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Archive for the ‘Museum News’ Category

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SciTech Tuesday: Niels Bohr announces fission of uranium

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Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the 5th Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics. This meeting on the 26th of January 1939 may seem an obscure point in history. Fifty-one physicists from around the world gathered at George Washington University, which co-sponsored these conferences with the Carnegie Institute. A statement published in Science on the 24th of February 1939 contained this paragraph:

“Certainly the most exciting and Important discussion was that concerning the disintegration of uranium of mass 239 into two particles each of whose mass is approximately half of the mother atom, with the

Niels Bohr at 37, when he won the Nobel Prize for Physics

Niels Bohr at 37, when he won the Nobel Prize for Physics

release of 200,000,000 electron-volts of energy per disintegration. The production of barium by the neutron bombardment of uranium was discovered by Hahn and Strassmann at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin about two months ago. The interpretation of these chemical experiments as meaning an actual breaking up of the uranium nucleus into two lighter nuclei of approximately half the mass of uranium was suggested by Frisch of Copenhagen together with Miss Meitner, Professor Hahn’s long-time partner who is now in Stockholm. They also suggested a search for the expected 100,000,000-volt recoiling particles which would result from such a process. Professors Bohr and Bosenfeld had arrived from Copenhagen the week previous with this news, and observation of the expected high-energy particles was independently announced by Copenhagen, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and the Carnegie Institution shortly after the close of the Conference. Professors Bohr and Fermi discussed the excitation energy and probability of transition from a normal state of the uranium nucleus to the split state. The two opposing forces, that is, a Coulomb-like force tending to split the nucleus and a surface tension-like force tending to hold the “liquid-drop” nucleus together, are nearly equal, and a small excitation of the proper type causes the disintegration.” (Science, vol 89 number 2304, page 180)

It could be argued that this was the starting point of the Manhattan Project. Niels Bohr, the winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for his work on atomic structure, spoke about the the first observed, and explained, observation of nuclear fission. Enrico Fermi, who had won his Nobel Prize just a few months before, was there to discuss this announcement.

Three and a half years later, Fermi would build a reactor under the football field at the University of Chicago and create the first sustained chain reaction of uranium fission, and be a primary scientist in the Manhattan Project. Fifteen months later Bohr was under Nazi rule in occupied Denmark—he escaped the Nazis in dramatic fashion in September 1943 when he learned they had plans to arrest him, and left on a fishing boat for Sweden. From Sweden he went to England, where he joined the Tube Alloys project. In December of 1943, under the alias of Nicholas Baker, he traveled to the US to meet with Gen. Groves, and scientists at Los Alamos.

Over the next two years Bohr traveled frequently to Los Alamos, where he acted as a mentor to the young scientists, much as he had in the years before the war at his institute in Copenhagen.

Niels Bohr at 25, with his wife Margrethe, on the occasion of their engagment.

Niels Bohr at 25, with his wife Margrethe, on the occasion of their engagment.

Niels Bohr was a brilliant and fascinating man. He risked his life to save others, working for years to get scientists and technicians of Jewish ancestry out of Europe. He developed a model for the structure of the atom, and when it was surpassed, said “there is nothing else to do than to give our revolutionary efforts as honourable a funeral as possible.” He was a scientist who could see past his own ambitions and accomplishments, and helped develop a community of colleagues whose collaboration exceeded their individual efforts.

After the war, Bohr returned to Copenhagen and ran the institute which now bears his name-The Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. He won the Atoms for Peace award in 1957 for his efforts to build an international agency on atomic weapons and energy. He died in 1962, at age 77.

Would you like to collaborate with colleagues to improve your teaching? Join the first Real World Science Cohort


Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum

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SciTech Tuesday: Nomination for best technology in a supporting role—the Norden Bombsight

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When Louis Zamperini flew in World War II one of his jobs was to use his Norden to target enemy ships and structures. When he and the rest of his plane’s crew went missing the CO who packed his personal effects confiscated the photos in his locker that showed him in the plane next to his Norden bombsight. The Norden’s technology was a tightly held secret. So secret that bombers were instructed to use their sidearm to destroy them before they found their way into enemy hands.

