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: The First Reactor

A~f $*6R @

@ % T
** .

U.S. Department

of Energy

Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and Assistant .%cretary, Management






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has been reproduced from the National Virginia

directly Technical 22161.


the best available Service,

copy. U.S. Department of



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The First Reactor j
-- / Contents
PREFACE THE FIRST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and Edward R. Trapnell Research.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 5 7 9 12 14 16 18 21 22 24 27 28 29 PILE v vii 1


By Corbin Allardice Years of Preliminary Bohr’s Tripto The Manhattan Computations

America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District Formed. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Cubical Lattice Concept . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Forecast Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Assembly for the Test . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Time Out for Lunch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Curve is Exponential FERMI’S OWN STORY By Enrico Fermi The Discovery of Fission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Gathering on the Balcony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . OF SECRECY AND THEpi LE...... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . By Laura Fermi The Fermi’s Party . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Homemaker’s FINAL CHAPTERS. Schedule . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sinking an Admiral EPILOGUE SUGGESTED . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . REFERENCES

30 34 36 38

United States Department

of Energy

Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and Assistant Secretary, Management and Administration Office of the Executive Secretary History Division Washington, D.C. 20585

On December 2, 1942, in a racquets court underneath the West Stands self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi created man’s first controlled,

Since achievement tech no logy.


the story of this remarkable


and technological It is

has been periodically


by those involved.

now a well known and significant benchmark

in the history of nuclear energy

This updated on the firsthand Edward R. Trapnell.

and revised story of the first reactor, or “pile,” It also includes the postwar recollections

is based

accounts of the participants

as told to Corbin Allardice and of Enrico and

Laura Fermi. The text of the three accounts remains largely unchanged.


years after the event, this pamphlet

still serves to provide the

public with a brief and readable account of a significant moment in American history of nuclear energy.



Shelby T. Brewer Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy

This new edition of an old story of man’s first self-sustaining nuclear

chain reaction is itself a document of historical interest and significance.

Because of the extraordinary Engineer District,

secrecy that


the Manhattan

America’s $2 billion project to harness atomic energy, the

postwar public was largely ignorant of its history.

The original

essay on “The First Pile” was written

in the fall of 1946 Project was there

because nowhere in the extensive records of the Manhattan for a press release by the Manhattan background experiment. material which Engineer District,

a narrative history of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Prepared the report included on a significant was part of the final report

The original Edward 1947. Atomic R. Trapnell, Allardice Energy Commission,


of “The

First Pile” were Corbin



two public information

officers for the Atomic information


the agency that succeeded the Manhattan later served in various public and Trapnell Commission

Project on January 1, posts for the

became Special Assistant to the

AEC General Manager with responsibilities for congressional relations.


and Allardice

felt that the story of the experiment

which was

successfully completed it should be written

on December

2, 1942, was of such significance that fresh in the minds of those

down while still relatively

who took part. Their essay is based on postwar interviews with more than a dozen of the 43 scientists present at the Stagg Field on December 2nd. Another valuable source was the tape on which was traced the neutron intensity within the first pile.

In addition,
Enrico Fermi, the

The First Reactor contains
Nobel prize-winning project


firsthand and




his wife,



in the


they provide valuable

insights into the human and by American and Euro-

technical challenges of a secret enterprise conducted pean refugee scientists.

-.-:+, .-ii,

The appended bottle in which Dr. experiment’s written

list of those present was obtained E. P. Wigner had brought Chianti

from the label of a wine to toast the This was the only Each of the scien-

success. Most of those present had signed the wine bottle’s as a memento.

label and given it to Dr. A. Wattenberg

record of who had taken part in the experiment.

tists Iisted on the bottle was asked if he recalled any others who might have been present, and the resulting list of 43 names was accepted as complete.

The two drawings of the first pile were prepared by Melvin A. Miller of the Argonne National Laboratory staff in the fal I of 1946. They are based on descriptions given Miller by the scientists who built the first “pile.”

In the years since 1946 more literature become available, including the memoirs scientists involved multi-volume in the Manhattan of the Project Project,

on nuclear energy history has and autobiographies the official in 1976), of many but unpublished and scholarly of recom-



monographs. To reflect this new information mended readings.

and perspective forty years after

the event, we have added an epilogue and updated the bibliography

We are grateful to Professor Robert C. Williams of Washington University in St. Louis, and to History Associates Incorporated, revising and updating of this brief but important history. for assistance in the

Jack M. Hell Chief Historian

By Corbin Allardice and Edward R. Trapnell On December 2, 1942, man first initiated a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, and controlled it. Chicago, late in the afternoon Beneath the West Stands of Stagg Field,l

of that day, a small group of scientists witnessed the advent of a new era in science. History was made in what had been a squash-rackets court. Precisely at 3:25 the cadmium-plated p.m., 2 Chicago time, scientist George Weil withdrew rod and by his action man unleashed and conthe experiment Fermi, became aware of what had control

trolled the energy of the atom. As those who witnessed be heard. It was a tribute happened, smiles spread over their faces and a quiet ripple of applause could to Enrico Nobel Prize winner, to whom, was due. more than to any other person, the success of the experiment with uranium element 94.

Fermi, born in Rome, Italy, on September 29, 1901, had been working for many years. In 1934 he bombarded uranium with neutrons is element 92) and However, after closer examination it seemed as if nature had and produced what appeared to be element 93 (uranium

gone wi Id; several other elements were present, but none could be fitted into the periodic table near uranium–where if they had been the transuranic years later that anyone, Fermi fission of the uranium Fermi knew they should have fitted realized he had actually caused elements 93 and 94. It was not until five included, elements belonged back

and that these unexplained

in the middle part of the periodic table. Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his work on transuranic elements. He and his family failing went to Sweden to receive the prize. The Italian him for not wearing a Fascist uniform and Fascist press severely criticized never returned to 1tal y. From Sweden, having taken most of his personal possessions with him, Fermi proceeded The modern December day to London and thence to America where he has remained Italian explorer of the unknown looking was in Chicago that cold ever since.3 in 1942. An outsider into the squash court where

to give the Fascist salute when he received the award. The Fermis

Fermi was working would have been greeted by a strange sight. In the center

‘ The University 2Dr. accepted 3Dr. Herbert Fermi official time.

of Chicago athletic has pointed Illinois,

stadium. out that the time was 3:36, November 28, 1954. which is now the


died in Chicago,

..= : ..< ;



of the first pile.


it is a tent of balloon nonproductive


fabric, prepared

so that

the reactor

could be sealed to minimize

loss of neutrons

if necessary;

the tent was never used.

of the 30- by 60-foot bottom and a flattened

room, shrouded on all but one side by a gray balloon sphere on top. Up to half of its height, its sides were like a beehive. During the construction of

cloth envelope, was a pile of black bricks and wooden timbers, square at the straight. The top half was domed,

this crude appearing but complex pile (the name which has since been applied to all such devices)4 the standing joke among the scientists working on it was: “If people could see what we’re doing with a million-and-a-half of their dollars, they’d think we are crazy. If they knew why we are doing it, they’d be sure we are.” In relation to the fabulous atomic bomb program, of which the Chicago Pi Ie experiment 2nd formed Confirmation the bomb Manhattan negotiations

was a key part, the successfu I resuIt reported on December

one more piece for the jigsaw puzzle which was atomic energy. of the chain reactor studies was an inspiration to the leaders of project, Engineer and reassuring at the same time, District had moved because the Army’s fronts. Contract nuclear chain reactors,
age, gradually gave

ahead on many

were under way to build production-scale

“pile, “ in use for the first few years of the atomic to identify the key device that controls

way to “reactor”

the nuclear fission reaction.

