Almost all the research that lead to the idea that an atomic weapon could be built occurred in Germany in the 1930s. As of 1939, of all the major labs doing atomic research, only Chadwick’s (in Liverpool) was not in Germany, or territory soon to be occupied by Germany. The experiments that uncovered the phenomenon of nuclear fission were conducted in Berlin just before the beginning of the war. In addition, Germany controlled great resources of uranium and heavy water, which were necessary for developing the bomb.
Yet Nazi science made very little progress towards a nuclear weapon during the war.
One popular, but unlikely, explanation is that Heisenberg sabotaged the effort. The true reason is probably more complicated.
Heisenberg did report to organizers of the effort that creating a sustained chain reaction was probably years away, and very challenging. This was in 1938 and 1939, after the discovery of fission, and following his visit Bohr in occupied Copenhagen. But this may have been more because of his lack of interest in engineering, and an orientation towards theoretical questions that led to shortsightedness. After all, the Manhattan project succeeded, with arguably lesser scientists.
Comparing the Manhattan Project to the Nazi effort is probably a fruitful way to look for answers.
The Manhattan project succeeded because theoretical scientists envisioned the possibility, engaged powerful politicians in the idea, and those politicians then engaged people with great organizational and leadership skills in assembling the scientists and resources necessary to meetthe challenge.
Vannevar Bush, U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development wanted one person with power and skill, to lead the effort to develop an atomic weapon. Leslie Groves was recommended to him as that man. With the help of Robert Oppenheimer, who was also a systems thinker, Groves orchestrated an all-out effort to assemble a diverse team and get them everything they needed. Oppenheimer found theoreticians and empiricists and engineers with the knowledge, ability, and willingness to do the work. He also developed plans that laid out multiple methods to achieve each step necessary for success. For example, the Manhattan Project pursued multiple bomb and fuel designs right to the end of weapon development. Fat Man (dropped on Nagasaki) and Gadget (tested at Trinity) were implosion-type bombs with a plutonium core. Little Boy (dropped on Hiroshima) used a uranium core and a gun-type detonator. It is also critical to note that from 1939 when Roosevelt set up the Uranium Committee until 1942 when the Manhattan Project was formed, most of the work done was politicking and feasibility studies. And, finally, many of the scientists and engineers working on the project were immigrants from countries occupied by Germany, and who had fled fascism and war.
The Nazi effort to build a bomb was not so well designed. The first organization to develop atomic weapons, or Uranprojekt, was directed by physical chemist at the University of Hamburg, Paul Harteck. This first group was disbanded when the invasion of Poland led to the call of the scientists involved into military training.The military then started its own project, and included in it Walther Bothe, Hans Geiger, Otto Hahn, and Heisenberg. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was made part of the project under military control. They made separate divisions of the project, and divided the work across several institutes, each with their own research agenda.
In 1942, about when the U.S. was forming the Manhattan Project, Germany removed their effort from military control, reassigned scientists to what was considered more pressing work, and refocused the nuclear project on energy development instead of weapons development. Hermann Goring, who had developed the aviation engineering effort so successfully, was put in charge, hoping that he could be successful in this project as well.
In June of 1942, a lab in Leipzig working on chain reactions exploded, possibly because of a hydrogen leak, destroying the facility most advanced in developing a critical reactor under German control. Six months later Fermi’s experimental pile in Chicago went critical, and the path to critical mass and sustained reactions became clearer for the Manhattan Project.
In the end, Goring’s leadership did not improve the Uranprojekt’s success. The effort was too fractured, and the almost endless supply of young scientists available to the Allied effort was not allowed to the Nazi effort, as many young technicians and scientists were conscripted as troops.
It required some hubris to succeed at building the bomb. Oppenheimer and Groves viewed each challenge in the long and complex path to success as points to plan for, and achievements to develop towards, and not as obstacles. It was the all-out philosophy, and the ability to see both the forest and the trees that led to the success of the Manhattan Project.
Fat Man, ready to be taken aloft.
Little Boy, on the dock, waiting to be loaded onto its bomber.
Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer were an odd match, but excellent partners.
During World War II, a sense of civic duty and responsibility united the nation and fueled America’s war effort like nothing before or since. People stepped forward to fulfill the jobs demanded of them, and they excelled beyond all expectations. Civilians on the Home Front who worked to assemble America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” were essential to securing an Allied victory, and their stories serve as a reminder of what patriotism truly means.
The Museum’s current special exhibit, Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy, now showing in the Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery, tells this lesser-known story of American unity on the Home Front and how it culminated in the creation of America’s mighty industrial war engine. The exhibit examines several key industries whose operations and facilities completely rearranged to make way for wartime production. We are proud to have two of the key industrial leaders featured in the exhibit as supporters of the Museum as well.
