The Manhattan Project was the code name given to the American-led effort in developing functional atomic weapons during the Second World War. The whole project started as a response to the fear that Germans have been working on nuclear technology since the 1930s. While the project employed some of the brightest minds in America, did you know who was the youngest scientist on staff?
Theodore Hall is one of the youngest Manhattan Project scientists. He finished high school at the age of 14 and graduated from Harvard University at the age of 18. He was recruited by the program at 19. Fifty years later, nearing his death, he admitted that he had been an informant for the Russians the entire time.
Who is Theodore Hall?
Theodore Alvin Holtzberg was born on October 20, 1925, in Far Rockaway, New York City. His parents were devout Jews who migrated to the United States to escape the antisemitic programs in Russia. During The Great Depression, the family’s business was affected severely. They could no longer support the expenses, which led to the decision to move to Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan.
Hall showed a great interest in mathematics and science at a young age. He was only tutored by his brother, but his skills in the fields definitely showed by the time he started schooling. He skipped three grades in Public School 173. By the fall of 1937, Hall attended the Townsend Harris High School for Gifted Boys. He finished high school at the age of 14 and started his college education at Queens College in 1940. He transferred to Harvard University in 1942. Hall graduated in 1944 at the age of 18.
Theodore and Edward Holtzberg then changed their last names to Hall in an effort to avoid antisemitic hiring practices that were rampant at the time. Their parents completely disagreed with their decision. (Source: Bombshell: The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy)
How Did Theodore Hall Start Work at the Manhattan Project?
Theodore Hall was recruited for the Manhattan Project at 19, as recommended by John Van Vleck. He was one of the youngest scientists on the project. Hall handled experiments for Fat Man at Los Alamos, and he also helped determine the critical mass of uranium for Little Boy. (Source: Bombshell: The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy)
Was Theodore Hall A Soviet Spy?
Hall was concerned about the consequences of the American monopoly of atomic weapons after the Second World War. He was distraught at the thought that the government of the United States would turn to fascism. While he was on vacation in New York City, he visited the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) since the Soviet Consulate was under FBI surveillance.
After a few recommendations, he finally met Sergey Kurnakov, a military writer for Soviet Russia Today, and Russky Golos. Hall then handed him a report on the scientists he worked with at Los Alamos, the laboratory conditions, and the basic science behind the making of the bombs. Hall became the Soviet Union’s informant and was given the code-name MLAD, a Slavic word meaning Young.
The FBI questioned Hall in March 1951, but he was not charged. Only a year before his death did he directly confess his dealings with the Soviet Union.
I decided to give atomic secrets to the Russians because it seemed to me that it was important that there should be no monopoly, which could turn one nation into a menace and turn it loose on the world as Nazi Germany developed. There seemed to be only one answer to what one should do. The right thing to do was to act to break the American monopoly.Theodore Hall