The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part II: Early Government Support

Moving Into Action

By the time Roosevelt responded, Bush had set the wheels in motion. He put Eger V. Murphree, a chemical engineer with the Standard Oil Company, in charge of a group responsible for overseeing engineering studies and supervising pilot plant construction and any laboratory-scale investigations. And he appointed Urey, Lawrence, and Compton as program chiefs. Urey headed up work including diffusion and centrifuge methods and heavy-water studies. Lawrence took electromagnetic and plutonium responsibilities, and Compton ran chain reaction and weapon! theory programs. Bush's responsibility was to coordinate engineering and scientific efforts and make final decisions on recommendations for construction contracts. In accordance with the instructions he received from Roosevelt, Bush removed all uranium work from the National Defense Research Committee. From this point forward, broad policy decisions relating to uranium were primarily the responsibility of the Top Policy Group, composed of Bush, Conant, Vice President Wallace, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.21 A high-level conference convened by Wallace on December 16 put the seal of approval on these arrangements. Two days later the S-1 Committee gave Lawrence $400,000 to continue his electromagnetic work.

With the United States now at war and with the fear that the American bomb effort was behind Nazi Germany's, a sense of urgency permeated the federal government's science enterprise. Even as Bush tried to fine-tune the organizational apparatus, new scientific information poured in from laboratories to be analyzed and incorporated into planning for the upcoming design and construction stage. By spring 1942, as American naval forces slowed the Japanese advance in the Pacific with an April victory in the battle of the Coral Sea, the situation had changed from one of too little money and no deadlines to one of a clear goal, plenty of money, but too little time. The race for the bomb was on.

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