Nuclear weapons are a huge topic in modern-day society.
However, most people don’t actually know where and how it all began. The Manhattan Project was an American nuclear program that led to the first testing of nuclear weapons and the bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The project took place in World War 2 and spared countless American lives, employing 130,000 people and costing 2 billion dollars.The Manhattan Project’s roots started after Albert Einstein mailed a letter to President Roosevelt in 1939, warning him of the German nuclear program. In his letter, he stated, “that it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated.” Although President Roosevelt didn’t think it was necessary at the time, he agreed to proceed.
According to Vincent Jones, Roosevelt would set up the Advisory Committee on Uranium, a team in which contained both scientists and military officials whose goals were to research uranium’s role in weapons. The Advisory Committee on Uranium was renamed to the National Defense Research Committee in 1940 and was finally named as the Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1941. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States of America would declare war on the Empire of Japan on December 8, 1941, and as a response to this, Italy and Nazi Germany would declare war on the United States of America. The race for “the bomb” had begun.With President Roosevelt’s approval, the Army Corps of Engineers joined the Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1942, and the project morphed into a military initiative, with scientists providing support. The project was based in the New York city of Manhattan, in which it would be named after. Multiple nuclear facilities were set up in remote locations which included New Mexico, Tennessee, Washington, and even Canada, where research and tests were to be performed. The first atomic bombs were designed and built in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
On July 16, 1945, a plutonium implosion-type atomic bomb informally named “The Gadget”, was detonated at the Trinity Test site, causing a vast mushroom cloud that rose 40,000 feet high, beginning the Atomic Age. The blast left a crater of radioactive glass 10 feet deep and 1,100 feet wide. The immense heat of the explosion was able to be felt at base camp.
General Thomas Ferrell was in the control bunker at the time of the explosion, and immediately wrote, “It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse, and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined.” The blast could be felt over 100 miles away, shattering windows in civilian homes. As a coverup, the United States government made up a story explaining that a huge ammunition dump had exploded in the desert.Following the success of The Gadget, President Harry Truman was given the choice of whether or not to use atomic weapons to help end World War 2.
On August 6, 1945, a gun-type bomb called Little Boy was detonated 1,900 feet in the air over the Japanese city of Hiroshima by a B-29 Superfortress named the Enola Gay, instantly killing 70,000 to 80,000 people. The burst temperature is estimated to have been over 1 million degrees celsius, and the heat of the blast was so high, it ignited the surrounding air and created a fireball 840 feet wide. The many fires, ignited by thermal pulse, created a firestorm that incinerated everything within a 4.4-mile radius of ground zero. Captain Robert Lewis recalled commenting, “My God, what have we done?” Sixteen hours after Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima, President Truman called on the Japanese to accept the Potsdam Declaration, which asked to assemble a new peaceful, democratic government, but the deal was rejected as it did not secure a role for the emperor in the future. On August 9, 1945, Fat Man was dropped over the city of Nagasaki, by a B-29 called Bockscar.
It detonated 1,650 feet in the air, instantly killing around 60,000 people. Members of the crew remembered seeing a huge cloud of black smoke covering the city. Around 230,000 people would ultimately die in total, with around half of the casualties being on the first day. It is clear that the Manhattan Project had a lasting impact on the world, shaping the future for years to come. After the test on Gadget was conducted at the Trinity Test and Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Atomic Age would begin, a frightening time in which multiple nations would have hold of nuclear weapons, making Earth a very dangerous place.
Because of the Manhattan Project, the United States of America’s pre-world war 2 era military rating would go from 19 to 1, making it the strongest nation on the planet to this day. The bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only nuclear weapons to ever be used in the course of warfare. The Manhattan Project ended on December 31, 1946.