Boeing’s B-29 Super Fortress Bomber. Courtesy of Boeing.
During World War II, The Boeing Company manufactured two of the most iconic bomber aircraft. Over 12,000 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were produced, becoming instrumental in the bombing of German-controlled Europe. Boeing’s second contribution to the war, the B-29 Super Fortress bomber, was used to lay waste to Japan’s urban centers, aiding the Allied victory in the Pacific. Now 70 years later, Boeing shows its support of the Museum’s mission of preserving the story of the war the naming sponsor of our US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which paints the picture of a nation mobilized for war .
Workers install cylinders on a new Pratt & Whitney radial aircraft engine in 1942. Courtesy of National Archives.
During the war, the need for aircraft production was at an all-time high, though incredibly complicated due to the large number of parts and pieces involved. Pratt & Whitney built engines for aircraft that could be shipped for assembly in other plants. Their R-1830 Twin Wasp engine powered a variety of American planes, and over 170,000 of the engines were produced during the war. Without the increase in engine production, the Allies would not have been able to take control of the skies. Pratt & Whitney has helped the Museum immortalize the war’s airpower through the generous sponsorship of the Vought F4U Corsair warbird that hangs in The Boeing Center.
The National WWII Museum is very thankful for the support of Pratt & Whitney and The Boeing Company for their generous contributions to the expansion of the Museum’s campus and their strong efforts on the home front during a time of necessary American production. It is with their efforts that helped our nation at war and that the story of the war is preserved for future generations.
Friday, December 12 – The Museum will be open to the public 12:30 pm-5:00 pm. Although there will be limited hours and closures on some exhibits at the Museum, visitors will still be able to view all of the galleries in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion and our current special exhibit Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy. Please note the limited hours and closures on the following Museum experiences:
Beyond All Boundaries will only screen at 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 3:00 pm. Advance purchase is suggested. Reserve your space now.
All Museum venues and experiences will return to standard hours of operation on Saturday, December 13, 2014. For more information on planning your visit to The National WWII Museum, please visit us here.
Myrtis “Jeri” Nims is the widow of the late Robert E. Nims, founder of Lucky Coin Machine Co. Since his passing in 2000, Jeri has continued to honor her husband’s legacy through philanthropy. Robert came to New Orleans when he served with the Merchant Marines in World War II. After the war, he moved to the city and stayed until his death.
When Jeri visited the Museum for the first time, she “instantly fell in love.” Due to her and her late husband’s love for the arts, she decided to name the Robert and Jeri E. Nims Entertainers Hallway, which welcomes all visitors to the Solomon Victory Theater and the Stage Door Canteen in style with large photos of the stars of stage and screen who served in uniform during the War.
Jeri has also named the Jeri Nims Soda Shop, a restaurant on the Museum’s campus where guests can enjoy house-made milkshakes and sodas as well as a lunch and breakfast menu that emulates the nostalgia of the WWII era.
Her generosity and enthusiasm for the Museum’s mission are invaluable and she is one of our strongest advocates. Jeri has acknowledged that her greatest joy comes from using her fortune to “help people.” We are fortunate that she is a member of the Museum family.
The National WWII Museum is fortunate to have an incredibly generous family of donors who make it possible for thousands of visitors each year to experience personal accounts, artifacts, documents, and photographs from the war. These are the members of the Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose Legacy Society who have included The National WWII Museum in their will, trust, life insurance policy, retirement assets, or other estate plans. These gifts support our mission to preserve and share the history of the American Experience during World War II.
Mark Norman and President Nick Mueller
One of these honored legacy donors is Mr. Mark Packard Norman. Not only does he support the Museum through his estate plans, but he is also a Patriots Circle, Solomon Victory Theater seat donor, and an artifact donor. On this week’s donor spotlight, we are proud to highlight Mark and the story of his artifacts.
At the age of 65, Mark Norman began a bold, decade-long project to restore three WWII-era trucks. Mark was inspired by The National WWII Museum’s first V-Mail newsletter, which contained a wish list of macro artifacts. Mark thought, “Why can’t I do something like this?” At the time he was recovering from open-heart surgery, but didn’t fare well with idle time. He was determined to restore the trucks and “once they were done see if the Museum would be interested in them.
Mark found these trucks in Norway, Belgium, and Denmark. When he finally shared with his doctor what his new hobby was, the doctor encouraged Mark to continue, even if it posed a risk to his health, because he was “doing something that he truly loved.” He went on to finish the trucks and the Museum feels fortunate to be the recipient of two of his beautifully restored vehicles. Here, these vehicles and the war experiences they represent can be appreciated by millions.
We extend our greatest thanks to Mark for his generosity and his commitment to the Museum.