land had been acquired at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and millions of dollars had been obligated. Three covered that uranium years before when the December 2nd experiment, was bombarded Later, it had been disby neutrons, the it had been found atoms. These an atom of uranium atom sometimes was split, or fissioned.

that when an atom of uranium and became available for further facts implied the possibility which to the reaction under

fissioned, additional

neutrons were emitted in certain respects

reaction with other uranium similar

of a chain reaction, quantity of uranium

is the source of the sun’s energy. The facts further could be brought together result. size” a self-sustaining chain reaction would the “critical

indicated that if a sufficient the proper conditions, This quantity tions is known of the particular of uranium pile.

necessary for a chain reaction under given condimass, or more commonly,

as the critical

For three years the problem of a self-sustaining chain reaction had been assid~ously studied. was finally was a reality Nearly a year after Pearl Harbor,5 It worked. A self-sustaining a pile of critical size nuclear chain reaction constructed.

Years of Preliminary Research
Years of scientific effort and study lay behind this demonstration of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The story goes back at least to the fall of 1938 when two German scientists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, working at the Kaiser Wilhelm an experiment Institute in Berlin, found barium in the residue had bombarded uranium with mass befrom material. from excitement tween differed differed element the in which they

neutrons from a radium-beryllium in the laboratory barium

source. This discovery caused tremendous in atomic Previously, in residue material

because of the difference

and the uranium.

similar experiments, from

elements other than uranium by only one or two

had been found, but they units of mass. The barium atom when bombarded

the uranium

by approximately come from?

98 units of mass. The question was, where did this elements, each of approximately scientific with journal Die

1t appeared that the uranium

by a neutron Before

had split into two different publishing their work

half the mass of the uranium. in the German Naturwissenschaften; Hahn and Strassman communicated Lise Meitner






American brought


base at




Islands, December

7, 1941;

this attack

the United

States into World

War 11.

393-218 0-

82 - 2

.: ,.,


Lise Meitner

and Otto

Hahn in

their laboratory

in the 1930s.

who, having fled the Nazi-controlled Copenhagen, Denmark.

Reich,6 was working with Niels Bohr in and imme-

Miss Meitner was very much interested in this phenomenon diately attempted to analyze mathematically of the uranium

the results of the experiment. atom. But when she added the

She reasoned that the barium and the other residual elements were the result of a fission, or breaking, atomic masses of the residual elements; she found this total was less than the atomic mass of uranium. There was but one explanation: two elements each of approximately nephew verted O. into The uranium fissioned or split, forming half of its original mass, but not exactly disappeared was conby Albert

half. Some of the mass of the uranium had disappeared. Miss Meitner and her R. Frisch suggested that the mass which energy. According to the theory advanced in 1905

Einstein in which the relationship

of mass to energy was stated by the equaelectron volts for

tion E = mcz (energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light), this energy release would be of the order of 200,000,000 each atom fissioned.

6Germany [Third Rea{m).






rule was known

as the “Third


Bohr’s Trip to America
Einstein before, by further himself, study of nearly thirty-five radioactive years had said this theory might be proved, elements. to discuss Advanced was the to

Bohr was planning a trip to America haven at Princeton’s Institute for

other problems with Einstein who had found a Studies. Bohr came to America, pal item report Princeton
Nieis Bohr, Danish physicist

but the princi-

he discussed with on January From


of Meitner

and Frisch. Bohr arrived at 16, 1939. He talked

Einstein and J. A. Wheeler who had once been his student. by word at Columbia. Fermi Princeton the news spread of mouth Fermi to neighboring’ physicists, which could be expected however, Fermi left



and his associates immediately

began work Before Columbia University neutrons

to find the heavy pulse of ionization the experiments could

from the fission and consequent release of energy. be completed, to attend a conference on theoretical in Washington, might be emitted the meeting Institution of fission. Fermi physics at George Washington mentioned the possibility that their ideas of Meitner and

D.C. Here Fermi and Bohr exchanged information in the process. In this conversation, was over, experimental from four of Washington, confirmation laboratories

and discussed the problem

of the possibility of a chain reaction began to crystallize. Before States and Frisch’s deduction (Carnegie the University experiments Joliot-Curie was obtained in the United


Johns Hopkins,

of California).

Later it was learned that similar confirmatory the results and published them in the Walter H. Zinn and Leo began their exand H. B. The results of the

had been made by Frisch and Meitner on”January 15th. Frederic in France, too, confirmed 27, 1939,

January 30th issue of the French scientific journal, Comptes rendus. On February Szilard, a Hungarian, the Canadian-born at Columbia both working University,

periments to find the number of neutrons emitted by the fissioning uranium. At the same time, Fermi and his associates, Herbert Hanstein, commenced their investigation of these experiments Physics/ Review L. Anderson of the same problem.

were published side-by-side in the April edition neutrons when it fissioned.

and showed that a chain reaction

might be possible since

the uranium emitted additional

.... .


H. Zinn



These Further





by Fermi,



Anderson, and Hanstein were highly significant steps toward a chain reaction. impetus to the work on a uranium reactor was given by the California, discovery of plutonium capturing a neutron, structure with at the Radiation Laboratory, 7 Berkeley,

in March, 1940. This element, unknown in nature, was formed by uranium-238 and thence undergoing two successive changes in atomic Plutonium, and their it was believed, associates were chain material In July, of a 1, a the emission of beta particles. at Columbia, Fermi and Zinn

would undergo fission as did the rare isotope of uranium, U=5. Meanwhile, working to determine operationally traveling “k”), possible designs of a uranium at relatively high velocities.

reactor. Among other things, they had to find a suitable moderating to slow down reproduction the neutrons factor (called 1941, experiments chain reaction.

with uranium were started to obtain measurements of the which was the key to the problem greater than could be made sufficiently

If this factor

chain reaction cou Id be made to take place in a mass of material of practical dimensions. If it were less than 1, no chain reaction could occur. Since impurities would “escape from in the uranium the pile without and in the moderator encountering would capture atoms, it neutrons and make them unavailable for further reactions, and since neutrons uranium-235

7Now Department










of Energy

by the University

of California.

was not known obtained. Fortunate it was that the obtaining and difficult of a reproduction factor greater than 1 was a complex of “k,” problem. If Hitler’s scientists had discovproducing an atomic whether a value for “k’” greater than unity could ever be ered the secret of controlling bomb for the Nazis. the neutrons and had obtained a working value

they would have been well on the way toward

The Cubical Lattice Concept
One of the first things that had to be determined the uranium in a matrix to encounter moderating of the moderating material, thus forming was how best to place a cubical lattice of urafor a neutron in the reactor. Fermi and Szilard suggested placing the uranium appeared to offer the best opportunity graphite was the only one which

nium. This placement qualities,

a uranium atom. Of all the materials which possessed the proper cou Id be obtained of the desired degree of purity. lattice reactors was started at Columbia of the uranium project in December, and it was decided at the University and Princeton of groups

in sufficient quantity

The study of graphite–uranium in July, 1941, but after reorganization 1941, Arthur H. Compton under the Office Chicago. of Scientific early

was placed in charge of this phase of the work, Research and Development, in 1942 the Columbia

that the chain reactor program should be concentrated Consequently,

Arthur “Chicago








‘“ 1942-1945.

were transferred lished.

to Chicago where the Metallurgical


was estab-

In a general way, the experimental was primarily division concerned with organized by F. H. Spedding methods,

nuclear physics group under Fermi (later in turn under S. K. Allison,

getting a chain reaction going; the chemistry

J. Franckr W. C. Johnson, and T. Hogness) with the chemistry of plutonium and with separation with and the theoretical group under E. P. Wigner were intertwined designing production piles. However, and technical the problems

and the various scientific

aspects of the fission process were

studied in whatever group seemed best equipped for the particular task.

