Source: Atomic Heritage Foundation | Article | January 2, 2018

Oak Ridge in 1944

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is pleased to launch a new online interpretive program on Oak Ridge with 16 audio/visual vignettes. This beta program is part of AHF’s Ranger in Your Pocket series  on the Manhattan Project and features vignettes with eyewitness accounts and expert commentary. AHF welcomes feedback on the beta program as we will plan to expand the program over the next year.

This initial Oak Ridge program highlights the historic X-10 Graphite Reactor, a prototype plutonium production reactor and the first nuclear reactor designed for continuous operation.

The program also features the three uranium enrichment facilities that employed different methods to separate uranium isotopes for an atomic bomb. The Y-12 plant used a technology called electromagnetic separation; the K-25 plant, gaseous diffusion; and the S-50 plant, liquid thermal diffusion. These plants produced the enriched uranium for the atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

In the vignettes, former workers and Oak Ridge historians explain why the plants were built and how they operated. At Y-12, young women, who were not told what they were working on, were hired to operate the control panels for electromagnetic separation machines called “calutrons,” earning them the moniker “calutron girls.” “You had a board that stood about ten feet tall, and you had to turn these gauges constantly,” remembered Gladys Evans. “You’d have to try to raise a needle up to get the highest production that you could get.”

The vignettes describe what it was like to live in the muddy, frontier-like city. Bill Wilcox arrived in Oak Ridge in 1943. He called the city a “remarkable place.” “Groves realized that it was important to have the feeling of a community,” he explained. “He wanted it to have the feel of a normal town. It was a great place to raise kids.” Wilcox worked at the Y-12 and K-25 plants and later became the City of Oak Ridge’s official historian. He stayed in Oak Ridge for the rest of his life, marrying and raising his family in the town.

Ranger in Your Pocket: Oak Ridge will be an educational tool for students, online audiences around the world, and visitors to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. AHF is grateful to William H. Wilcox, son of William J. (Bill) Wilcox, Jr., the Wilcox family, and Ellen Cherniavsky, daughter of Philip Abelson, for their valuable support for this program.

Over the next year, AHF will expand the program to incorporate more stories and perspectives that reflect the complexity of this history. New vignettes will include testimonials from some of the thousands of African-Americans who worked at Oak Ridge and endured segregation there, as well as accounts of people displaced by the Manhattan Project.

AHF recently received a generous grant from the IEEE Foundation to develop a “Ranger in Your Pocket” on “Oak Ridge Innovations.” In partnership with the IEEE East Tennessee Section, we will highlight Oak Ridge’s legacy for science and society today, from the development of nuclear reactors to particle physics, computer science, health physics, and medicine. AHF looks forward to sharing different perspectives on Oak Ridge’s history and legacy today.