The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb

Part II: Early Government Support

The National Defense Research Committee

Shortly after World War II began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Vannevar Bush, president of the Carnegie Foundation, became convinced of the need for the government to marshal the forces of science for a war that would inevitably involve the United States. He sounded out other science administrators in the nation's capital and agreed to act as point man in convincing the Roosevelt administration to set up a national science organization. Bush struck an alliance with Roosevelt's closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, and after clearing his project with the armed forces and science agencies, met with the President and Hopkins. With the imminent fall of France undoubtedly on Roosevelt's mind, it took less than ten minutes for Bush to obtain the President's approval and move into action. 13

Roosevelt approved in June 1940 the establishment of a voice for the scientific community within the executive branch. The National Defense Research Committee, with Bush at its head, reorganized the Uranium Committee into a scientific body and eliminated military membership. Not dependent on the military for funds, as the Uranium Committee had been, the National Defense Research Committee would have more influence and more direct access to money for nuclear research. In the interest of security, Bush barred foreign-born scientists from committee membership and blocked the further publication of articles on uranium research. Retaining programmatic responsibilities for uranium research in the new organizational setup (among the National Defense Research Committee's early priorities were studies on radar, proximity fuses, and anti-submarine warfare), the Uranium Committee recommended that isotope separation methods and the chain reaction work continue to receive funding for the remainder of 1940. Bush approved the plan and allocated the funds.