Norman secret

Hilberry %fatallurgical


procurement ‘“


at the


At Chicago, the work on subcritical size piles was continued. 1942, the measurements obtained enough to permit from these experimental a choice of design for a test pile of critical

By July,

piles had gone far size. At that of the of

time, the dies for the pressing of the uranium oxides were designed by Zinn and ordered made. It was a fateful step, since the entire construction oxides because metallic pile depended upon the shape and size of the uranium piece:. It was necessary to use uranium the desired degree of purity were attempting Electric uranium did not exist. Although several manufacturers Westinghouse and F. H.

to produce the uranium Company,

metal, it was not until November. Company,

that any appreciable amount was available. By mid-November, and Manufacturing Metal Hydrides

8The tory, which and Argonne

Metallurgical is operated Universities

Laboratory Association.

was the predecessor of Energy

of Argonne



for the U.S. Department

by the University

of Chicago

.. .


Spedding, who was working at Iowa State College at Ames, program Iowa, had defor moderating Hilberry. R. L. livered several tons of the highly purified material metal which was placed in the pile, as close to the center as possible. The procurement Doan headed the procurement Although controlling constructed in July, additional and uranium oxides had been handled by Norman program for pure uranium metal. about

the dies for the pressing of the uranium oxides were designed measurements were necessary to obtain information experimental subcritical

the reaction, to revise estimates as to the final critical size of the piles were before the final pile was completed.

pile, and to develop other data. Thirty

The Manhattan District Formed
Meantime, Scientific Roosevelt full summer, in Washington, and Vannevar Bush, Director had of the Office to of



recommended bomb.

President During the

that a special Army the Manhattan

Engineer organization Districtg

be established to take


for the development Engineer

of the atomic

was created, and in September,

1942, Major General L. R. Groves assumed command.


General neers, 1942-1946.

Leslie directed





COWS of EngiDistrict, 8’




9The Manhattan on January abolished into the portions US.

Atomic Engineer 1, 1947.

Energy District

Commission 11, 1974,

(AEC), President


civilian Gerald

agency, to control Ford

succeeded atomic were


as the governmental

organization portions Administration Nuclear


On October Research were

signed the bill that absorbad (NRC). part the regulatory became

the AEC. Energy AEC 1, 1977, created of the

The research and development and Development into the Research absorbed

of the AEC (ERDA);



On October of the newly

the Energy Department

and Development


of Energy.



Construction of the uranium “construction” Original As a further

of the main with oxide

pile at Chicago started machining

in November.


project gained momentum,

of the graphite blocks, pressing Fermi’s two

pellets, and the design of instruments.

crews, one under Zinn and the other under Anderson, worked estimates as to the critical size of the pile were pessimistic. air. craft, the

almost around the clock. V. C. Wilson headed up the instrument work. precaution, it was decided to enclose the pile in a balloon cloth by Goodyear Tire and Rubber of a square

bag which could be evacuated to remove the neutron-capturing This balloon cloth bag was constructed Company. balloon. joking. Specialists Security in designing forbade gasbags for informing

lighter-than-air Goodyear

company’s engineers were a bit puzzled about the aerodynamics regulations of the envelope and so the Army’s

of the purpose

new square balloon was the butt of much

The bag was hung with one side left open; in the center of the floor a circular layer of graphite bricks was placed. This and each succeeding layer of the pile was braced by a wooden By this layer-on-layer frame. Alternate layers contained spherical the uranium. construction of graphite a roughly pile of

uranium and graphite was formed. Facilities for the machining bricks were installed in the West Stands. Week after week this shop turned out graphite bricks. This work was done under the direction millwright Zinn’s men. August Knuth. of Zinn’s group, by skilled mechanics led by Anderson and his associates joined In October,



Construction of the Pile

Graphite and Beginning uranium

layers of with oxide

form 6th layer

the base of the pile, containing 6, alternate


On the right is the 7th iayer of graphite pseudospheres of black blocks. uranium metal oxide. and/or containing uranium




courses of graphite

fuel were separated

by layers of solid graphite

Tenth oxide. area. minute


of graphite


containing richer

,pseudospheres in uranium, filled

of black

and brown


The bro”wn briquets, In the foreground change layer an expedient in the lattice 18 containing

slightly measure

were concen tratad with graphite, of fuel and, is the ?9th

in the cen tral now presumed possibly, a last of graphite

and on either side are cavities dictated

to have been covering

by shortage oxide.

arrangement t. On the right slugs of uranium



393-218 0 - 82 - 3 k“,.



Describing this phase of the work, group, said: “We found would around floor.



one of Zinn’s

out how coal miners feel. After eight hours of madust. About a half-hour after the

chining graphite, we looked as if we were made up for a minstrel. One shower remove only the surface graphite the room Graphite first shower the dust in the pores of your skin would start oozing. Walking where we cut the graphite was like walking on a dance is a dry lubricant, you know, and the cement floor covered measurements indicated that

with graphite dust was slippery.” Before the structure the critical was half complete, size at which the pile would become self-sustaining was some-

what less than had been anticipated

in the design.

Computations Forecast Success
Day after day the pile grew toward the pile increased, so did thenervous cally and scientifically stration had to. All the measurements its finat shape. And as the size of It tension of the men working on it. Logithat it would. But still the demon-

they knew this pile would become self-sustaining. indicated

had to be made. As the eagerly awaited work.

moment drew nearer, the

scientists gave greater and greater attention surements, and exactness of their construction Guiding the entire pile construction Fermi, whose associates described conceit.” wholly without

to detai Is, the accuracy of meaand design was the nimble-brained self-confident but

him as “completely

So exact were Fermi’s calculations, from the partially stration

based on the measurements taken and demon-

finished pile, that days before its completion

on December 2nd, he was able to predict almost to the exact brick all their care and confidence, few in the group knew the the de with E. 1. duPont

the point at which the reactor would become self-sustaining. But with extent Manhattan Nemours principles of the heavy bets being placed on their success. I n Washington, District had proceeded with to design, build, unproved negotiations and operate and Company of the then

a plant based on the Hanford

Chicago pile. The $350,000,000

Engineer Worksfo at Pasco, Washington, was to be the result. At Chicago during the early afternoon that critical size was rapidly was relieved by the men working of December Ist, tests indicated At 4:00 p.m. Zinn’s group afterwards, the Shortly being approached.

under Anderson.

