Research, the Manhattan Project, and my grandfather

Research at the Atlanta Branch of the Archives

The next research step was to visit the National Archives at Atlanta. Would the archives hold the information that I was looking for? And if it did, would I be able to find him somewhere among those 7,700 folders and binders stored in 184 boxes? I was willing to give it a try. Airline tickets purchased, hotel room reserved, finding aid reviewed. All was ready for a full week’s worth of research beginning on April 20, 2020. Almost as soon as I booked the trip, flights were canceled, hotels accepted all cancellations, and the archives closed to research visitors. As the 2020 pandemic-related restrictions rolled into 2021, and then 2022, the trip was rescheduled and postponed again. When the archives reopened in late March 2022, I swiftly reserved the week of April 4, almost two years to the day from my originally planned trip. 

The A Pin

National Archives at Atlanta Research Center sign with images from the Manhattan Project and NASA.

While I was waiting for the research room to reopen, I reached out to the archivist in Atlanta to see if there was any online research access. The archivist was able to search among some of the digitized files and found Mac being posthumously awarded a silver “A” award and pin in March of 1946 for his eleven months of work on the Manhattan Project with the Tennessee Eastman Corporation. (Please see my piece on the “A” award.) This provided a sense that there may be more information at the archives in Atlanta. 

Research Preparation

With my research appointment coming up quickly, the next task was to review the finding aid, an excel spreadsheet of 7,700 lines, one line for each folder, with titles and descriptions, and select the files I would review. To manage this task, I searched for keywords such as ‘Stone and Webster’, ‘Tennessee Eastman Corporation’, ‘Boston’, ‘Oak Ridge’, ‘cubicles’, ‘procurement’, ‘expediting’, ‘deaths’, and ‘insurance’. Procurement and expediting because the information on his death certificate, and in the documents from the Department of Energy (DOE) indicates he was a field expediter for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation at the time of his death, and expediting because it is a part of procurement. Stone and Webster because he worked for Stone and Webster before he worked for Tennessee Eastman Corporation, and cubicles because of his frequent trips to Pittsfield and Springfield, Massachusetts, where most of the parts that made up the calutron cubicles were made. Boston because that is where the Manhattan Project office for the New England area was located. And the last two, death and insurance, just in case there was information on deaths reported and insurance payments made in these files.  

Image of the finding aid for the Manhattan Project Records held at the National Archives at Atlanta.
A selection from the record group 326 finding aid related to Manhattan Project files held at the National Archives at Atlanta with files and notes highlighted by the author.

After spending a week combing through the finding aid, highlighting files, and noting the box numbers, I came up with a list of 103 boxes to review. To completely review those boxes in four and a half days, I would need to review 20-25 boxes each day, which was not reasonable. To narrow the list down, I reviewed the list again to narrow down the search to something more reasonable. I selected boxes that either had more than one highlighted folder or seemed to hold critical information based on my search criteria above. I sent the reduced list of 48 boxes, which seemed more reasonable for the four and a half days I would be in the research room, to the archivist so the boxes would be pulled and ready for me when I arrived.

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