You might have heard about Albert Einstein. He was a 20th Century scientist whose work earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize in 1921. The Nobel Prize is an award presented to people who have accomplished great things in subjects like chemistry, physics, medicine, or literature. Einstein earned his award for his theories and experiments in the area of physics.
Einstein actually never set foot on the Hanford Site, nor was he even involved in any with the work or experiments needed to produce an atomic bomb. He didn’t even help to build any of Hanford’s factories or facilities. Yet, he was very important to Hanford’s history because of a letter he wrote in 1939.
In 1939, World War II had already started, but the United States wasn’t involved yet. A lot of people from other countries were fighting in the war including people who lived in the country of Germany. The Germans wanted to win the war, and they were involved in a lot of projects to help them do that. One of their projects was to try and build an atomic bomb like the one which was eventually built by the United States.
Albert Einstein was living in the United States in 1939 and had heard about the work taking place in Germany to build an atomic bomb. Some of his friends believed that scientists in the United States should also be trying to build one of these atomic bombs, just in case America had to get involved in World War II. When friends of Einstein’s didn’t get anyone to listen to their ideas, Einstein himself sent a letter to the U.S. President at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and encouraged him to look into building one of those weapons. President Roosevelt sent a letter back to Einstein and thanked him for his suggestions.
More than two years passed, and in late 1941, the United States entered World War II. President Roosevelt remembered the letter that Einstein had sent him, and decided that he would follow Einstein’s advice and try and make an atomic bomb.
When President Roosevelt started assigning people to build an atomic bomb, he also had to find places where this secret work could be done. On a recommendation by some of his top advisors, President Roosevelt decided that Hanford would be the place where plutonium that could be used in an atomic bomb would be made.
When the President made that decision, it started the process of bringing construction workers to the area to start construction of the buildings that would be needed to make plutonium at Hanford. Less than three years after the first workers arrived here, the Fat Man bomb, using plutonium made at Hanford, was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in August of 1945. Five days later, World War II ended.
If Albert Einstein had not sent his letter to President Roosevelt in 1939, Hanford may never have been built! And that’s how a person who never came to Hanford or worked here is very important to the history of the Hanford Site.