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Black History Month Special Feature, 2012 - Scientists and Technicians of the Manhattan Project

Scientists and Technicians of the Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project, 1941-1946, was one of the largest scientific undertakings in the history of the United States, ranking with the ten year effort to place an American astronaut on the moon between 1961 and 1969.  It began with a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt in August 1939, from a number of prominent physicists including Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, which warned of Nazi Germany"s efforts to produce "extremely powerful bombs of a new type," and urged the United States government to engage in research that would produce the weapon first.  The Roosevelt Administration heeded the warning and on October 9, 1941, President Roosevelt approved a crash research program to build an atomic bomb.  Four years later this program produced the world"s first atomic bombs.  They were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945, instantly killing over 110,000 people and forcing the Japanese government to surrender.  This display of deadly power, heretofore unmatched in the history of humankind, ushered in the nuclear age. 

Approximately 130,000 Americans worked on the project with the vast majority serving as construction workers and plant operators at newly created communities such as Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington.  Drawing on natural resources from around the world including critically important uranium from the Belgian Congo, scientists and technicians, plant operators, military personnel, and construction workers labored around the clock in secrecy to complete the project and build this weapon of mass destruction before Nazi Germany completed its own atomic bomb.  Much of the initial research on the U.S. bomb was done in existing laboratory facilities at major universities including Columbia, Princeton, and the largest of the atomic research centers, the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago. 

On August 13, 1942, the mission to produce the atomic bomb was officially named the Manhattan

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