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Remembering the Manhattan Project

When he graduated from Washington and Lee in 1943, Bill Wilcox discovered that he was in demand. He had majored in chemistry, and the Tennessee Eastman Co. was in the market for young chemists.

As Bill told the St. Petersburg Times in 2010: “In May of 1943 they grabbed up all the graduating chemists from around the country and hired us. We said, ‘What for?’ They said, ‘We can’t tell you.’ Eastman Kodak hired 50 or so of us and we spent the summer working behind locked doors. They said, ‘You’ll be working with uranium, but you’re not allowed to speak that word until the end of the war.’ “

That is how Bill found himself working on the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bomb. Years later, still living in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Bill retired as technical director for Oak Ridge Laboratories’ Y-12 and K-25 plants. He is now the Oak Ridge city historian, keeping alive the stories of those days he spent purifying uranium. For instance, he penned this Facebook page on Oak Ridge’s role in the Manhattan Project.

Just last weekend, Bill was interviewed for a BCC program called “Witness,” during which he described in wonderful detail how he got from Washington and Lee to Tennessee. You can listen to the program at this link, and it’s well worth your 10 minutes.

Bill has received numerous honors and award, including The Secretary’s Appreciation Award in 2008 from then Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman. And just last month, the William J. Wilcox Conference Room was dedicated in the MCLinc Conference Facility at the Heritage Center (formerly known as the K-25 Site) in Oak Ridge.