OK, mid-July at last. Now if you haven’t fired up that grill yet, you’d better, because the siege of the mosquitos is about to begin, and you have to have a way to roast the little buggers. And, as we all know, People for the Ethical Treatment of (some) Animals is requiring that all of us homo saps provide food for all living creatures…except the annoying ones.
On 16 July 1790, the District of Columbia was established, carving out parts of Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River; while Congress was aware that most of the land was still a swampy wilderness, they apparently felt at home there–and still do. And in 1863, the New York “draft” riots ended with the Union Army’s VI Corps patrolling the streets; while the draft offices were the easiest targets, the riot is also attributed to unrest over jobs, the payment of substitutes for the draft, and a general feeling that “outsiders” who included Negroes, Irish, and Germans were taking advantage of war-driven shortages. On 16 July 1940, Philippe Petain, French hero of WWI, became the Premier of the new French government at Vichy; while Petain felt he was only doing duty to his country, postwar Frenchmen would condemn him to life in prison and exile. And on 16 July 1969, Apollo XI launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida; in three days they would orbit the moon, and in four, land on the Sea of Tranquility. Today is also National Corn Fritters Day because, somewhere in the long-ago past, someone said it was. But today, we talk about mushroom clouds in the desert and personal chefs.
In 1933, the legend goes, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of the nuclear chain reaction, and everything after that was just a matter of engineering. Szilard was also credited with drafting the letter that Albert Einstein signed to President Roosevelt that has been ascribed to have been the trigger for the Manhattan Engineer District and the development of the atom bomb.
Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941.
The letter wasn’t a suggestion to build a bomb, but a warning that the Germans might be on the way to building one. What no one outside of Germany knew at the time was that, yes there were eminent scientists in Germany working on a nuclear weapon, but their leader, Walther Heisenberg, had the theory wrong and couldn’t have built one based on his work. Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941.
They made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert miles away from everything.
In the course of the next four years, an entire industry was formed in six states, employing nearly 120,000 people in total. Only a handful of these people knew exactly what they were working on. They extracted enriched uranium and plutonium, they made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert scores of miles away from everything.
The observers were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.
In the summer of 1945, all the pieces were together in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Over the course of a week, the eggheads assembled the big round ball with its exotic triggers, thick wires and that ball of shiny material in the middle. Near midnight on 15 July 1945, the thousands of watchers started to fill the bleachers. At about 2 in the morning of 16 August, two searchlights started to sweep the air over the tower in the desert. The observers were given goggles, and were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.
One member of the Special Engineering Division said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterwards was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”
At 5:29 on 16 July 1945, the Trinity site–what the entire effort to assemble and detonate the “gadget” in that lonely patch of desert was called–became like a sun as the implosion-type plutonium-core nuclear device was detonated under those light beams. The explosive power of the weapon was rated at about 20 kilotons–20,000 tons of TNT. Blind persons fifty miles away were said to have seen the flash of light brighter than a star for a millionth of a second. One witness miles away from the official viewing stand–a member of the Special Engineering Division of technicians hired to do scut work–said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterward was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”
On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.
By the standards of 2018 it would be a large tactical nuclear device, but by the standards of 1945, it was an enormous device. On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.
For those of you who might plan to actually go there, you have to want to find it–the Park Service didn’t make it easy to find in 1976 when I was there (in fact, our bus driver got lost). Take your own water, because there’s nothing out there other than the obelisk shown above–not even a gift shop. Fittingly, it’s a lonely, desolate place in the middle of what is now the White Sands Missile Range.
Today is also National Personal Chefs Day by decree of the folks at the National Day Calendar and the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA). Now, why it’s on 16 July is still a mystery, but there really has been an (apparently) professional organization for this kind of thing since 1991. Their description:
A Personal Chef is a culinary professional that comes directly to your home to provide you a wide variety of personalized cooking services. Each Personal Chef is an independent business owner who will work closely with you to provide personalized and customized services that fit your specific tastes and needs.
And here I always called them “cooks.”
But if you’ve got a personal chef, do something nice for them today, for it’s their day, like take them out for lunch. Or something.
And, in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 King Fred of Wahoozistan (also known as Joyce the Broad-Shouldered) launched his campaign against their sworn enemies in neighboring Jeosophat in a lightning campaign that was stopped dead in its tracks by a lone goatherd just inside the border. Surviving accounts attribute the forever-nameless nomad with turning his shepherd’s crook into a dozen Krispy Kream glazed doughnuts with a mere wave of his cell phone. The aroma of these delectable fat pills so attracted the starving army that they started to fight among themselves, causing the ill-starred invasion to collapse.
And now you don’t know that, either. Take that, future researchers.