Decision to fund the Atomic Bomb

Word Count: 1836″No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had
ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared
description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light
with the intensity many times greater than that of the midday
sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue…”( Groueff
355). The words of Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell
describe the onset of the atomic age, which began on July
16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the site of
the first large-scale atomic test, which utilized the tool of
destruction that would soon decimate the populations of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month afterwards. This
test consummated the years spent developing the bomb, and
was the end result of the efforts of nuclear scientists who
constructed it, and those of President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, who made the decision to fund the so-called
Manhattan Project.

In a letter dated August 2nd, 1939, Albert Einstein first
informed President Roosevelt of the research that had been
done by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard with unstable
Uranium which could generate large amounts of power and
energy (Einstein1 PSF Safe Files). Einstein also included
another possible use for the uranium- the construction of
extremely powerful bombs, which were capable of
destroying a seaport and the surrounding territory. This
information may have come precisely at the right time, for in
October of 1938 Roosevelt asked Congress for a $300
million military appropriation, and in November instructed
the Army Air Corps to plan for an annual production of
twenty thousand planes. Later, in 1939, Roosevelt called for
actions against “aggressor nations,” and in the same year
submitted to Congress a $1.3 billion defense budget (Boyer
861). In an accompanying memorandum that was sent with
the Einstein letter, scientist Leo Szilard explained the
technical science of nuclear fission and stressing the
importance of chain reactions (Walls 1 PFS Safe Files).

Essay due? We'll write it for you!strong>
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Both documents, the Einstein letter and the Szilard
memorandum, were to be delivered by Alexander Sachs, an
adviser to Roosevelts New Deal since 1933 who would
know how to approach Roosevelt and the government
(Lanouette 200). It was not until mid-October 1939 that
Sachs wangled an invitation to get in to see the President
over breakfast (Burns 250). Though Roosevelt found the
documents interesting, he seemed hesitant about committing
government funds to such speculative research. But after
Sachs reminded him of Napoleons skepticism of Robert
Fultons idea of a steamship, Roosevelt agreed to proceed.

Regarding the steamship issue, Sachs went on to comment,
“This is an example of how England was saved by the
shortsightedness of an adversary,”; this insight made
Roosevelt greatly consider the creation of the bomb.

President Roosevelt authorized a study, but the decision to
devote full energy to the production of the bomb was not
made until December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was the influence of Leo Szilard, along with that of
Alexander Sachs, that swayed Roosevelts decision to fund
and construct the bomb. To aid the presentation to President
Roosevelt, Szilard contacted aviator Charles Lindbergh, to
discuss how “large quantities of energy would be liberated”
by a “nuclear chain reaction,” and also wanted to discuss
how “to make an attempt to inform the administration (of the
project).” Soon after, however, they discovered that the
anti-arms Lindbergh was not one to help them in their
request to the President (Lanouette 208). Szilard then went
on a mission to find pure graphite for the experiment, (which
would be based on Einsteins E=mc2), by exchanging
dozens of letters with chemical, carbon, and metallurgical
companies, and bargained with manufacturers for contracts
of fresh material (Lanouette 209). During this time, Szilard
was creating a decisive difference between U.S. and
German nuclear efforts. Szilard also inquired to Colonel
Keith F. Adamson of the U.S. Army as to funding of the
graphite and uranium needed for a large scale experiment,
and Adamson estimated that it might only cost $6,000,
though this sum eventually swelled to more than $2 billion
dollars of funds from the U.S. government (Lanouette 211).

Although Einstein later said that he “really only acted as a
mailbox” for Leo Szilard, in popular history his famous
equation E=mc2 and his letter to President Roosevelt are
credited with starting the American effort to build atomic
weapons (Lanouette 206).
Fission was discovered in 1938 by German scientists, which
led to the fear of American scientists that Hitler might
attempt to develop a fission bomb.


Because of German aggression throughout Europe in
1938-39, Roosevelt and the scientists thought it necessary to
develop the bomb before the Germans. Fortunately for the
United States bomb effort, many of the worlds top
scientists, from both Europe and the U.S. pooled their
expertise in the Manhattan Project to create the weapon.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England at the time
of the war, later expressed the concern that many were then
feeling, “We knew what efforts the Germans were making to
produce supplies of heavy water, “a sinister, eerie,
unnatural, which began to creep into our secret papers.

What if the enemy should get an atomic bomb before we
did… ! I strongly urged that we should at once pool all our
information, work together on equal terms, and share the
results, if any, equally between us.” On the same note,
President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked to Alexander
Sachs, “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis
dont blow us up,…This requires action.”
This action came under the fear that the Germans would be
ahead in the construction of the bomb. Since the initiation of
the atomic project in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
American policy makers never doubted they would use the
weapon if it could be rapidly developed. Roosevelt had also
decided by late 1944 not to share information about the
bomb with the Soviets (LaFeber 26). Scientist Neils Bohr
likened the work of the atomic scientists to the “Alchemists
of former days, groping in the dark in their vain efforts to
make gold.” An advisory committee on uranium was
created, with representatives of the Ordnance Department of
both the Army and the Navy, and with Lyman J. Briggs,
Director of the National Bureau of Standards, as chairman.