In theory the Norden could target with an error of 23 m (75 ft). This led to the US military strategy of targeted bombing instead of area bombing as the British and German forces used. With targeted bombing fewer artillery could be used, and bombers could stay at high altitudes, safer from anti-aircraft fire.

In practice, in combat, the Norden was much less accurate than estimated. In combat it had a practical accuracy of 370 m (1200 ft). The Navy used dive-bombing and the Army Air Forces used a lead bomber to increase practical accuracy.

Experience with aircraft in bombing in World War I showed that a major targeting problem was leveling the aircraft. Trajectories could be calculated with knowledge of airspeed, groundspeed, and altitude, using analog computers. But if the plane was not flying level to the ground the calculation would be way off. The Navy contracted Carl Norden, a Dutch engineer trained in Switzerland who came to the US in 1904, to help solve the leveling problem.

Norden was an expert with gyroscopes. A gyroscope uses the angular momentum of a spinning disk to maintain proper orientation. In plain English—a spinning wheel resists turning. That resistance to turning can be used to keep an object going in one direction. Before GPS, gyroscopes were used to measure the change in course of a vehicle.

Gyroscopes held the apparatus level while the bomber sighted his target. A mechanical computer in the bombsight calculated for the bomber. He dialed in wind speed and direction, altitude and heading, and the computer calculated his aim point. One way that the Norden improved upon other devices was that the bomber found the target in his telescope, and then using the settings he entered, the Norden employed a rotating prism to keep the target in the bomber’s sight. In this way it used two angles, one based on altitude, airspeed and ballistics, and another based on ground speed and heading. The difference between these two angles would decrease as the aircraft approached the target. When the difference was zero, the Norden dropped the bombs.

The Norden also connected to the plane’s autopilot. When engaged, it took over flight controls to correct for any change in airspeed and to maintain heading. While this improved accuracy, it made it dangerous for crews encountering anti-aircraft fire or under attach from fighters.

There’s a description of how Louis Zamperini used the bombsight in Unbroken:

“Louie was trained in the use of two bombsights. For dive-bombing, he had a $1 handheld sight consisting of an aluminum plate with a peg and a dangling weight. For flat runs, he and the Norden bombsight, and extremely sophisticated analog computer that at $8000, cost more than twice the price of an average American home. On a bombing run with the Norden sight, Louie would visually locate the target, make calculations, and feed information on air speed, altitude, wind, and other factors into the device. The bombsight would then take over flying the airplane, follow a precise path to the target, calculate the drop angle, and release the bombs at the optimal moment. Once the bombs were gone, Louie would yell ‘Bombs Away!’ and the pilot would take control again.”

There’s also a great article in the NY Times that describes how Laura Hillenbrand learned about Norden bombsights.

Before the war, from 1932 to 1938, about 120 bombsights were made each year in the company’s New York City engineering lab. These were primarily handmade, mostly by German and Italian immigrants. The lab was converted to a production facility after Pearl Harbor, and produced almost 7000 bombsights in 1942. The majority of this production went into Navy aircraft, until in 1943 the Navy declared it had a surplus. At this time the Army Air Forces cancelled its contract with a competing firm and took delivery of everything that Norden could produce. Norden built more factories, and added licensed manufacturers. At the end of the war, 72,000 Norden bombsights were built for the Army Air Forces, billed at the rate of $8800 each.

We have several Norden bombsights here in our collections, and on display. There’s one in The Road to Berlin, and two in the US Freedom Pavilion:Boeing Center. There you can see one in the nose of the fuselage of the plane “Overexposed,” just as the bomber used it. Next to the fuselage there is a Norden in a case with some other technical equipment.

