Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project report goes to auction

The Manhattan_Project document is dated 1 July 1945 and entitled “Atomic Bombs: A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945.” It is signed by all the key scientists including J. Robert Oppenheimer and Nobel Prize winners Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence, James Chadwick, Harold Urey, and Isidor I. Rabi.  RR Auctions. 

It’s the timing of the document that makes it so important – it was delivered on July 1, just 15 days before the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, the Trinity nuclear test (5-second-video-here) (pictured above) which occurred on 1945 Jul 16, and five weeks before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings which took place on 6 & 9 August 1945.

There could be few more iconic moments in the history of technology than the moment that picture was taken – the age of nuclear weaponry began and at the time this document was produced, the world was not entirely sure what would happen when the button was pressed (Trinity was the code word) and Trinity went off.

The document’s title and timing suggests it played a pivotal role in world history. Known as the ‘Smyth Report’, it is dated 1 July 1945 and was first released to the media on 12 August 1945, just days after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is thus likely the very first publicly available report on the creation of the bomb. Japan’s surrender in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August and formally signed on 2 September 1945. Estimates on the number of Japanese deaths caused by the two nuclear holocausts numbered 129,000 to 226,000 civilians and 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers.  RR Auctions

There will be rarer and more valuable trading cards than the $12.6 million paid for a Mickey Mantle, there will be more valuable guitars than the $6 million paid for Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E, and there will be more movie props that sell for $5 million because of their role in a fiction. Heroes are regularly minted on the sporting field too, but when history is written 1,000 years from now, none of those things will get a mention.

The Manhattan Project will bear mention in any history of humanity whenever it is written.

The signatures on the document are from top left reading down, James Chadwick (1891-1974), Richard C. Tolman (1881-1948), John H. Manley (1907-1990), Samuel T. Arnold (1892-1956), Gen. Kenneth D. Nichols (1907-2000), J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), Robert F. Bacher (1905-2004), Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958), William R. Purnell (1886-1955), William S. Parsons (1901-1953), Harold C. Urey (1893-1981), Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Samuel K. Allison (1900-1965), Adm. Frederick L. Ashworth (1912-2005), Gen. Thomas F. Farrell (1891-1967), Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick (1905-1990), William Shurcliff (1909-2006), Paul C. Fine, Col. Franklin T. Matthias (1908-1993), Isidor I. Rabi (1898-1988), James B. Conant (1893-1978), George L. Harrison (1887-1958) and Stafford L. Warren (1896-1981). They constitute some of the most important physicists of history.  RRAuctions

I have spent large tracts of my life watching the auction prices of significant objects and attempting to understand what constitutes value on the auction block and this item strikes me as being almost priceless from any angle. It is one of those scientific objects that bridges the gap to becoming an object of art … something that will be pondered long after science fiction has become reality.

Just what this document is worth and indeed, what it might even mean a few centuries from now will be answered in time, but if you are a disciple of the scientific method and a student of world history, IMHO this is one of the most significant documents ever offered at public auction.

How could this not be more important in the context of world history than any Leonardo Da Vinci manifest, Andy Warhol artwork or a religious document?

The last time anything even remotely like this lot went to auction was a decade ago (19 Jun 2014) when a quarto-sized card that had been signed by 30 people from the “Los Alamos New Mexico Atomic Bomb Project” went to auction at Christie’s from the celebrated Forbes Collection. Malcolm Forbes (best known as the publisher of Forbes magazine) was exceptionally good at picking winners, so despite an official Christie’s expectation of US$3,000 to $5,000, the card sold for $161,000.  Christie’s

The auction is taking place on March 14 and you can watch the numbers climb in real time on RR Auctions’ website, and it will be worth watching.

The RR in the auction house name stands for “Remarkable Rarities” which kinda sums up what this item is – we’re forecasting that the price will go an order of magnitude or two beyond the $25,000 reserve price, and bidding is already at $32,000 as this story goes live, so consider yourself well ahead of the news.

Source: RR Auctions  View gallery – 5 images


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