~OLater operated


Hanford Electric



Operation–Hanford Since 1965 Hanford

Laboratories, facilities


ated by the General

Co., for the AEC.

have been

by 5 contractors.

:. :@. I I




CUtaway pile draw control court.





in the Stagg Field The mechanism and insert rod ‘*Zip”

racquets to with-

the emergency is at center

right in the picture.

The West Stands in Chicago.

of Stagg Field

last layer of graphite and uranium bricks was placed on the pile. Zinn, who remained, pile would and Anderson become made several measurements of the activity within the the pile. They were certain that when the control self-sustaining. measurements indicate the reaction would rods were withdrawn,

Both had agreed, however,

that should

become self-sustaining when the rods were

rods were withdrawn,

they would not start the pile operating until Fermi and day.

the rest of the group cou Id be present. Consequent y, the control locked and further work was postponed until the following that the trial run was due the next morning.

That night the word was passed to the men who had worked orI the pile



Assembly for the Test
About At 8:30 on the morning of Wednesday, December 2nd, the group about ten feet were began to assemble in the squash court. the north end of the squash court was a balcony of the court. the little Fermi, Zinn, Anderson, above the floor and Compton

grouped around instruments the observers crowded scientists who worked

at the east end of the balcony. The remainder of balcony. R. G. Nobles, one of the young

on the pile, put it this way: “The control cabinet was On the floor just beneath final control Weil, whose duty sets of control balcony. rod end. pile rope of the squash court, stood George it was to handle the

surrounded by the ‘big wheels’; the ‘little wheels’ had to stand back.” the balcony,

rods. In the pile were three rods. One set was autofrom the emergency the the was running an

matic and could be controlled Another rope safety rod. Attached was a The

to one end of this through from

pile and weighted heavily on the opposite rod was withdrawn by another Hilberry an and tied with rope to the


was ready to cut this axe should something rod, or in case the auThe third

George Weil

unexpected matic safety


rods failed.

operated withdrawn done

by Weil, was the one which actually held the reaction in check until the proper distance. was new and different squad,” from anything of ever complete Therefore, reliance was not placed on mechanically a “liquid-control composed solution operated Harold

Since this demonstration before, rods. control They


W. Nyer, and A. C. Graves, stood on a platform

above the pile. in case of

were prepared to flood the pile with cadmium-salt Each group rehearsed its part of the experiment. At 9:45 Fermi ordered the electrical y operated

mechanical failure of the control rods. control rods with-

drawn. The man at the controls threw the switch to withdraw But quickly, the balcony

them. A small

motor whined. All eyes watched the lights which indicated the rods’ position. group turned to watch the counters, whose clicking stepped up after the rods were out. The indicators of these counters

resembled in the pile.

the face of a clock,



to indicate



Nearby was a recorder, whose quivering pen traced the neutron activity withShortly “Zipr” after ten o’clock, Fermi ordered “Zip” the emergency rod, called

pulled out and tied. “Zip out,” said Fermi. Zinn withdrew by hand and tied it to the control rod which was marked the instruments, said

balcony rail. Weil stood ready by the “vernier” At quietly: “Pull pen moved made. “This off.” indicated is not it,” said Fermi. it to 13 feet, George.” up. All the instruments 10:37 Fermi, without taking

to show the number of feet and inches which remained within the pile. his eyes off

The counters were studied,

clicked faster. The graph and computations were

“The trace will go to this point and level

He indicated a spot on the graph. In a few minutes the pen came to the point and did not go above that point. Seven minutes later Fermi

ordered the rod out another foot. Again the counters stepped up their clicking, the graph pen edged upwards. But the clicking was irregular. Soon it leveled off, as did the thin line of the pen. The pile was not self-sustaining—yet. At eleven o’clock, the rod came out another six inches; the result was the same: an increase in rate, followed Fifteen moved again. Each time by the leveling off. and at 11:25 was a few conHe knew minutes later, the rod was further withdrawn

the counters speeded up, the pen climbed

points. Fermi predicted correctly every movement of the indicators.

the time was near. He wanted to check everything again. The automatic


trot rod was reinserted without At 11:35, clicking, the automatic

waiting for its automatic safety rod was withdrawn

feature to operate. and set. The control

The graph line took a drop, the counters slowed abruptly. rod was adjusted and “Zip” faster and faster. was withdrawn. Up went the counters, clicking, and

It was the clickety-cl ick of a fast train over the

rails. The graph pen started to climb. Tensely, the little group watched, waited, entranced by the climbing needle. Whrrrump! froze–then slammed As if by a thunder clap, the spell was broken.

Every man rod had

breathed a sigh of relief when he realized the automatic home. The safety point at which the rod operated


had been set too low. “I’m hungry,” said Fermi. “Let’s go to lunch.”

Time Out for Lunch
Perhaps, “break.” It was a strange “between taiked about everything halves” respite. They got no pep talk. They The redoubtable Fermi, who minutes later, else but the “game.” like a great coach, Fermi knew when his men needed a

never says much, had even less to say. But he appeared supremely confident. His “team” “All determined computing jammed, was back on the squash court at 2:00 p.m. Twenty right, George,” called Fermi, the automatic rod was reset and Weil stood ready at the control rod. and Weil moved the rod to a pre-

point. The spectators resumed their watching and waiting, watchthe rate of rise of reaction from the indicators. the control rod came out another foot. The counters nearly

ing the counters spin, watching the graph, waiting for the settling down and At 2:50

the pen headed off the graph paper. But this was not it. Counting it six inches,” said Fermi at 3:20. the rod. standing at his side. and continue to The trace will climb Again the change—but again

ratios and the graph scale had to be changed. “Move the leveling off. Five minutes later, Fermi called: “Pull it out another foot.” Weil withdrew “This “Now
it will

is going to do it,” Fermi said to Compton, become self-sustaining.

climb. It will not level off.” Fermi computed period. rule. He silently, the rate of rise of the neutron counts over a minute ran through some calculations on his slide grim-faced,

~., ..,

First pile scientists versary Thomas Harold Ssiiard. Anderson. of their

at the University Back Sturm, Ferm~ row, G. Nobles,

of C%icago on December left to right, Nyer, H. Zinn, Norman and Marvin Leona Warren



the fourth Samuel Middfe and

annirow, Leo L.

success. William

Hilberry, W.


Brit’1, Robert Agnew, Front row,


Harold Waltar

Lichtenberger, Aibeti




and Herbert

In about constant His fingers Three instruments, very instant Overbeck Marshall

a minute he again computed so, he would the slide ru Ie with

the rate of rise. If the rate was

and remained operated minutes

know the reaction was self-sustaining. lightning speed. Characteristica llyr the rate of rise in neutron

he turned the rule over and jotted down some figures on its ivory back. later he again computed count. The group on the balcony had by now crowded in to get an eye on the those behind craning their necks to be sure they would know the history was made. In the background could be heard Wilcox system. Leona Sturm were record-

calling out the neutron count over an annunciator (the only girl present), Anderson, and William

ing the readings from the instruments. Fermi, unmoved, unruffled,

By this time the click of the counters was now a steady brrrrr.

was too fast for the human ear. The clickety-click

continued his computations.


