On Feb. 7, 1946, the Bulloch Herald reported on James Lester Riggs, a resident of the Register community. Riggs had received a certificate from Henry L. Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War, for his work on the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the creation of the world's first atomic bomb.
The certificate lauded Riggs for his “participation in work essential to the production of the Atomic Bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II” and was “awarded in appreciation of effective service.” Riggs was an employee of Watson Flagg Engineering Company during the time of the project.
Riggs also received the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat award given by the U.S. Armed Forces.
The idea for the Manhattan Project began on Aug. 2, 1939, when Albert Einstein and several other scientists wrote President Franklin Roosevelt asking that he agree to fund research into the prospect of using nuclear fission to create a weapon, especially since it was suspected Nazi Germany had already begun its own research.
On April 10, 1940, the first official American governmental committee, known as MAUD (Military Application of Uranium Detonation), was created to study the idea of such a bomb. At this time, American, British and Canadian scientists began working feverishly on two continents to come up with a workable weapon.
Soon, the Office of Scientific Research and Development was formed to oversee the design and production of the bomb. This organization promptly created the S-1 Project, whose job it was to build a nuclear fission weapon. The U.S. government soon decided to build a central lab where the device would be designed, assembled and then tested.
The federal government acquired 59,000 acres of land along the Clinch River west of Knoxville, Tenn., in order to continue the work on the nuclear weapon in secret and safety. First known as "Site X," its name was changed to the Manhattan Engineer District Headquarters Complex, then later to Clinton Engineer Works.
Watson Flagg Engineering Company was one of several major contractors charged with building a new state-of-the-facility after President Roosevelt authorized the Manhattan Project in December 1942. Between July 6, 1944, and Nov. 21, 1945, however, Riggs was with Watson Flagg in Oak Ridge, Tenn., working on the Manhattan Project as an electrician.
There were three main production sites: site Y-12, where the electromagnetic plant was located; site X-10, where the plutonium pile and separation facilities were; and site K-25, where the gaseous diffusion plant was. Later, site S-50 was constructed to house the thermal diffusion plant.
When it was announced an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945, Riggs said it was “the first and only inkling we had of the work we had been doing.”
“We knew it was pretty secret,” Riggs said, describing how employees working on the project were searched on entry and exit. He also mentioned he was investigated by the FBI prior to being hired.
Later, the entire site was permanently renamed Oak Ridge. At the end of the project, some 13,000 personnel were housed in trailers around the site, creating the fifth-largest city in Tennessee and consuming one-seventh of all electricity being used in the United States.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past.