Radar and bombs with their own targeting mechanisms eventually replaced the Norden bombsight, but they were used in the Korean war, and even on bombing runs in the Vietnam War.

Set your sight on a great summer opportunity for teachers, our Real World Science Summer Teacher Seminar.

Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum

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Black History Month at The National WWII Museum

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Group of recently appointed officers. Eleven of these men were appointed to the temporary rank of Ensign D-V(S), and one to Warrant Officer, USNR. February 1944.

Group of recently appointed African American officers. Eleven of these men were appointed to the temporary rank of Ensign D-V(S), and one to Warrant Officer, USNR. February 1944.

February is an important month in remembering the path to freedom and equality for African Americans. While the world was in turmoil with war in the 1940s, significant progress was made in the passage for equal rights for African Americans from the Home Front to the battlefields that further set the path towards the 1950s and 60s Civil Rights Movement.  It was the fight for Double Victory, the battle for freedom against the Axis powers abroad and for equality at home, that inspired African Americans to achieve excellence and persevere during their participation in the war effort.  Join us throughout the month of February both here at the Museum and online in revisiting the African American experience during World War II and celebrating the lives that still sacrificed and defended a country that often fought against them.



Lunchbox Lecture
“Fighting Hitler and Jim Crow: The Black Labor Movement During WWII” by Gemma Birnbaum
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Mortimer Favrot Orientation Center

In honor of Black History Month, join Assistant Director of Education for Curriculum Gemma Birnbaum to learn more about the men and women on the Home Front who worked to industrialize the war abroad while fighting against racism at home. While unprecedented numbers of African American men and women found careers in war production, inequalities in opportunities, pay, and career mobility plagued the Arsenal of Democracy. See how ordinary workers in extraordinary circumstances became leaders in the fight for civil rights.


Panel: “African Americans in Military History” featuring Dr. Allan Millett, Dr. John Morrow and Dr. Adrian Lewis.
A partner program with University of New Orleans.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
4:00 pm Panel – Arizona/Missouri Room
5:30 pm Reception and Book Signing – US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center

Join us for this panel discussion featuring Dr Allan Millet, Ambrose Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, Dr Adrian Lewis, Professor of 20th Century Warfare at the University of Kansas, and Dr John H Morrow, Jr, Professor of Modern Europe and warfare and society at the University of Georgia. This program presented in partnership with the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at UNO.


Special Presentation: “African Americans in WWII”
Thursday, February 26, 2015
6:30 pm Presentation | 7:30 pm Book Signing
US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center

Join us for a special presentation as Dr. John Morrow of the University of Georgia discusses how the experiences of WWI influenced both government policies and African American military service in WWII. Dr. Morrow will also discuss the long-lasting effects of African American service in WWII and what it means for our nation and its military today.


Discover more about African Americans serving in WWII:
Learn their stories:

In 1941, fewer than 4,000 African Americans were serving in the military. By 1945, more than 1.2 million African Americans would be serving in uniform on the Home Front, in Europe and in the Pacific. Dive into more stories of the African American Experience during World War II in The National WWII Museum’s online collections documenting their wartime lives.

Uncover Oral Histories and Photographs in our Digital Collections:

Explore African American High School experiences in our collection of High School Yearbooks from the WWII-Era:

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Remembering Tom Blakey

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Tom Blakey sitting at his volunteer post at The National WWII Museum.

On Thursday, January 15, 2015, The National WWII Museum acknowledged a sad milestone in the death of the Museum’s legendary volunteer Thomas Blakey, a former U.S. Army paratrooper who fought in the European Theater. Blakey died at his home early Thursday morning.

Blakey, a retired oil company executive, has long held status as the Museum’s No. 1 volunteer. He donated approximately 15,000 hours to the Museum since its opening in 2000, serving as a speaker and interpretive guide. He also is a favorite interview subject for national media organizations reporting on anniversaries of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, and was recently interviewed by Tom Brokaw in New Orleans and Normandy in conjunction with the 70th anniversary. He was also among recipients of the French Legion of Honor medal.

