the forefront and brought other positive effects, though the negative effects should be mentioned, too.
One positive, for instance, was that it employed over 130,000 people across the country. It also advanced engineering, physics, nuclear medicine and technology. Additionally, it changed military strategies and shifted political power across the world. The United States went from a struggling country recovering from the Great Depression to a world super power.
A negative, was that it cost the country around $2.2 billion dollars, which would amount to almost $25 billion in today’s standards. Additionally, the environmental effects of the bomb are still ongoing, and some continue to be life-threatening. These include radiation poisoning and contamination by the atomic material onto anything it comes into contact with.
Concern by the entire world came into play as well. The Manhattan Project was created with the purpose of beating the Nazi regime in the atomic bomb race and to win the war itself. However, it changed the entire world as we knew it, for good and for bad.
The Manhattan Project was a desperate attempt to develop the atomic bomb, and in turn, win a world war. This was a war that had taken its toll on the world, and the world was in desperate need of an end.
The project accomplished a goal that may have seemed impossible to achieve, but it did in a little as four years. It brought together some of the greatest minds in the world, ushered the advancement of important scientific fields, and it helped to bring the age of technology and medicine. The project gave the world a glimpse into how far we, as human beings, will go in the face of war, and it caused us to rethink how we live together, as well as how we can cause fear. The project brought hope to a country in struggle and ended the destruction of the war across the globe. It changed the views and political standings of not only the United States and its allies, but also those of other countries who both were and were not part of WW2.
The Manhattan Project, and what it achieved ended one era and began a new one. A new era that affected and influenced the entire world. Changes that have had good and those that brought negative consequences, and ultimately changing the world forever for generations today and for generations to come.