The Curve is Exponential
“1 couldn’t see the instruments,” said Weil. “1 had to watch Fermi

evey second, waiting for orders. His face was motionless. His eyes darted from one dial to another. His expression was so calm it was hard. But suddenly, his whole face broke into a broad smile.” Fermi closed his slide rule— “The reaction is self-sustaining,” he announced quietly, happily. “The curve is exponential.” The group tensely watched for twenty-eight first nuclear chain reactor operated. The upward movement “O. K., time was 3:53 ‘Zip’ of the pen was leaving a straight line. There was to Zinn who controlled that rod. The no change to indicate a leveling off. This was it. in,” called Fermi p.m. Abruptly, the counters slowed down, the pen slid down nuclear reaction–and then stopped that minutes while the world’s

across the paper. It was all over. Man had initiated it. He had released the energy. a self-sustaining energy of the atom’s nucleus and controlled


















certificate” intensity

of the Atomic associated


The galvanometers


that indicated


rise in neutron

with the first controlled

chain reaction.

Right theoretical his back.



ordered the reaction


the Hungarian-born


Eugene Wigner presented him with a bottle of Chianti Wigner had kept this wine hidden behind

wine. All through

the experiment

Fermi uncorked out for paper

the wine bottle and sent drink. He

cups so all could

poured a little wine in all the cups, and silently, solemnly, Hungarians Fermi, Hiiberry, the without Szilard toasts, the scientists raised lips–the and Canadian Wigner, Compton, Zinn, the the Italian Anderson, the cups to their


and a score of others. They drank to to the hope they were the first up,

success-and to succeed.

A small crew was left to straighten lock controls, group filed from guards asked Zinn:

and check all apparatus. As the the West Stands, one of the
Eugene P. Wigner

“What’s going on, Doctor, something happen in there?” The guard did not hear the message which Arthur Compton was giving James B. Conant at Harvard, by long-distance telephone. prearranged. “The Italian navigator has landed in the New World,” “How were the natives?” asked Conant. “Very friendly.” said Compton. Their code was not

The Eugene first

Chianti Wigner Man y Enrico

bottle to help of

purchased celebrata controlled the

by the chain


reaction. including the basket.

participants, autographed



. ..


List of Those Present at CHICAGO PILE EXPERIMENT @

December 2,1942
Enrico Fermi H. M. Agnew S. K. Allison H. L. Anderson W. Arnold H. M. Barton T. Brili R. F. Christy A. H. Compton R. J. FOX

G. Monk, Jr. R. G. Nobles W. E. Nyer W. P. Overbeck H. J. Parsons G. S. Pawlicki L. Sayvetz L. Seren L. A. SIotin F. H. Spedding W. J. Sturm Leo Szi}ard A. Wattenberg R. J. Watts G. L. Weil E. P. Wigner M. Wilkening V. C. Wilson E. O. Wollan Miss L. Woods W. H. Zinn


D. K. Froman A. C. Graves C. H. Greenewalt N. Hilberry D. L. Hill W. H. Hinch W. R. Kanne P. G. Koontz H. E. Kubitschek H. V. Lichtenberger G. Miller


By Enrico Fermi

It is ten years since man first achieved a self-sustaining atomic reaction. Many people link this event only with the development to which has been made in the last few days by the Atomic sion. The history of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, of all scientific predictable. The sequence of discoveries leading to the atomic chain reaction was part of the search of science for a fuller explanation a major industrial or military development. A partial list of the main stepping-stones to this development many countries contributed to it. The Antoine story begins in Paris in that 1896 when indicates of nature and the world to around us. No one had any idea or intent in the beginning of contributing achievements, begins with man’s first philosophical tions about the nature of the universe. Its ultimate like that speculaof the atomic bomb and the subsequent efforts to develop the hydrogen bomb, reference Energy Commis-

consequences are still un-

Henri Becquerel discovered the existence elements; emit is, elements which penetrating rays. invisible,

of radioactive spontaneously Two

years later,

also in Parisr Pierre and Marie

Curie discovered radium, for many years the best known of the radioactive elements. In Einstein equivalent
A. H. Becquerel


Switzerland, his belief



Albert that



mass was

to energy. This led to speculation into the other.

one could be transformed discovery

A most important discovered the minute In ordinary Shortly atom.

came in 1912 when

Ernest Rutherford

but heavy nucleus which forms the core of the atom. War 1, the same Rutherford achieved for the first

elements this core is stable; in radioactive elements it is unstable. after World disintegration of the nucleus at the center of the nitrogen

time the artificial

11 Written 1952, ment.

by Dr. Fermi

and published anniversary

in the Chicago of Fermi

Sun-Times, “First

November 23,
Pile” experi-

in observance Copyright

of the tenth


by the Chicago Sun-Times.


by permission,

During the next decade, research progressed steadily, three if unspectacularly. countries Bothe in Then, in 1932, came a in which Germany, led to the next and Frederic work series of three discoveries by scientists working different Walter Joliot-Curie that covery trically structure.
Earnest Rutherford

great advance. in Paris prepared The the ground

led James Chadwick of the neutron. neutral The building other

of England to the disneutron of is an electhe nuclear is the posblock

bui Idi ng block

itivel y charged proton. The next step was taken in Rome in 1934. I was concerned it was shown that these neutrons This discovery many atoms, including those of uranium. In experiments in which

could disintegrate was to be directly

applied in the first atomic chain reaction eight years later.

The Discovery of Fission
The final steppping-stone working with was put in place in Berlin when Otto Hahn,

Fritz Strassman, discovered fission or splitting of the uranium to many scientists that this

atom. When Hahn achieved fission, it occurred

fact opened the possibility of a form of nuclear (atomic) energy. The year was 1939. A world war was about to start. The new possibil ities appeared likely to be important, A group Walter Zinn, and Anderson, of now physicists director of not only for peace but also for war. States–including National delay further Leo Szilard, Herbert of of publications Argonne to Laboratory, in the United privately


findings in this field. We were afraid course, lightly. represented Subsequently, these findings a break with might scientific help the Nazis. Our action, tradition and was not taken

when the government

became interested in the atom

bomb project, secrecy became compulsory. Here it may be well to define what is meant by the “chain reaction” which was to constitute utilizing atomic energy. An atomic chain reaction may be compared to the burning of a rubbish pile from spontaneous combustion. In such a firer minute parts of the pile start to burn and in turn ignite other tiny fragments. When sufficient numbers our next objective in the search for a method of

of these fractional bursts into flames. A similar process takes place in an atomic pile”such as was constructed under the West Stands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago in 1942. The pile itself was constructed of uranium, a material that is embedded in a matrix emitted of graphite. With sufficient uranium in the pile, the few neutrons occur strike neighboring in a single fission that may accidentally parts are heated to the kindling points, the entire heap

atoms, which in turn undergo fission and produce more neutrons. These bombard atomic “fire” The complete atomic pile other atoms and so on at an increasing rate until the is controlled by cadmium and prevented from burning itself to is going full blast. rods which absorb neutrons and stop the low the

destruction through

bombardment of cold water

process. The same effect might be achieved by running a pipe a rubbish heap; by keeping the temperature

pipe would prevent the spontaneous burning. The first atomic chain reaction experiment was designed to proceed at a slow rate. In this sense it differed from the atomic bomb, which was designed