“We lost a great American, a hero of World War II, and one who meant a great deal to the Museum,” said Museum President and CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller. “He was an iconic figure here and a dear friend. He will be greatly missed.”

Giving his status in the interpretation of WWII history, Blakey’s passing serves as a reminder of the rapid disappearance of the war generation.

According to statistics from the Veterans Administration, the number of veterans from the war has dipped below 1 million, a small fraction of the 16 million Americans who served. The nation is losing these men and women and their memories at a rate of 492 a day.

Blakey was a treasured presence at the Museum, as he typically greeted visitors in the Louisiana Pavilion each morning and shared details of his personal war story, including participation in the D-Day invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and other battles.


Blakey at Camp Mackall, North Caroline in 1943. Image courtesy of the National Archives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum.

Blakey walked through the doors of Museum, originally known as The National D-Day Museum, before it opened to the public in 2000. Of the more than 4 million visitors who have visited the Museum, many were fortunate enough to hear his story, shake his hand, take a photo and hear his thundering laugh.

A native of Nacogdoches, Texas, Blakey came from humble beginnings. His father left when he and his brother were young and his mother instilled a strong sense of responsibility in her boys. While he often told young people they could be anything they wanted to be if they just worked hard enough, he was also generous to those in need of assistance throughout his lifetime. He liked to say he was just lucky but would also add that “what one does with luck matters.”

When WWII called, Blakey answered, serving as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, he landed in a church cemetery and made his way to a small but strategic bridge at La Fiere just west of Ste. Mere Eglise. There he was a part of a fierce defense of the bridge, well remembered in the history of the U.S. Army. After the Normandy Campaign, Blakey participated in Operation Market Garden in Holland and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. When asked what he remembered about the Bulge campaign, he would answer bluntly: “Cold, snow, ice and death.”

During the Bulge battle he was pulled off the front lines to serve as an aide to Lt. Gen. Lewis Brereton of the 1st Allied Airborne Army. After the war ended, he stayed in Paris as an aide to General Brereton. He often told stories of life in Paris after the end of the war and the many challenges civilians faced in rebuilding their lives. He was proud to have helped in any way he could and thrived in an environment where he could act as a problem-solver.

Blakey returned to Normandy eight times after the war, most recently as part of a Museum trip commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day. With every trip, he said it would most likely be his last, but admitted that he would always want to return one more time. He said he felt at home there, close to Americans who fought and died during the invasion. And he had a deep love for the French people who always treated him with gratitude.


Blakey posing with gifts of gratitude sent by CBS Sunday Morning viewers.

Towards the end of his life, Tom revealed a secret he had lived with for nearly 70 years when he spoke to a group of recent war veterans. Tom had suffered severely from effects of PTSD, admitting that it had affected him and his personal relationships for decades. He felt it was important to share because he believed it might help these young men who were also dealing with the challenges of returning from combat. Soon after, he told his story on CBS Sunday Morning, along with how his work at the Museum had finally freed him. Even in his last moments, he was making plans to return to his volunteer post at the Museum.

Blakey would often call the institution a “Museum of people.” The personal stories of everyday Americans mattered the most, he said.

One of his greatest joys was explaining to younger visitors how a child’s toy, known as the “cricket,” played an important role in D-Day. U.S. troops would click the noisemaker, which sounded very much like the insect it was named for, in the darkness when they sensed someone was near. If they clicked back with the correct response, as Tom would say, “You knew you had a friend.”  The Museum always had a devoted friend in Tom Blakey.

There will be a public memorial service for Tom Blakey on Monday, January 19 at 10 am at The National WWII Museum in the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.

