Manhattan Project

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It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.

– Stanislaw Ulam, Manhattan Project scientist

Join Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours for our inaugural journey through the new Manhattan Project National Historic Park System on our exclusive new Manhattan Project Tour. Follow the progress of the uranium bomb from its early stages at Oak Ridge to the successful testing at White Sands, New Mexico.

Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the establishment of the Manhattan Project in 1942 with the primary purpose of creating an atomic bomb. The goal was two-fold: develop the atomic bomb for fear the Germans would have it first, and advance American victory in WWII. The project would involve the U.S. military and some of the world’s leading scientific minds. Their work would usher in the nuclear age and forever change the world.

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened Japan’s surrender. However, most important was forcing an end to the war in the Pacific before an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands became necessary. Military experts urged using the bomb because it would prevent the loss of perhaps hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers as well as millions of Japanese.

Ultimately, the Manhattan Project would employ over 250,000 Americans who worked at universities, factories and laboratories across the nation. Their diligent work was hugely successful and ultimately American science and industry prevailed.

Our historians will take you through each phase of the project and encourage informal discussions throughout the tour. We will have the added benefit of local experts joining us to add their insights and detailed knowledge about the development, actual testing and the devastating effect of the atom bomb.

There is only one tour of this kind: the Manhattan Project Tour by Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours.

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  • Oak Ridge: See the pilot nuclear reactor that produced plutonium and the electromagnetic separation process for uranium enrichment
  • American Museum of Science and Energy: View exhibits from security measures and scientific engineering to environmental restoration in Oak Ridge
  • Hanford, Washington: See the massive “B” nuclear reactor and the world’s first large-scale center for plutonium production
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory: Home to the scientists who designed the bomb
  • Santa Fe: Visit the infamous spy sites
  • The Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque: Learn the story of the Atomic Age
  • White Sands/Trinity Site: Visit the White Sands Missile Base for The Trinity Site open house—only available twice yearly—and see the location of the detonation at Ground Zero

Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1 Knoxville, Tennessee

Guests fly into Knoxville, Tennessee and travel independently to our hotel where we gather for an evening welcome reception and dinner. Guests will meet our historian, staff and each other and we have the opportunity to engage in our first discussion about the history we will cover in the days ahead.

DAY 2 Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Here in the hills of east Tennessee, the atomic bomb story begins with the initial developmental stages of what, when deployed, would be a super-atomic nuclear fireball. We tour the X-10 Graphite Reactor National Historic Landmark, a pilot nuclear reactor that produced small quantities of plutonium, then we’re off to the Y-12 complex.  Here we see the electromagnetic separation process for uranium enrichment before we stop at the K-25 History Center where the staff pioneered gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment technology for the “Little Boy” bomb. At the American Museum of Science and Energy we become further immersed in the Manhattan project with a two-screen documentary and exhibits that detail the life of this “Secret City.” Late afternoon we depart Knoxville and fly to Hanford, Washington where we spend the night.

DAY 3 Hanford, Washington

Hanford become the world’s first large-scale center for plutonium production. Here the team built three massive nuclear reactors and used the waters of the scenic Columbia River as coolant. We spend the morning visiting the B-Reactor National Historic Landmark to see the production of plutonium for Trinity, the first detonation device as well as subsequent bombs. Hanford became an atomic boomtown and we see the human side of the project. We tour the Hanford Construction Camp Historic District, Bruggemann’s Agricultural Warehouse Complex, the White Bluffs Bank and Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

DAY 4 Santa Fe

We take an early morning flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we begin our study of the assembly phase of the Manhattan Project.  Driving north to Santa Fe we stop at Lamy Station the arrival point for the brain trust that would complete the Manhattan Project.  The scientists disembarked their trains here to begin their work at Los Alamos. Just as they did, we proceed to 109 E. Palace Avenue, the check-in office for all arriving personnel. The only difference is that Dorothy Scarritt McKibbin, a vital part of the organization, will not be there to greet us. She became known as the “First Lady of Los Alamos.”

DAY 5 Los Alamos

Located on a remote mesa in northern New Mexico, Los Alamos became home to the more than 6,000 scientists and support personnel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Here we begin with a visit to the Gun Site Facilities, three bunkered buildings where the design of the “Little Boy” bomb took place. We then see where laboratory technicians assembled components of the Trinity device at the V-Site Facilities in July 1945 as well as the Pajarito Site that was used during the war for plutonium chemistry research.  Returning to our hotel, we will have a brief tour of Santa Fe and include the infamous “Spy Sites” in our stops. 

DAY 6 Socorro

This morning we have some free time in Old Santa Fe, established by the Spanish in 1610.  We will have time to visit shops and take in the architecture as well as see Native American arts and crafts.  This afternoon we journey South in preparation for the Trinity Open House at White Sands.  First however, we stop in Albuquerque to visit the Museum of Nuclear Science and History where the exhibits range from the discovery of nuclear theory to modern advances in nuclear medicine.  Here we also see the B-29 Silverplate, the bomber specially designed to carry the bombs, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” We spend the night in Socorro.

DAY 8 White Sands/Trinity Site

In July 1945 at the Trinity Site the test detonation sent a multi-colored cloud almost 40,000 feet into the atmosphere while the intense heat fused the sand below into solid glass. We will be here at the White Sands Missile Base for The Trinity Site open house—only available twice yearly. Our tour includes the assembly site of the plutonium core at McDonald Ranch House and actual Ground Zero, now marked by a memorial obelisk.

Following Trinity Site we are off to Albuquerque for our farewell dinner and a congenial sharing of our tour experiences.

DAY 9 Departure

There will be one morning transfer to the Albuquerque International Airport. Guests who would like additional nights in Albuquerque may want to attend the International Balloon Festival which coincides with the end of our tour.


Tour Dates

  • Fall 2022
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Price will be land-based plus flights. The land-based price will be set. Two group flights will be added to your reservation at cost.

Guests are responsible for transportation to start in Knoxville, Tennessee, and end in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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