2,708,656 it covered all the

was issued on May included secret

18, 1955,

to Enrico

Fermi not

and Leo Szilard. 1 (CP- 1). This be issued until

l%e ;nvention Although years later drawing

the first nuclear for in December information it

reactor, 1944,

Chicago it could had bean

Pile No.

the patent when was part

was applied



of the patent


... . ... ....

to proceed at as fast a rate as was possible. Otherwise, similar to that of the atomic bomb. The atomic chain reaction was the result of hard work by many hands and many heads. Arthur Szilard, the University be performed. Thirty full-sized pile. The scene of this test at the University confusing to an outsider-if gained admittance. He would have seen only what appeared to be a crude pile of black timbers. All but one side of the pile was obscured by a its final shape during the days of preparation, many times a day indicated everything was bricks and wooden of Chicago would have been guards and he could have eluded the security H. Compton, Walter Zinn, Herbert directly Anderson, Leo Eugene Wigner and many others worked of Chicago. Very Finally a plan was decided upon. “piles” of less than the size necessary to establish a chain reacon the problems at had to the basic process is

many experiments

and calculations

tion were built and tested. Then the plans were made for the final test of a

balloon cloth envelope. As the pile grew toward the measurement performed

going, if anything, a little bit better than predicted by calculations.

The Gathering on the Balcony
Finally, the day came when we were ready to run the experiment. about 10 feet above the floor We

gathered on a balcony

of the large room in

which the structure had been erected. Beneath us was a young scientist, George Weil, whose duty it was to handle the last control rod that was holding the reaction in check. Every precaution heavily weighted The had been taken against an accident. There were three Another consisted of a sets of control rods in the pile. One set was automatic. the rope ready to release it at the least sign of trouble. last rod left in the pile, which acted as starter, had never been tried before, accelerator and brake for the reaction, was the one handled by Weil. Since the experiment control carefully. Finally, withdraw which it was time to remove the control rods. Slowly, Weil started to rod. On the balcony, we watched the indicators count and told us how rapidly the disintegrathe main control rods failed. a “liquid control squad” stood ready to flood the pile with cadmium salt solution in case the

emergency safety held by a rope. Walter Zinn was holding

Before we began, we rehearsed the safety precautions

measured the neutron



tion of the uranium ing. At 11:35

atoms under their neutron bombardment

was proceed-

a.m., the counters were clicking rapidly. control

Then, with a loud

clap, the automatic set too low.

rods slammed home. The safety point had been

It seemed a good time to eat lunch. During lunch everyone was thinking talked much about it. At 2:30, ments. Shortly after, the intensity shown by the indicators began to rise at a slow but ever-increasing rate. At this moment we knew that the self-sustaining reaction was under way. The event was not spectacular, no fuses burned, no lights flashed. But to us it meant that release of atomic energy on a large scale would be only a matter of time. The further ef feet ive weapon. At the same time we all hoped that with the end of the war emphasis would be shifted decidedly from the weapon to the peacefu I aspects of atomic energy. development of atomic erwgy during the next three years of producing an of the war was, of course, focused on the main objective Weil pulled out the control rod in a series of measured adjustabout the experiment but nobody

--------- ---- ..-.>.. - .

We hoped that radioactive objectives. Unfortunately, of the Atomic the end of the war did not bring brotherly love among nations. The fabrication of weapons still is and must be the primary concern was an unwelcome necessity of the war still perhaps the building of power plants, production of elements for science and medicine would become the paramount

Energy Commission. necessity. The peaceful objectives must come progress has been made also along those situation are not for the scientist

Secrecy that we thought appears to be an unwelcome second, although lines.

very considerable

The problems posed by this world

alone but for all people to resolve. Perhaps a time will come when all scierttific and technical progress will be hailed for the advantages that it may bring to man, and never feared on account of its destructive possibilities.


By Laura Fermi



of great secrecy in our

life started


we moved to Laboratory.

Chicago. Enrico walked to work every morning. nor simply to the “lab,” but to the “Met. Everything metallurgists at the Metallurgical

Not to the physics building,

Labr” the Metallurgical

was top secret there. I was told one single secret: there were no Laboratory. Even this piece of information at the Met. Lab., the wiser

was not to be divulged, As a matter of fact, the less 1 talked, the better; the fewer people I saw outside the group working I would be. In the fall, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur he was in charge of the Metallurgical comers at the Metal Iurgical Laboratory. H. Compton–1 Project-gave Newcomers was to learn later that were by then so numera series of parties for new-

ous that not even in Ida Noyes HaIi, the students’ recreation hall, was there a room large enough to seat them all at once; so they were invited in shifts. At each of these parties the English film Next of Kin was shown. It depicted in dark tones the consequences of negligence and carelessness. A briefcase laid down on the floor in a public place is stolen by a spy. English military plans become known result. After the film there was no need for words. Willingly we accepted the hint and confined our social activities to the group of “metallurgists.” for they were scientists. The nonworking for the war effort. entertain + or to work of the USO.

to the enemy.



of civilian are the

homes, and an unnecessary high toll of lives on the fighting


Its always expanding size provided ample possibil-

ities of choice; besides, most of them were congenial, as was to be expected, wives wished, quite understandably, to do something

One of the possible activities along this line was to help to sew for the Red Cross and to save my in the hospital of the university,

the armed forces at the USO. I preferred as a volunteer

social capacities for the people at the Met,

Lab., who had not the benefit

12From Illinois, 1954.

Atoms Copyright

in the Fami/y,

Laura Fermi,


of Chicago

Press, Chicago,

by the University

of Chicago

Press. Reprinted

by permission.


Laura and Enrico


The Fermis’ Party
Thus, early in December who worked with 1942, I gave a large party for the metallurgists

Enrico and for their wives. As the first bell rang shortly

after eight in the evening, Enrico went to open the door, and 1 kept a few steps behind him in the hall. Walter Zinn and his wife Jean walked in, bringing along the icy-cold air that clung to their clothes. Their teeth chattered. They shook the snow from their shoulders and stamped their feet heavily on the floor to reactivate the circulation in limbs made numb by the subzero weather. Walter extended his hand to Enrico and said: “Congratulations.” “Congratulations?” notice of me. Enrico was busy hanging Jean’s coat in the closet, and both the Zinns were fumbling at their snow boots with sluggish fingers. “Nasty weather,” Jean said, getting up from her bent position to put her boots in a corner. Walter again stamped his feet noisily on the floor. I asked, puzzled, “What for?” Nobody took any

“Won’t you come into the living room?” time to Enrico asked. Before we had coid

sit down, the bell rang again; again Enrico went to open the door, and

amid repeated stamping of feet and complaints about the extraordinarily weather I again heard a man’s voice: “Congratulations.”