Learn more about the remarkable life of Tom Blakey:

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70th Anniversary of the SS Leopoldville Troopship Disaster

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The Leopoldville sank by the stern at about 8:30 pm on December 24 just 5.5 miles of the coast of Cherbourg, France. Leopoldville Illustration by Richard Rockwell

The Leopoldville sank by the stern at about 8:30 pm on December 24 just 5.5 miles of the coast of Cherbourg, France. Illustration by Richard Rockwell.

On the evening of December 24, 1944 as civilians on the Home Front began their holiday celebrations, the SS Leopoldville, a ship carrying more than 2,000 American soldiers deploying to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, left Southampton, England for Cherbourg, France. Just five miles from its destination while crossing the English Channel, the troops aboard who were singing holiday carols were jolted by a strike from the German submarine U-486.

Confusion and chaos surfaced on the ship. About 300 soldiers were killed by the blast.  A total of 763 soldiers either died in the blast or perished in the frigid 48 degree waters just five miles from the shore of France.

Pvt. Henry Nigbor

Pvt. Henry Nigbor. Courtesy of Don Nigbor.

Today this tragedy is one of the worst in US history, but it is still unknown to many. Even during its time the news of this Christmas Eve sinking was hidden. Military censors concealed the sinking of the SS Leopoldville to the American Home Front so morale wouldn’t be broken and to keep the Axis from knowing that so many soldiers for the war would never make it.

During the war, at the war’s end, and now seven decades later, loved ones of family members who perished and experienced the disaster seek answers and recognition for the lives lost and altered that day. Today, Allan Andrade, author of Leopoldville: A Tragedy Too Long Secret, one of the few books on the disaster, and Don Nigbor and his son Peter, family members of Henry Nigbor, a private from Dunkirk, New York whose body was never recovered from the sinking, have started a website to honor the lives of the men lost and of the survivors.

The site, www.leopoldville.org, recognizes them and offers the opportunity for survivors and family members of those affected by the sinking of the SS Leopoldville to share their stories and honor them.  Nigbor explained that, “There were a lot of questions that were never answered for the families. The troops aboard the SS Leopoldville that day represented nearly all states across the country. People all over the nation were left in the dark about what happened that day. Even survivors remained uncertain of what they experienced.”

For Nigbor’s family they never received an official explanation of Henry’s death or recovered his remains. Nigbor describes that his grandmother Belle never gave up hope for the return of her son until her death in 1969. For many families, this was the case. Official death notices after the sinking of the SS Leopoldville were sent out slowly over months and were vague of details in an effort to keep information about the disaster away from the public.

Sgt. before his time on the leopoldville

Sgt. George Robert Atkerson before his time on the Leopoldville. Courtesy of Nancy Russell.

Even for the survivors of this tragedy, lives were still shaken after the war.  Nancy Russell, the daughter of Sgt. George Robert Atkerson from Webb City, Missouri who was aboard the SS Leopoldville that tragic day, can attest to the torment her father experienced throughout his life from that disaster.

“Not once did he ever mention the experience, nor the trauma he suffered the rest of his life.  Not until 1996 did he ever even mention the name “Leopoldville,”” she said.  “After his death, my sisters and I found a diary of sorts that he kept… his exact words in one of the letters was that this ship “was a bucket . . .  that had a smell of death about it.”

Now this incident has not made it into many history books, but awareness is building about this tragedy through Nigbor’s initiative of honoring the men of the SS Leopoldville and connecting their family members. Russell describes that, “I am so glad I found [www.leopoldville.org]…My father would have been so thankful to connect to other survivors and finally been able to share with people who had been there. It was an experience that bound their souls in brotherhood for all eternity.”


Learn more about the SS Leopoldville and explore the lives that were aboard the ship at www.leopoldville.org.


Do you have a story to share about SS Leopoldville? Connect with others here.



