Virtual Tour: Turn Back the Clock

The Manhattan Project: The race to build the atomic bomb

Workers at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a Manhattan Project Site

Working in secrecy and in great haste, an army of men and women raced to build the world’s first atomic bomb in the midst of World War II. The code name for their clandestine military assignment: the Manhattan Project.

While most Manhattan Project scientists fully embraced the mission to develop atomic (nuclear) weapons before Nazi Germany could, they also anticipated the potentially devastating consequences. As atomic scientist James Franck predicted, their success would be “fraught with infinitely greater dangers than ... all the inventions of the past.”

Sworn to secrecy during the war, a group of scientists privately advised U.S. Presidents Roosevelt and Truman about the use of nuclear bombs. Although they could help bring the war to a swift end, it was clear that the new weapons would exact an extraordinary toll in civilian lives.

In the war’s aftermath and with the enormous power of atomic energy ready to be harnessed for peaceful use, Chicago-based Manhattan Project scientists took their hopes and fears public. They founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to foster public debate and discussion about the promise, and the peril, of nuclear energy.

At its peak, the Manhattan Project employed 130,000 people at 37 facilities across the country.

Total cost: Nearly $2 billion ($27 billion in 2017)

Total duration: 2.5 years

This artifact is featured in our virtual Turn Back the Clock tour. Take the tour to learn more about the history of the Doomsday Clock and discover how you, today, can help “turn back the Clock.” Start here

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