The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part V: The Atomic Bomb and American Strategy

The Bomb Goes Public

The veil of secrecy that had hidden the atomic bomb project was lifted on August 6 when President Truman announced the Hiroshima raid to the American people. The release of the Smyth Report on August 12, which contained general technical information calculated to satisfy public curiosity without disclosing any atomic secrets, brought the Manhattan Project into fuller view.61 Americans were astounded to learn of the existence of a far flung, government-run, top secret operation with a physical plant, payroll, and labor force comparable in size to the American automobile industry. Approximately 130,000 people were employed by the project at its peak, among them many of the nation's leading scientists and engineers.

In retrospect, it is remarkable that the atomic bomb was built in time to be used in World War II. Most of the theoretical breakthroughs in nuclear physics dated back less than twenty-five years, and with new findings occurring faster than they could be absorbed by practitioners in the field, many fundamental concepts in nuclear physics and chemistry had yet to be confined by laboratory experimentation. Nor was there any conception initially of the design and engineering difficulties that would be involved in translating what was known theoretically into working devices capable of releasing the enormous energy of the atomic nucleus in a predictable fashion. In fact, the Manhattan Project was as much a triumph of engineering as of science. Without the innovative work of the talented Leslie Groves, as well as that of Crawford Greenewalt of DuPont and others, the revolutionary breakthroughs in nuclear science achieved by Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Ernest Lawrence, and their colleagues would not have produced the atomic bomb during World War II. Despite numerous obstacles, the United States was able to combine the forces of science, government, military, and industry into an organization that took nuclear physics from the laboratory and into battle with a weapon of awesome destructive capability, making clear the importance of basic scientific research to national defense.