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Upstream: Our Own Manhattan Project


In 1939, American intelligence already knew that Nazi Germany had learned the secrets of splitting the atom. By early 1940, still a year before America entered the war, and despite the impact of negative voices, concerns relative to the potential dangers of this research had reached the highest levels of the American government.

Despite what we now understand was common sense, it took advocates an amazing level of energy, time and effort to find someone in the government who was willing to listen to and believe the potential dangers represented by what became known as the "Atomic Threat."

By late 1941, driven by President Roosevelt's passion, America had launched a full effort to understand, design and build the World's first atomic weapon. At the beginning of 1942, these diverse efforts were combined into what became known as the Manhattan Project, one of the greatest administrative innovations in American history.

Because it represented something new and innovative there were, from the very beginning, endless delays and challenges until the Manhattan Project was formally adopted. As is still the case today, projects that represent a step in a new direction are bound to run into interference commensurate with the level of anticipated disruption it is likely to cause. By the time the Manhattan project was completed, over 130,000 workers had been employed and over $260 million 2016 dollars had been expended. But numbers alone do not constitute guarantees.