The Manhattan Project Led to U.S. Nuclear Arsenal's Huge Costs

1941: Franklin Roosevelt approves the creation of a secret program aimed at developing an atomic bomb.

1941 Franklin Roosevelt approves the creation of a secret program aimed at developing an atomic bomb.

Even before it entered World War II, the U.S. was racing to create the weapon that would end the war. In 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt informing him that “it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium” and that, using this technology, “it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed.” Einstein told FDR that Nazi Germany had already begun research, making it urgent that the U.S. start its own atomic program. Originally headed by a team in New York of U.S. Army scientists, later called the Manhattan Engineer District, the project would employ hundreds of thousands of workers in 27 sites across the U.S. and Canada. The dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 caused the deaths of an estimated 185,000 and hastened Japan’s decision to surrender. It also signaled the dawn of the nuclear age and the proliferation of weapons more destructive than what the creators of the bomb could have foreseen. Shortly before his death in 1955, Einstein told chemist Linus Pauling, “I made one great mistake in my life … when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made.”

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