With Albert Einstein urging President Roosevelt to beat the Nazis to an atom bomb, the government created the Manhattan Project.
Top secret research sites included Hanford, Washington, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and uranium-enrichment facilities in Tennessee.
At Oak Ridge, local inhabitants and farmers were chased off the land to make way for a new town designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill with housing, cafeterias, schools, churches, shops and bowling alleys for more than 66,000 workers.
Of the huge factories, the K-25 uranium-separating plant alone covered 44 acres and was then the largest building in the world.
Kept in the dark, the workers learned just why they were there when the four-ton Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences declared that the Manhattan Project sites would pose risks to humans for tens of thousands of years into the future. Even so, the places proved real crowd-pleasers and in 2003, Oak Ridge’s wartime electromagnetic plant Y-12 was reopened to produce missile parts and store weapons-grade uranium.
Today, when you drive into town there’s a sign: “The Atomic City Welcomes You.”
I spoke with Hardy Green, author of “The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills that Shaped the American Economy,” on the following topics:
1. Utopian Dreams
3. Building the Bomb
4. Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo
5. Economic Context
To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)