University of Chicago Library

Guide to the Albert Wattenberg Papers 1939-2007

© 2019 University of Chicago Library

Descriptive Summary


Wattenberg, Albert. Papers




2.5 linear feet (2 boxes)


Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


Albert “Al” Wattenberg (1017-2007), nuclear physicist worked on the Manhattan Project in the Metallurgical Laboratory led by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. This collection contains essays and speeches written by Wattenberg, commendations, photographs of Wattenberg and Manhattan Project collaborators, press releases, booklets, journals, and newspaper clippings.

Information on Use


The collection is open for research.


When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Wattenberg, Albert. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Biographical Note

Albert “Al” Wattenberg was an American nuclear physicist born in New York City, New York on April 13, 1917. He is best known for his work on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, and he was present on December 2, 1942 when the world’s first artificial nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, went critical. Wattenberg passed away on June 27, 2007.

On April 13, 1917, Al Wattenberg was born in New York City to parents Louis and Bella Wattenberg, and later attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Wattenberg received his Bachelor of Science in 1938 from City College of New York and his Master of Science in 1939 from Columbia University. Following graduate school, Wattenberg took a spectroscopy course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and began a career at Schenley Industries whiskey distillery in 1939. In 1940, he began working for US Steel and returned to Columbia to work on his PhD. In 1941, Enrico Fermi invited Wattenberg to join the team at Columbia who were working on the nuclear fission of uranium, and by 1942 Wattenberg put his PhD studies on hold to follow Fermi to the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory as a member of the Manhattan Project.

On the afternoon of December 2, 1942 when the Chicago Pile-1 went critical, Wattenberg was one of the 49 scientists present. In 1943, Wattenberg married Shirley Hier, and they would have three daughters together, Beth, Jill, and Nina. In July 1945, Wattenberg signed the Szilar petition urging the United States Commander-in-Chief not to resort to the use of the atomic bomb. In September 1945, Wattenberg co-founded the Federation of Atomic Scientists and became co-publisher of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Wattenberg returned to his studies at the University of Chicago, receiving his PhD in 1947, and left for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1950. After leaving Illinois in 1951, Wattenberg moved to MIT until 1958 where he conducted research which would later be incorporated into the standard model of particle physics.

Following his time at MIT, Wattenberg returned to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to work on K-meson decay in the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He retired in 1986, but remained active in the discipline through his involvement with the American Physical Society’s Forum on the History of Physics. Following Shirley’s death in 1989, Wattenberg married Alice Wyers von Neumann in 1992. He continued to publish articles until 2003. Wattenberg passed away in Urbana, Illinois on June 27, 2007 at the age of 90.

Scope Note

The Albert Wattenberg Papers are organized into 4 series: Series I: Writing; Series II: Commendations; Series III: Photographs; Series IV: Media Coverage and Publications. Series I contains speeches, articles and an essay written by Wattenberg. Series II, Commendations, contains a pin believed to be received at the 10th anniversary of the nuclear reactor reaching criticality, and an official commendation from the War Department. Series III contains photographs of Wattenberg and Manhattan Project collaborators. Series IV, Media Coverage and Publications, contains publicly distributed materials about Wattenberg, the Manhattan Project and Enrico Fermi. These materials include newspaper clippings, press releases, articles, and booklets.

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Subject Headings


Series I: Writing

Box 1   Folder 1

Contract between Wattenberg and Schenley Distillers Corporation, 1939

Box 1   Folder 2

Speech given by Wattenberg at the National Academy of Lincei, 1962

Box 1   Folder 3

"December 2, 1945: The Event and the people," The Bulletin of Academic Scientists, 1982

Box 1   Folder 4

"The Birth of the Nuclear Age," Physics Today, 1993

Box 1   Folder 5

"The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima," 1995

Box 1   Folder 6

"Fermi as my Chauffeur," University of Chicago "Fermi Remembered," September 2001

Box 1   Folder 7

"Fermi’s Historic Experiment of December 2nd, 1942," talk at Columbia University, November 2001

Series II: Commendations

Box 1   Folder 8

War Department, commendation, 1945

Box 1   Folder 9

Atom 10 Pin, 1952

Series III: Photographs

Box 1   Folder 10

Photographs, undated

Series IV: Media Coverage and Publications

Box 1   Folder 11

"Britain and the Atomic Bomb," British information Services, 1945

Box 1   Folder 12

University of Chicago press release, November 1952

Box 1   Folder 13

"The First Reactor," U.S. Energy research and Development Administration booklet, 1967

Box 1   Folder 14

"Department of Physics News," booklet, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1986

Box 1   Folder 15

"History of Physics Newsletter," Vol. III, Nos. 2 & 3, 1987-88

Box 1   Folder 16

"Unleashing the Atomic Age," Chicago Tribune, 1992

Box 1   Folder 17

"UI Emeritus Prof Has No Regrets," News-Gazette, 1995

Box 1   Folder 18

"The Secrets of great Groups," Leader to Leader, 1997

Box 1   Folder 19

Biographies of Enrico Fermi, 1956-2001

  • University of Chicago Magazine
  • MacMillan Encyclopedia of Physics
Box 1   Folder 20

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1945-1992

Box 1   Folder 21

Enrico Fermi stamps and "Must Do Better," Science, 2000

Box 1   Folder 22

Wattenberg Memorial Pamphlet and business card, 2007

Box 2   Folder 1

Newspaper clippings, 1951-1954

  • The Boston Globe
  • New York World Telegram and Sun
Box 2   Folder 2

Newspaper clippings, 1982-2001

  • Union News
  • Illiniweek
  • The New York Times