It went on this same way until all our guests had arrived. Every single man congratu Iated Enrico. He accepted the congratu Iations readily, with no embarrassment on his face. My inquiries received either no answer at all or such evasive replies as: “Ask your husband,” or: “Nothing special. He is a smart guy. That’s all,” or:

or show of modesty,

with no words, but with a steady grin

“Don’t get excited. You’ll find out sometime.” I had nothing to help me guess. Enrico had mentioned nothing worthy of notice, and nothing unusual had happened, except, of course, the preparations for the party. And those did not involve Enrico and provided no ground for congratulating. I had cleaned house all morning; I had polished silver. I had picked up the electric formula train in Giuiio’s room and the


books in Nella’s. If there is a
in my mind:

to teach order to children, I have not found it. I had run the vacuum,

dusted, and sighed. All along I was making calculations

“Half an hour to set the table. Half an hour to spread sandwiches. Half an hour to collect juices for the punch. . . . I must remember to make tea for my punch soon, so that by . ...” it will have time to cool, . . . And if people start and eating dinner coming by eight, we’ll have to start dressing by, seven-thirty,

So I had calculated my afternoon schedule backward from the time

the company would arrive up to when I should set myself to work.

A Homemaker’s Schedule
My schedule was upset, as schedules will be. While I was baking cookies in the kitchen, the house had gone surprisingly quiet, too quiet to contain had they got themselves? I found them on the thirdlittle children were mixing snow with balls at our neighbor’s recently in scolding through and punishing, in pots and throwing time was spent Giulio and his two girl friends who had come to play. Where were they? Into what sort of mischief the soil in the flower washed windows. floor porch. The three angelic-looking Precious

seeing what could be done to placate our neighbor. So at dinner time Enrico found me hurrying the last preparations, absorbed in my task and even less than usually inclined to ask questions

of him. We rushed through dinner, and then I realized we had no cigarettes. It was not unusual: we don’t smoke, and I always forget to buy them. “Enrico, wouldn’t you run to the drugstore for cigarettes?” I asked. The answer was what I expected, what it had been on other such occasions: “1 don’t know how to buy them.” “We can’t do without did; “it isn’t done.” “We”ll set the habit, then. Besides, the less our company smokes, the better. Not so much foul smell in the house tomorrow.” This little act was almost a ritual performed was nothing lations? I went up to Leona Woods, a tall young girl built like an athlete, who could do a man’s job and do it well. She was the only woman with physicist in Enrico’s energy, group. At that time her mother, who was also endowed was running inexhaustible a small farm near Chicago her time atoms either and to she I before each party. There unusual in it, nor in Enrico’s behavior. Then why the congratucigarettes for our guests,” 1 insisted, as I always

almost by herself. To relieve Mrs. Woods of some work, potatoes.
Leona Woods

Leona divided between I to refused dig

and her allegiance Because or smash atoms and had helped with


looked down on me. I had been at the
picking apples. Leona,



however, be kind.

thought, owed me some friendliness. “Leona, tions.” Tell me what. Enrico did to earn these congratula-

Sinking an Admiral
Leona bent her head, covered with short, deep-black and from her lips came a whisper: “He has sunk a Japanese admiral.” “You are making fun of me,” 1 protested. hair, toward me,

But Herbert forces with University States, Enrico

Anderson came to join the boy who

Leona. Herbert,

had been a graduate student at Columbia when we arrived in the United his Ph.D. work with with him. had taken

and was still working

He had come to Chicago a few months before I did. “Do you think anything is imposan sible for Enrico?” No matter
Herbert L. Anderson

he asked me with how firmly did

earnest, almost chid ing, face. the logical there part of my mind of disbelieve,

still was another, subconscious, submitted spectacular that was fighting for acceptance words. Herbert was Enrico’s mentor. to intelligence 1.Q. They should know. two

way back, almost in the Leona’s and Herbert’s

Leona, who was young enough to have To sink a ship in the Pacific from parts of one’s mind is not promptly

tests in her recent school days, was said to have a

Chicago . . . perhaps power rays were discovered. . . . When a struggle between resolved with clear outcome, doubt results. My doubt was to last a long time. That evening no more was said about admirals, The party proceeded as most parties do, with a great deal of small talk around the punch bowl in the dining room; with pingpong comments on the war in the I.iving room; with games of on the third floor, because Enrico has always and shuffleboard

enjoyed playing games, and most of our guests were young. In the days that followed I made vain efforts to clear my doubts. “Enrico, did you really sink a Japanese admiral?” “Did l?” Enrico would answer with a candid expression. “So you did not sink a Japanese admiral!” “Didn’t I ?“ His expression would not change. paperbound volume. Report, 13 he said. “it contains Two years and a half elapsed. One evening, shortly after the end of the war in Japan, Enrico brought home a mimeographed, “It may interest you to see the Smyth all declassified information tion, and this is an advance copy.”

on atomic energy. It was just released for publica-


This classic document, Enargy (It for Military later at the 1945. Metallurgical

A General Purposes, Laboratory,

Account written

of the Development by Henry title, D. Smyth,

of Methods


Using Atomic research gust 12,

who directed on AuUniversity

was released with a shorter

by the War Department by Princeton

was published,

Press. See Suggested


It was not easy reading. I struggled with its technical difficult content until slowly, painfully,

language and its

I worked my way through it. When I of that day, December 2,

reached the middle of the book, I found the reason for the congratulations Enrico had received at our party. On the afternoon successfully, under E nrico’s direct ion. Young this feat equivalent not foresee Hiroshima. 1942, the first chain reaction was achieved and the first atomic pile operated Leona Woods had considered ship with the admiral to the sinking of an admiral’s

inside. The atomic bomb still lay in the womb of the future, and Leona could

The 1942

‘“Council that






a highly


discussion of Eckhart

in April Hall on could

was vital to the success of the first pile. of Chicago campus. being overheard. The meeting without

It stands in front

the University talk freely

was held outdoom

so the scientists





The 1943 and of



was disassembled with certain near National the



and rebuilt modifications Argonne

refinements prasen t site It



was renamed

Chicago Pile No. 2 (CP-2).

Unveiling West on right Robert Daniels, Enrico Hutchins, University West in the

the fifth 2, W.

plaque of Stagg




Field to and Zinn, R. of M. the The plaque

anniversary, 1947. Left Commissioners Waymeck H. and Chicago. tha Barrington

December William

are AEC

F. Bather, Walter Fermi, of but Chancellor were

Stands 1957,



The first heavy reactor CP-2 water shahs marker. at uranium, (CP-3)

water moderated was In two beneath built 1956 and nm.r the heavy reecton this

Argonne. graphite, from buried the

wara ramovad

and the remaining

k.... ...... ....... .... .


Achievement first SdL.%stained of NwdearChainReaction December , 1942 2

Signatures 20th at P.G. -* ~ Dr.Herbert Kubikchek E. the


during Nuclear

anniversary American Meeting, D. C., and of at

programs Industrial Washing27, the UniverDeam-

Society-Atomic Forum ton, Wohr Ii. i2tm*” . / 1962, sity





ber 1, 1962.





Model Henry sioned Institute work “Birth

of a work Moore, of to

of sculpture


who Chicago

was commisof the Art to create Age’! at the a the Zbe the first

by the Trustees

commemorate was unveiled of

of the Atomic of Chicago

SCUIPture University 25th pile.

site on the




. .


. .


The 1942 CP-1 chain reaction experiment marked the culmination of a process of European scientific discovery and American technical development in nuclear physics research that dated back to 1934, when Enrico Fermi split the atom without realizing it. success of the Metallurgical of Chianti Laboratory was The legendary bottle was completed. of scientists and engineers had already of the Army design and plutoproduced by Eugene In this sense, the final almost anticlimactic.

