Category Archives: ManhattanProject

Woodley Mansion

The Woodley Mansion north entrance
The north entrance to the Woodley Mansion.

On April 25, 1945, Henry Stimson, United States Secretary of War, briefed Harry Truman on S-1 (the Manhattan Project), following the death of President Roosevelt on April 12. Along with General Leslie “Dick” Groves, Stimson traced the history of the Manhattan Project, summarized its status, and detailed the timeline for testing and combat delivery. Truman was unaware of the project, as it was top secret, and Stimson spearheaded the project through Congress through misdirection.

Henry Stimson purchased the Woodley Mansion in 1929, after being appointed U.S. Secretary of State by President Herbert Hoover. The mansion was built in 1801 in the Federal style on a hilltop. Stimson owned the home from 1929-1950, but only lived there until 1946 during his appointment as Secretary of War from 1940-1945.

Looking north over the soccer fields at the rear of the mansion.

In Harper’s Magazine, 1947, Stimson wrote “The decision to use the atomic bomb” partly as a response to John Hersey’s article, “Hiroshima,” published in The New Yorker. Stimson’s article was the first official account of the reasonings behind the bombings.

Today, the Woodley Mansion is home to the Maret School since 1950. Around 650 students attend the top-tier private school. The house has been used for a learning center, a library, business offices, and admissions office. The current soccer pitch and playfield was once a croquet lawn and gardens.

The Apocalypse Factory

Steve Olson at the Graham Pierce County Library

Steve Olson presented a talk and question & answer session about his newest book, The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age, at the Graham Pierce County Library on Saturday, February 11, 2023.

The Apocalypse Factory tells the story of plutonium from it’s discovery by Glenn Seaborg at the birth of nuclear fission, the technology of using and testing plutonium as a weapon, the development of Hanford and the reactor complexes, and the Cold War aftermath and reliance on the manufacturing of plutonium.

Much has been written about uranium, the Manhattan Project, and the development of the first atomic bomb used on the citizens of Hiroshima. Mr. Olson’s book looks at the second atomic bomb, using implosion and plutonium, which was used on the citizens of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. More importantly, plutonium pits became the standard for the U.S. stockpile of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, creating the Cold War and the arms race.

As Glenn Seaborg noted on his discovery of plutonium:

I was a 28-year old kid and didn’t stop to ruminate about it… I didn’t think, “My God, we’ve changed the history of the world.”

(as cited in Olson, 2020, The Apocalypse Factory, p. 31)

Steve Olson is the author of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens (winner of a Washington State Book Award), Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past Through Our Genes (a finalist for the National Book Award), and other books. He has written for the Atlantic, Science, Smithsonian, and more. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Ernest Lawrence marker

Ernest Lawrence marker in the columbarium

Ernest Lawrence was born on August 8, 1901, and died of complications from ulcerative colitis on August 27, 1958. He is interred along with his wife, Mary “Molly” Lawrence, and his parents, Carl and Gunda Lawrence at the Oakland Crematorium and Columbarium.

Ernest Lawrence was the winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the cyclotron. He also founded the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Ernest Lawrence and family at the Nobel Prize ceremony
Lawrence and family at the UC Berkeley special ceremony for his receipt of the Nobel Prize. (Left to right): Mary “Molly” Lawrence (his wife), Ernest Lawrence, Gunda Lawrence (his mother), John Lawrence (his brother), and Carl Lawrence (his father). Photo courtesy of Berkeley Lab.

Building upon the cyclotron, Lawrence’s calutrons — hybrids of the cyclotron and a mass spectrometer — were created for the the Manhattan Project for electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes. The Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, containing these massive calutrons “racetracks” using over 14,700 tons of silver, enriched the uranium-235 and shipped the first few hundred grams to Los Alamos laboratory in March 1944.