The first person who wanted Hanford to be built here was an Army Colonel named Franklin Mathias. Colonel Mathias was given the order to find a place that was big, had lots of wide open space and plenty of water, had few people living nearby, and had lots of electrical power. Mathias took airplane rides over places in Oregon and California before flying over this part of Washington State in December of 1942. As he flew over the southeast part of Washington State, he knew that he had found the place that he was looking for.
From the airplane, Mathias saw all kinds of wide open desert. He saw the Columbia River flowing nearby. He saw the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River that produced electricity. And while there were some people living in Hanford, Richland, and White Bluffs in 1942, Mathias still believed that this part of Washington State had the kinds of characteristics that he needed to find for Hanford to be built.
Nicknamed “Fritz”, Mathias directed the construction work at Hanford. He was in charge of building the nuclear reactors and the other facilities needed to make plutonium for atomic bombs. He supervised the construction of the places where workers would live. He organized recreational activities like baseball leagues and built auditoriums so that workers would have something to do when they weren’t on the job. He made sure that businesses like barber shops, banks, and grocery stores got built, in addition to important buildings like schools and churches. Considering that he started out with very few people or stores in Hanford and White Bluffs, and within a few months he had built enough businesses and homes for over 50,000 people, he had a lot of responsibility!
When the first batch of plutonium had been made at Hanford, it had to be taken to another place in New Mexico called Los Alamos. This was the city where the atomic bombs were made. Colonel Mathias was so proud of the work that he had accomplished at Hanford to make plutonium for the atomic bombs, he decided that he would drive the plutonium himself to a train station in Portland for the trip to New Mexico.
After World War II ended, the Army awarded Colonel Mathias with the Distinguished Service Medal for his outstanding work at Hanford.