Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
During World War II, the United States, Germany, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and Japan all had projects to examine the feasibility of constructing an atomic bomb. Japanese progress was minimal, and French progress halted with the German occupation of France. American efforts were spurred on by the British and by scientists such as Leo Szilard, Eugene Paul Wigner, and Enrico Fermi, who fled oppression in Europe. Since the Germans had a considerable head start in addition to formidable industrial and scientific resources, many feared that Adolf Hitler would develop the atomic bomb first.
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Developing and Constructing the Bomb (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Enough work had been done prior to the Manhattan Project to convince those involved that the problems of producing a bomb could probably be surmounted if sufficient resources were made available. Because of the war mobilization, the Army Corps of Engineers was managing construction contracts amounting to $600 million a month, and funds for the top-secret Manhattan Project were hidden within that amount. The initial cost estimate for the project was $133 million; the actual cost was about $2 billion.
Before the Manhattan Project, American atomic bomb research was conducted by various scientists at several universities. Progress was intermittent. On September 17, 1942, Colonel (soon to be General) Leslie Richard Groves was appointed to head the Manhattan Engineer District. Groves was an engineer, and his supervision of the building of the Pentagon had demonstrated a knack for untangling bureaucratic messes. He was regarded as arrogant and abrupt but also as a person who could get the job done right.
Under Groves, the Manhattan Project proceeded at breakneck speed. Factories were built before the machines they would house were fully worked out, and full-scale machines were built before prototypes were fully tested. While this approach did not always work, it worked well enough. At Hanford, Washington, fifty thousand construction workers built three large nuclear reactors to produce plutonium along...
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Manhattan Project (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: The United States develops the world’s first nuclear weapon.
Summary of Event
The building by the United States of an atomic bomb was not the result of a single decision, but of a series of decisions taken over more than two years. Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt held the ultimate responsibility, his attitudes were shaped by scientific advisers whose reasoned conclusions and best guesses persuaded him that it was possible to construct a nuclear fission device “of superlatively destructive powers,” as a 1941 report termed it.
Research had been going on in the 1920’s and 1930’s, primarily by European physicists, including James Chadwick in Great Britain, Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segrè in Italy, Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch, who in 1938 fled Austria for Denmark, (where Niels Bohr was working), Hungarians such as Leo Szilard, the Frenchman Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. Their research indicated the possibility of bombarding the nucleus of the uranium atom, splitting it into lighter fragments, and releasing tremendous amounts of energy. A significant number of these scientists fled Fascism for the United States or England. Many of them gathered with U.S. physicists in January, 1939, at the fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics to hear Bohr recount the exciting atomic discoveries. Within the...
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