For the second year in a row, the Museum will be participating in #GivingTuesday, a national day of giving, on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. While Black Friday and Cyber Monday are days devoted to holiday shopping, Giving Tuesday is a national day of giving to celebrate and encourage charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations during the holiday season. As a rapidly growing Museum with a mission of educating future generations on the American Experience during World War II, every bit helps us maintain our programming and facility as we expand.
This year, we are excited to announce that all donations made to the Museum on #GivingTuesday will be matched dollar for dollar up to $10,000.
This generous match has been made possible by Museum Trustee member, Michael S. Bylen of Rochester, Michigan, founder of Golf Concepts.
There are more ways to make your gift to the Museum count even more too! Check to see if your employer offers a matching program that will again double your gift to the Museum on #GivingTuesday. Learn to see if your employer participates in Double the Donation here:http://doublethedonation.com/giving-tuesday/
So mark your calendars for #GivingTuesday this December 2, and join us in our effort to preserve the memories of WWII. It is with your help that we can continue to collect and maintain the stories of WWII to educate future generations.
The holiday season is right around the corner. Why not give a gift that gives back?
From small gifts to large ones, every purchase supports The National WWII Museum’s mission of educating future generations on the war that changed the world. Show your support and find a unique gift for your loved ones that will truly get them excited this holiday season!
Looking for the perfect gift and a way to give? From best-selling history books and DVD to WWII collectibles, vintage toys and 1940s style apparel, our Museum Store has a variety of options for all your gift buying needs. Free shipping on orders of $50 or more.
As a Member of The National WWII Museum, you can permanently honor your loved one’s service and sacrifice during World War II. Whether fighting on the front lines or helping here at home, honor the legacy left by those courageous men and women. Membership includes free admission to the Museum, discounts at our store and access to members-only events.
Our courageous veterans laid the path for victory and freedom – now you can add their names to our path of honor. A commemorative brick is the perfect way to show appreciation for your family’s hero with permanent tribute on our Museum campus in New Orleans. Order your personalized brick by December 31, 2014 and your brick will be installed in the next wave of installations. Choose from our classic Road to Victory bricks or a limited-edition Campaigns of Courage brick.
With your gift you will receive a permanent plaque on the armrest of your seat in the Solomon Victory Theater, where hundreds of thousands of visitors watch Beyond All Boundaries each year. Your donation will support the construction of our new buildings and exhibits, ensuring that we tell the complete story of the American experience in the war that changed the world.
This is the perfect gift for a history buff. Explore our extensive collection of artifacts not on view to the general public in the vault, climb inside a Sherman Tank and have lunch with a Museum curator in our private dining rooms. This tour also includes a docent-led tour of the Museum galleries and the Kushner Restoration Pavilion where boat builders are actively restoring a WWII PT boat.
Give the trip of a lifetime. The National WWII Museum offers unique travel experiences taking groups across the globe to where history was made more than 70 years ago. Venture to the beaches of Normandy, follow in the footsteps of the Band of Brothers across 7 countries, honor America’s Bomber Boys in England, or give your student a lesson in leadership this summer while earning college credit. Any of these tours are the perfect gift to help your history buff complete the adventures on his or her bucket list!
On our journey through the Road to Berlin, we highlighted the German Messerschmitt Bf-109, the most produced fighter aircraft in history. In celebration of Veterans Day this week, the Museum is proud to announce that the Messerschmitt has now been generously sponsored by WWII Veteran Paul Hilliard and his wife, Madlyn. Their name will be proudly displayed by the warbird in honor of their continual generosity. The Museum would not be where we are today without the Hilliard’s dedication.
Madlyn and Paul Hilliard
The National WWII Museum is fortunate that Madlyn and Paul Hilliard have shared their intense interest and love of what the Museum is doing through their generous commitment to The Road to Victory Capital Campaign. Paul is a World War II veteran who flew his missions overseas in a SBD Dauntless aircraft, and he has made it his mission that “as part of the Museum’s evolution we would acquire all of the weapons of war.” He believes that the ME-109 is a vital part of the air war story in the European Theater.
Paul and Madlyn have played a large role in assisting the Museum acquire and restore several of our iconic warbirds and macro artifacts. They both feel passionately that seeing these artifacts up close is “different than seeing them on TV or in simulation.” Madlyn is always impressed by the faces of the children “so focused and interested in what they are seeing. They do not get this in a classroom, and it is so meaningful for all visitors to learn the price of freedom for our country.”
Paul believes that the acquisition of enemy weapons and artifacts, like the Messerschmitt, is important in explaining the various sides of war. By exhibiting weapons used by the Axis enemies, it better clarifies the weaponry the Allied forces built and employed in response, in order to defeat the enemy.
