"I really only acted as a
mail box. They (Szilard, et al) brought me a finished letter and
I simply signed it" - Albert Einstein in a apology to his
biographer Antonina Vallentin.
In later years, those close to Einstein would report that he was
very troubled by his participation. In a tragic paradox of fate,
he, a vowed pacifist, gave the starting signal for the most horrible
of weapons of destruction.
Webmaster's Note: Keeping in
mind what you have learned thus far, it is important to realize that
not only was the scientific community as a whole acutely aware of the
possibilities of atomic energy, it was also actively discussed in
American magazines and newspapers. In addition, the scientists
that had fled Nazi persecution were worried that their former
scientific collaborators would actively pursue the possibility of
atomic weapons. This led Leo Szilard, with the assistance of
Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller, to approach is friend, Albert
Einstein, and encourage him to communicate a "sense of
urgency" to President Roosevelt.
Alexander Sachs, a friend and unofficial advisor to Roosevelt, was
tapped to carry Einsteins' letter. However, for a variety of
reasons, Sachs was not able to meet with F.D.R. and deliver the letter
until October 11, 1939
Roosevelt wrote Einstein back on October 19th and informed him that
he had set up a committee consisting of Sachs and representatives from
the Army and Navy to study uranium. Events ultimately proved
that the President was a man of considerable action once a course of
action was chosen. In fact, Roosevelt's approval of the Uranium
Committee in October of 1939, based on his belief that the United
States could not take the risk of allowing Hitler to achieve
unilateral possession of "extremely powerful bombs,"
was merely the first decision among many that ultimately led to the
establishment of the only atomic bomb effort that succeeded in World
War II - the Manhattan Project.
August 2, 1939
Old Grove Rd.
Paconic, Long Island, NY
F. D. Roosevelt
President of the United States
Some recent work by
E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in a
manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be
turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate
future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem
to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part
of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty
to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations.
In the course of the
last four months it has been made probable - through the work of
Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America - that it
may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large
mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities
of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears
almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon
would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable
- though much less certain - that extremely powerful bombs of a new
type, may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type,
carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the
whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.
However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for
transportation by air.
The United States has
only very poor areas of uranium in moderate quantities. There
is some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, while the
most important source of uranium is the Belgian Congo.
In view of this
situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact
maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists
working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of
achieving this might be for you to entrust with this task a person
who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an unofficial
capacity. His task might comprise the following:
a) to approach Government Departments, keep
them informed of the further development, and put forward
recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention
to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United
b) to speed up the experimental work, which
is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of
University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be
required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing
to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining
the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary
I understand that
Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the
Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she
should have taken such hasty action might perhaps be understood on
the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von
Weiznacker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin
where some of the American work on uranium is now being
Yours very truly,
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