"No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had
ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared
description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light
with the intensity many times greater than that of the midday
sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue..
355). The words of Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell
describe the onset of the atomic age, which began on July
16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the site of
the first large-scale atomic test, which utilized the tool of
destruction that would soon decimate the populations of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month afterwards. This
test consummated the years spent developing the bomb, and
was the end result of the efforts of nuclear scientists who
constructed it, and those of President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt, who made the decision to fund the so-called
In a letter dated August 2nd, 1939, Albert Einstein first
informed President Roosevelt of the research that had been
done by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard with unstable
Uranium which could generate large amounts of power and
energy (Einstein1 PSF Safe Files). Einstein also included
another possible use for the uranium- the construction of
extremely powerful bombs, which were capable of
destroying a seaport and the surrounding territory. This
information may have come precisely at the right time, for in
October of 1938 Roosevelt asked Congress for a $300
million military appropriation, and in November instructed
the Army Air Corps to plan for an annual production of
twenty thousand planes. Later, in 1939, Roosevelt called for
actions against "aggressor nations," and in the same year
submitted to Congress a $1.3 billion defense budget (Boyer
861). In an accompanying memorandum that was sent with
the Einstein letter, scientist Leo Szilard explained the
technical science of nuclear fission and stressing the
importance of chain reactions (Walls 1 PFS Safe Files).
Both documents, the Einstein letter and the Szilard
memorandum, were to be delivered by Alexander Sachs, an
adviser to Roosevelt’s New Deal since 1933 who would
know how to approach Roosevelt and the government
(Lanouette 200). It was not until mid-October 1939 that
Sachs wangled an invitation to get in to see the President
over breakfast (Burns 250). Though Roosevelt found the
documents interesting, he seemed hesitant about committing
government funds to such speculative research. But after
Sachs reminded him of Napoleon’s skepticism of Robert
Fulton’s idea of a steamship, Roosevelt agreed to proceed.
Regarding the steamship issue, Sachs went on to comment,
;This is an example of how England was saved by the
shortsightedness of an adversary,;; this insight made
Roosevelt greatly consider the creation of the bomb.
President Roosevelt authorized a study, but the decision to
devote full energy to the production of the bomb was not
made until December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor.
It was the influence of Leo Szilard, along with that of
Alexander Sachs, that swayed Roosevelt’s decision to fund
and construct the bomb. To aid the presentation to President
Roosevelt, Szilard contacted aviator Charles Lindbergh, to
discuss how "large quantities of energy would be liberated"
by a "nuclear chain reaction," and also wanted to discuss
how "to make an attempt to inform the administration (of the
project)." Soon after, however, they discovered that the
anti-arms Lindbergh was not one to help them in their
request to the President (Lanouette 208). Szilard then went
on a mission to find pure graphite for the experiment, (which
would be based on Einstein’s E=mc2), by exchanging
dozens of letters with chemical, carbon, and metallurgical
companies, and bargained with manufacturers for contracts
of fresh material (Lanouette 209). During this time, Szilard
was creating a decisive difference between U.S.
German nuclear efforts. Szilard also inquired to Colonel
Keith F. Adamson of the U.S. Army as to funding of the
graphite and uranium needed for a large scale experiment,
and Adamson estimated that it might only cost $6,000,
though this sum eventually swelled to more than $2 billion
dollars of funds from the U.S.
government (Lanouette 211).
Although Einstein later said that he ;really only acted as a
mailbox; for Leo Szilard, in popular history his famous
equation E=mc2 and his letter to President Roosevelt are
credited with starting the American effort to build atomic
weapons (Lanouette 206).
Fission was discovered in 1938 by German scientists, which
led to the fear of American scientists that Hitler might
attempt to develop a fission bomb.
Because of German aggression throughout Europe in
1938-39, Roosevelt and the scientists thought it necessary to
develop the bomb before the Germans. Fortunately for the
United States bomb effort, many of the world’s top
scientists, from both Europe and the U.S. pooled .