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Road to Berlin: Grand Opening

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Ribbon cutting

Last week, The National WWII Museum held a multi-day celebration, honoring the completion of the Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries, the first floor of our newest pavilion, Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters. The events were attended by WWII veterans and active duty military from all services branches, donors to the Museum’s Road to Victory capital campaign, Road to Berlin artifact donors, and student winners from National History Day, among others. The Grand Opening of this important milestone in the Museum’s capital expansion was generously sponsored by The Starr Foundation, CenturyLink, JetBlue, and Whitney Bank.

On Thursday evening, December 11, the Museum held a gala in the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where Tom Brokaw, broadcaster and Museum supporter, served as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Calling to the stage WWII veterans, Road to Berlin donors, and Museum board members, many spoke of the importance of the institution, their connection to WWII, and why they choose to support the expansion of the Museum campus.

Friday morning, December 12, served as the official Dedication and Ribbon Cutting ceremony, led by WDSU anchor Norman Robinson. We were fortunate to have Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, and Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne speak at the ceremony, as well as other special guests from around the world. The ceremony concluded with a heartfelt speech by the daughter of the late WWII veteran Walt Ehlers, Cathy Ehlers-Metcalf, who generously bestowed upon the Museum Ehler’s Medal of Honor. We are honored to be able to display this important piece in the Museum and pay tribute to Ehler’s true courage and sacrifice.

The Museum is grateful for the commitment and generosity of The Starr Foundation, CenturyLink, JetBlue, and Whitney Bank, all of which made these events possible. The Museum would also like to thank again our Road to Berlin donors for their dedication to the Museum’s important mission:

Mr. and Mrs. H. Mortimer “Tim” Favrot, Jr.—European/Mediterranean Briefing Room

Judith and Louis Freeman—The Desert War-North Africa

Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation—Taking Palermo

Mr. and Mrs. Kevin J. Lilly—Race for Messina

Mr. and Mrs. David M. Knott—Italian Campaign

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation—Landing at Anzio

Strake Foundation, Houston, Texas—Liberation of Rome

Mr. and Mrs. James R. Fisher, Sr., Clarksboro, New Jersey—The Air War

Patrick Family Foundation—D-Day Theater

Jennifer and Phil Satre—Northwestern Europe

Collins C. Diboll Private Foundation—D-Day, Liberation, Life of a GI, Market Garden, No End in Sight, Advance into Germany

Frank Denius and The Cain Foundation—Race Across France

Ashner Family Evergreen Foundation—Breaching the German Frontier Bunker

The Starr Foundation—Battle of the Bulge

Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth L. Blanchard, Sr.—Siege of Bastogne

Mr. and Mrs. Terence E. Hall—American Counterattack

The Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation—Into the German Homeland

Lt. Col and Mrs. Robert E. Kelso—Breaking the Siegfried Line

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SciTech Tuesday: The other enigma–why Nazi science never developed a nuclear weapon.

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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.


If you are a middle school science teacher, and want to improve your teaching, consider joining us for Real World Science – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, a week-long teacher seminar this July. Sign up for email updates here.

Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum

all photos from the Wikimedia Commons.

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Donor Spotlight: Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracy

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ex-manufacturing-victory-hed-580x325During 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 Democracynow 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.

B-29 Superfortress Manufacturing

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 .

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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.





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December 10-12, 2014: Museum Hours and Closures

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Campaigns 2013The National WWII Museum is excited to open the doors of our newest pavilion Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters to the public on Saturday, December 13, 2014, with the opening of the exhibit Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries. In preparation for this unveiling, we will have limited hours and closures throughout the Museum between Wednesday, December 10, and Friday, December 12.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have during your visit. Please view the list of closures below so you can plan your trip to the Museum accordingly.



Wednesday, December 10 –
The Museum will be open from 9:00 am-5:00 pm with limited hours on the following:

Thursday, December 11 –
The Museum will be open from 9 am-5 pm with limited hours on the following:

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:


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.

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Donor Spotlight: Jeri Nims

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Jeri Nims

Jeri Nims

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.


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