Research, the Manhattan Project, and my grandfather

At the Archives

I had a few outstanding questions. Had I selected the correct files to review? Would I really be able to find my grandfather by reviewing slightly more than one-quarter of the materials available? I was looking for a needle in a haystack but as they say, nothing ventured nothing gained.

I arrived at the National Archives Atlanta early Monday afternoon, signed all the appropriate paperwork and I began my review. By closing time at 4 pm, I had reviewed a total was three boxes, a bit below my daily goal even for a half-day. 

The good news is that in the second box I found my grandfather’s name on a Stone and Webster list of all their employees working on the Manhattan Project, also known as Project X, for the week ending July 3, 1943. He is the resident inspector at Chapman Valve Company in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. I had successfully found my grandfather in the records, and I was looking in the right place.

Back at the hotel, I reviewed the finding aid for any files related to Chapman Valve Company and emailed a request to pull an additional five boxes. On Tuesday morning I learned that due to vacation schedules, the additional boxes would be pulled on Thursday morning. My box review total for Tuesday was 8 and for Wednesday it was 12. While Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s searches did not produce anything specifically about my grandfather, I learned that the initial order of Chapman Valve Co. vacuum valves was to be delivered in September 1943. This information appears to coincide with my grandfather moving to a desk job, and turning in his “C” gas card as noted in the letters.

Chapman Valve Company

On Thursday I reviewed 12 boxes and while I found nothing relating directly to Mac, I did learn that Chapman Valve Co. contracts were classified top secret in the contract rating documents. On Thursday evening I reviewed and identified the order in which I wanted to review the remaining 16 or so boxes I had waiting for me on Friday. I was beginning to think that my fantastic find was on Monday might not be repeated, but it would be nice to find something else.

Friday was a beautiful, clear day and there were five of us in the research room. I decided that I would work straight through to about 3:15 pm when I would leave to catch a flight home. After reviewing a few boxes without success, I re-reviewed my plan of action and decided to look at one of the 1943 visitors passes files for the Boston office. At the back of the 1943 folder, I found my grandfather visiting Metal Hydrides in Beverly, Massachusetts, daily for 3 weeks in late March and early April of 1943. Visitor permits were issued daily and summarized in a weekly summary of visitor permits.

Metal Hydrides

Metal Hydrides, Inc., “. . . was a part of the Manhattan Project until about 1947. During this time MHI worked with natural uranium-238 to produce metal powder. This powder was then molded into ingots, and sent to other nuclear facilities in Chicago, Hanford, and Oakridge (now known as Oak Ridge). These facilities used the ingots for fuels experimentation.“ (

Access Permission

Teletype from Colonel K. D. Nichols to  Lieutenant James E Nolan authorizing D. L. Macdonald access to the Eastman supervisor in Boston backdated to July 1, 1943.

Once I found my grandfather visiting Metal Hydrides, I decided to quickly scan the remainder of that folder. I came across a teletype dated August 24, 1944, providing my grandfather with access to the Eastman Supervisor in Boston backdated to July 1, 1943. The order was signed by Colonel K. D. Nichols, the District Engineer “. . . of the Manhattan Engineer District at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and led both the uranium production facility at the Clinton Engineer Works at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the plutonium production facility at Hanford Engineer Works in Washington state.”  (

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