On December 6, 1941, one day before Pearl Harbor, Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and formerly president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, called a meeting with James Conant, Chair of the National Defense Research Committee, and Arthur Compton, Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Committee to Evaluate Use of Atomic Energy in War.
Bush discussed with Conant and Compton his intent to ask Lt. Colonel James Marshall to assign an Army officer to oversee research and development of the atomic bomb and to hide the expenditures in the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget. Eventually, the Manhattan Engineering District would be directed by Leslie Groves.
This meeting was held at the Cosmos Club, which was located in several buildings on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square. The Cosmos Club is a private social club founded in 1878 with the goal of advancing its members in science, literature, and art. We found these buildings on our trip to Washington, D.C. this past summer (2015).
The Cosmos Club originally occupied the Dolly Madison House and the Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House, as well as a constructed building between them. Today, the buildings are still standing, but the Cosmos Club moved to Embassy Row (Townsend House) in 1952. The buildings are used by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which also occupies the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building behind the original row houses. The only remnant of the Cosmos Club is the simple plaque located on the front of the middle building, and certainly doesn’t allude to the importance of this historic meeting.
Norris, R.S. (2009). Manhattan Project Sites in Washington, D.C., in Kelly, C.C., The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians, New York: Black Dog & Levanthal.