President Roosevelt chose people from various departments
so that no one service would dominate the initial research
and evaluation (Burns 250). Once it was proved to
Roosevelt that the scientific techniques were available to
construct a bomb, he approved tens of millions of dollars for
pilot plants. In June of 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill met at
Hyde Park to discuss their progress with “Tube Alloys,”
which was the English code name for the project. From this
meeting came the creation of a new division within the Army
Corps of Engineers to direct to direct the construction of
massive research plants and secret atomic cities. Hence, the
Manhattan Engineering District was launched in August

Little progress within the project had been made until after
the fall of France, when considerable government funds were
committed to atomic research. Although British scientists
were also experimenting with atomic weaponry, Churchill
found it wiser for the United States to take control of the
project, since Britain was under severe bombing at the time.

The Project, directed by army engineer General Leslie
Groves, employed more than 120,000 people.
The Manhattan Project comprised of many different
development sites throughout the country. The premier
development area for the project was in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee, near the tiny town of Clinton in eastern
Tennessee. The site, selected by Colonel James Marshall
and Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Nichols, met all of the
needs for the ensuing project: it was an isolated area with
adequate electrical power, an abundant water supply, low
population, a mild climate, and convenient access by means
of railway or roadway (Groueff 16). A huge gas diffusion
plant was built to produce weapon-grade uranium. An
extremely corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas was pumped
through barriers that was permeated with millions of holes.

The lighter molecules containing the needed uranium235 were
diffused faster than the heavier uranium238 molecules. After
the gas had been cycled through thousands of barriers it was
“enriched” to a high concentration, 90 percent, of pure
There were three other secret development sites, one being
the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago. The task
at this lab was to prepare plutonium239 for atomic bombs,
but first to prove that the nuclear chain reaction needed to
produce that plutonium could actually work, which at that
time, many felt, was not necessary to effect the outcome of
the war.
The third was located on the Hanford Reservation, a desert
plateau in western Washington adjacent to the Columbia
River near the town of Richmond, which was selected for
many of the same reasons as Oak Ridge was selected. At
Hanford, there was a large water supply, electricity, a 12 by
16 mile area, a low population, and an absence of any main
roads or highways. It was here that the uranium 238 was
bombarded with neutrons to create plutonium239, enough of
which was made by July 1945 to make three bombs a
month. One of the bombs was created for the first test in
New Mexico that month, another intended for Nagasaki,
and the third conceived for Kokura, a Japanese weapons
plant, on August 20.
The fourth site, perhaps the most important, was a mesa
near Santa Fe called Los Alamos, which would collect
information from the previous three sites to construct the
worlds first atomic bombs (Lanouette 231). At the Los
Alamos site, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer
was chosen to direct the isolated weapons laboratory. The
advantage of the site was that the bombs could be tested in
the surrounding canyons of the area. After all of the research
had been conducted, a supply of uranium235 was sent to the
Los Alamos weapons laboratory, where it was fashioned
into a gun-type weapon in which a piece of uranium was
fired into another, creating an explosion. At the same time,
another bomb type was constructed using plutonium, which
in Los Alamos, was surrounded by explosives to compress it
into a dense mass. This plutonium bomb proved to be more
effective than the uranium bomb, and was the first to explode
successfully in New Mexico in 1945. Later in the year,
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by two American
atomic bombs, dubbed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” dropped
from the Enola Gay.

Finally the day came when all at Los Alamos would find out
whether or not The Gadget(code-named as such during its
development) was either going to be the colossal dud of the
century or perhaps end the war. It all came down to a fateful
morning of midsummer, 1945.

At 5:29:45 on July 16th, 1945, in a white blaze that
stretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northern
New Mexico to the still-dark skies, The Gadget ushered in
the Atomic Age. The light of the explosion then turned
orange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360
feet per seconds, reddening and pulsing as it cooled. The
characteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapor
materialized at 30,000 feet. Beneath the cloud, all that
remained of the soil at the blast site were fragments of jade
green radioactive glass. All of this caused by the heat of the

The brilliant light from the detonation lit up the early morning
skies with such intensity that even residents from a far
neighboring community swore that the sun came up twice
that day. Upon seeing the massive explosion, the reactions of
the people who created the bomb were mixed. Physicist
Isidor Rabi, a member of the Manhattan Project, felt that the
equilibrium in nature had been upset, as if humankind had
become a threat to the world it inhabited. Oppenheimer,
though pleased with the success of the project, quoted a
remembered fragment from The Bhagavad Gita, the most
widely-read, ethical text of ancient India, “I am become
Death,” he said, “the destroyer of worlds.” Ken Bainbridge,
the test director, told Oppenheimer, “Now were all sons of
Several participants, shortly after viewing the explosion
signed petitions against ever utilizing the bomb, but their
protests were in vain. As history unfolded, the Trinity site of
New Mexico was not the last site to experience an atomic
explosion (