What was the Manhattan Project? Over just three years, the top secret project that built the atomic bomb took a theoretical idea and turned it into the most powerful weapon in history. This coordinated effort in research, engineering, and construction was known as the Manhattan Project. The history and background of this massive undertaking involved some of the most well-known scientists of the era, plants all over the US, secrecy that would put the most heavily-guarded tech company to shame, and hundreds of thousands of people.
While many people think the Manhattan Project was just the scientists toiling at Los Alamos, the facts of the Project are more complicated than that. There were refinement plants the size of cities, armies of engineers, spy drama, thousands of explosions, and heated conflicts - all in the service of building a weapon that had never existed before, and which wasn't sure to work.Here are some Manhattan Project facts, history, and interesting anecdotes that detail its triumphs, failures, and how it was basically all run by one person.
The Atomic Bomb First Became a Concrete Possibility in 1938
In December 1938 German chemist Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassman first discovered the nuclear fission process, by which atoms are split and release massive amounts of energy. The discovery quickly made its way around the scientific world and sparked interest in using the process to make super weapons. Hahn won a Nobel Prize for the discovery, and became a passionate anti-nuclear activist.
The US Started Looking Into the Atomic Bomb in 1939
The Einstein–Szilárd letter was drafted by physicists Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner (Einstein only signed it, for name value) and sent to President Roosevelt in August 1939. It urged the military to investigate atomic energy for military purposes, and to accelerate the mining of uranium. Roosevelt agreed, and in 1941, the Office of Scientific Research and Development was formed through an Executive Order.
The World's Most Famous Physicist Had Nothing to Do with the Bomb
Despite signing the Einstein-Szilard Letter, Albert Einstein played no role in the research carried out by the Manhattan Project. He was denied security clearance in 1940 because of leftist anti-war leanings, had no knowledge of the bomb's development, and later claimed that if he had known Germany wasn't close to developing a bomb, he never would have signed the letter.
At First, Bomb Development Consisted of a Lot of Meetings
Roosevelt approved the atomic bomb program on October 9, 1941. What became known as the "S-1 Uranium Committee" met for the first time right after Pearl Harbor. They spent six months meeting in various places. Initial discussions centered around whether it was possible and feasible to develop a fission bomb, and looked into the theoretical physics behind it.In July 1942, a group of S-1 scientists declared that the development of such a device was possible - but that it would be a massive undertaking.