They Hilliards have felt encouraged to see how we have grown to where we are now in 2014. We feel privileged that they have played a major role in telling the story of “what this country can do when you threaten the liberty of Americans.” They feel that being part of the Museum family has been a wonderful experience that they “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Please join us at the Museum for some of the special events accompanying our latest special exhibit following the industrial journey that took the United States from a nation perilously unprepared for war and weakened by economic depression to a global superpower that led the Allies to victory in WWII. Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy will be on view at The National WWII Museum November 7, 2014-May 31, 2015 in the Joe W. and D. D. Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery.
Manufacturing Victory: Arsenal of Democracy Exhibition Opening
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
5:00 pm reception, 6:00 pm program
Louisiana Memorial Pavilion and Special Exhibition Gallery
Join exhibit curator and historian Keith Huxen as he introduces and gives a behind the scenes look at the Museum’s newest special exhibition. A reception will precede the event at 5:00 pm. For more information call 504-528-1944 x229.
Dinner With A Curator
The Ultimate Arsenal of Democracy: Cooking at Los Alamos by Keith Huxen
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
The Stage Door Canteen
Come dine on spicy hot Southwestern food and listen to Senior Director of History Keith Huxen talk about physics, war, the Manhattan Project and life under the New Mexican sun at Los Alamos.
Tickets for this event can be purchased online.
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
6:00 – 7:00 pm
Milton H. Latter Memorial Library
5120 St. Charles Avenue 70115
Join fellow readers as we discuss the incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in US history. Thousands of civilians—many of them young women from small towns across the South—were recruited to Oak Ridge, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed. Come prepared to discuss this story with fellow readers and Museum staff. For more information call 504-528-1944 x229.
Beyond Rosie: Women’s Roles on the American Home Front
Saturday, March 28, 2015
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
Calling all Rosie the Riveters, Wendy the Welders, and all women war workers of World War II! Women were integral to America’s success in World War II. Several women will share their stories of working on the Home Front and producing for Victory, either as a riveter, a welder, or even a master canner. All women workers of World War II are invited to share their story. Our partner for this event is Newcomb College Institute. For more information, call 504-582-1944 x229.
Victory at Home: New Orleans during World War II
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Stage Door Canteen
Dr. Charles Chamberlain, author of Victory at Home: Manpower and Race in the American South During World War II, will moderate this special presentation focusing on the diverse war workers and industries in New Orleans during World War II. The program will intersperse newsreels and propaganda images from the war years with firsthand accounts from those who recall New Orleans in the 1940s and its important role in the Arsenal of Democracy. For more information call 504-528-1944 x229.
Adult Learning Webinar
WWII Defense Workers and The Arsenal of Democracy
Thursday, May 21, 2015
12:00-1:00 pm CT
Join Keith Huxen, special exhibit curator and Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Director of Research and History for an inside look at the Museum’s current special exhibit Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy. Learn about the tremendous achievements of US industries, dollar-a-day men, but also the everyday defense workers from across the country. Examine artifacts, oral histories, and film clips from the special exhibit that uncover how US industries exceeded all production goals and contributed to the Allied victory through teamwork, innovation, and problem solving. Watch on your lunch hour, or at your convenience with recordings sent to every registrant. No need to worry about the technology—all you need is a computer with a high-speed internet connection to view and participate. Register Now
The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War” by A.J. Baime
Thursday, May 28, 2015
6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
NY Times Bestselling author A.J. Baime discusses how Ford Motor Company went from making automobiles to producing the airplanes that would mean the difference between winning and losing World War II. Book signing will follow the presentation. For more information, call 504-528-1944 x229.
As we finish our tour through the first floor of the Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters, we exit out of the Road to Berlin exhibit space and come to one of the most impressive elements of the pavilion, the Atrium. The Campaigns of Courage Atrium is a dramatic entryway to the heart of the Museum’s World War II battlefield experience. The Atrium showcases the Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter plane and three war stations that will orient visitors as they prepare to explore pavilion’s exhibit spaces. Sounds of the Messerschmitt flying will encompass the visitor as they enter the Atrium, highlighting the importance of this warbird.
The five-story Atrium is architecturally striking – it is intentionally compressed horizontally and accentuated vertically, with a magnificent wide staircase balancing the space. Two exterior walls are covered by glass for maximum transparency, ensuring a superb view of the campus from the second level, and a spectacular view of the Atrium from the outside. The remaining walls are fashioned from precast concrete with a gorgeous acrylic burgundy finish. Strategic lighting makes the Atrium shine at night, creating a lovely sight from Andrew Higgins Drive and adding to the beauty of the entire campus. This principal hub connects Road to Berlin with Road to Tokyo on the second floor, and serves as the pavilion’s main entry point from the Battle Barksdale Parade Ground and the second-level sky bridge leading to the Solomon Victory Theater.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.