Wigner and signed by all the participants was actuall y purchased a year before the successful experiment Project forward. recommended December project, Nor was the success of CP-1 especially decisive in pushing the Manhattan A visiting committee continuing the pile project before they arrived in Chicago on a letter authorizing

2, and a day earlier General Leslie Groves, director the du Pent Company of the massive Hanford, Washington,

had written


plant to produce Compton U*38

nium, using the pile project as a prototype. In this context, takes on a different project the famous telephone meaning. Conant, U 235 call from from to Conant an enthusiast of Ernest Lawrence’s as the quickest toward a fullconveying the a

to separate electromagnetically

route to the bomb, remained skeptical of the pile approach, and criticized the visiting Lewis committee scale plant. On from In report for pushing the pile project Conant, Compton was not only approved telephoning 28,

secret message, but advocating a particular route to the new weapon. December 1942, President Roosevelt report Vannevar Bush of the Office of Scientific supervision. Research and Development

calling for an all-out effort working reality, under Army an important

to build an atomic bomb with private industry In this crucial decision CP-1 had played scientific theory into technological of energy had been

part. For it had transformed

and demonstrated In early

that an awesome new form the success of CP-I,

harnessed to man’s purposes. 1943, following work on the production piles shifted to new plants springing up at Oak Ridger Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington. In Field The scientists of Chicago gave way to the engineers of du Pent, Project moved away from that city. pile moved from Stagg Forest Preserve south of larger than 1943, Groves ordered Fermi’s and the major work of the Manhattan February to Site A, a 20-acre

area of the Argonne

Chicago, where it was reassembled as CP-2. CP-2 was considerably Cp-1, and had a five-foot exposure to staff.

concrete shield build around it to avoid radiation


CP-2 was followed In function 1944, in 1943 by CP-3, a heavy-water of cinderblock reactor designed iron by Eugene Wigner and built by Walter Zinn. the modest collection and corrugated buildings at Argonne development, after 1945. In January tory. 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission purchased a new site Laborareactors became peacetime centers and applied

became the Argonne Laboratory,

directed by Fermi. Its

now became basic research on nuclear fission, rather than weapons with consequent shortages of both funding and personnel until

near La Mont, II Iinois, southwest of Chicago for the Argonne National At the new laboratory neutron the wartime of research into mathematics. plutonium biological power. diffraction, the effects of radiation,

The pile of graphite and uranium production, but the broader

known as CP-1 thus spawned of nuclear fission–

a full-scale nuclear research laboratory.

Its work no longer was used to study ramifications

and medical research, basic physics, reactor analysis, and nuclear

in the end, the various offspring of CP-1, the first reactor, continued its original mission: to push back and explore the frontiers of science in the never-ending quest for knowledge of the universe in which we Iive.



. . .. .



Compton, Press, 1956. Fermi, Press, 1954. Groueff,


H., Atomic





University of Chicago Little,

Laura, Atoms Stephane,

in the Fami/y, Project,

Chicago: Boston,




Brown and Company, Project, New York: Project Virginia: (LAMS-2532),

1967. it Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Y, The LosA/amos

Groves, Leslie R., Now

Harper and Row, 1961. District History, Project 1–Inception Center, 1961. Oscar E., Jr., The New Wor/d, State University Comof the United States A tomic Energy ComThe Pennsylvania The History New York: Volume until August 1945, Springfield,

Hawkins, David, Manhattan Technical Information Richard Volume

Hewlett, 1939/1946, mission. Press, 1962.

G., and Anderson,

1, A History


Park, Pennsylvania: J., The Physicists; of Trinity,

Kevles, Daniel munity 1965. Latil, Libby,

of a Scientific Atheneum

in Modern America, Lament,

New York: Alfred Knopf, 1977. Publishers,

Lansing, Day

Pierre de, Enrico Fermi; Leona Marshall,

The Man and His Theories, New York: Peep/e, New York: Scribners, Press,

Paul S. Eriksson, Inc., 1966. The Uranium Secret, 1979. Purcell, John, 1963. Segre, Emilio, Smyth, Strauss, Company, Wigner, Wilson, Henry Lewis The Collected D., Atomic L., Men Papers of Enrico Fermi, Chicago, I Ilinois: Energy for Military New Purposes, York: Princeton, and University of Chicago Press, 1965. New Jersey: Princeton University Inc., 1962. Eugne P., Symmetries Jane, cd., All and Reflections, Time; Bloomington, of Indiana: Twelve Press, 1945. and Decisions, Doubleday The Best-Kept New York: The Vanguard

Indiana University Press, 1967. in Our The Reminiscences Nut/ear Pioneem, Chicago, I Ilinois: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1975.

Articles Anderson, Review, 33:511 Anderson, Neutrons (April 15, 1939). Argonne A/ational Laboratory (December Fermi, Fermi, 1962). Enrico, Enrico, “Elementary “Development Theory of the Chain-Reacting Pile,” (January 10, 1947). of the First Chain Reacting Pile,” ProAmerican, Plews Bulletin, Anniversary Issue, Vol. 4 Herbert Herbert L., et. al., “The Fission of Uranium,” Physics/ of (March 1, 1939). L., Fermi, E., and Hanstein, by Neutrons,” H. B., “Production Bombarded Physics/ Review, 34:797

in Uranium

Science, 105:27

ceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 22 (January 29, 1946). Hahn, Otto, (February 1958). Atomic Energy Agency Bulletin, L., “The Zinn, W. Birth H., Special number to mark Age, December Emission Uranium,” 48:67 2, International Laurence, Szilard, Neutrons “Zip 1946). Review, 34:799 out: “The Discovery of Fission,” Scientific 198:76

the 20th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear reactor (December 2, 1962). William Leo, and of the Atomic “Instantaneous Neutrons Pile,” with ?942, New York Times tl+gazine, in the Interaction World’s Vl; 11 (December 1, 1946). of Fast Physics/ 9,

of Slow


15, 1939). First Uranium Time, (December

Motion Picture

The Day


Bqgan, 30 minutes,



This film tells

(via historical film strips, photographs, interviews, and paintings) the exciting story of the construction of the first nuclear reactor. The story is highlighted by interviews with members of the research team and those closely associated with it, such as Glenn Seaborg, Mrs. Enrico Fermi, Leslie Groves, Walter Zinn, Herbert Anderson, and Mrs. Leona Libby.


CREDITS Chicago Historical Society National Laboratory except the foilowing:

Cover courtesy All other Page 4 5 6 7 9 15 19 21 22 35


from the Argonne

Addison-Wesley Nobel Stephen Chicago Nobel Mary Nobel Institute Louise Barker

Publishing (left);


Ike Verne University Archives Office

Deutsch; Tribune Institute Institute


Oak Ridge Operations

(bottom) of the Elements, .lournal of Chemical Education

Elvira Weeks, Discovery of Chicago



U.S. G?3WWMENI’ PRINHNG OFFICE : 1982 0 - 393-’.?18 QL 3 : “J

.. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . .


This document the development Office of the

is printed as a special edition to commemoof nuclear energy. For additional Assistant 1000 Secretary for Nuclear Avenue, informaEnergy, Washing-

rate the 40th anniversary of the, Chicago Pile, a landmark in tion on nuclear energy, contact the Department Forrestal Building, Independence of Energy,

ton, D.C. 20585.



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