The Department of Energy traces its origins to World War II and the Manhattan Project effort to build the first atomic bomb. As the direct descendent of the Manhattan Engineer District, the organization set up by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop and build the bomb, the Department continues to own and manage the Federal properties at most of the major Manhattan Project sites, including Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
In a national survey at the turn of the millennium, both journalists and the public ranked the dropping of the atomic bomb and the end of the Second World War as the top news stories of the twentieth-century. The Manhattan Project is the story of some of the most renowned scientists of the century combining with industry, the military, and tens of thousands of ordinary Americans working at sites across the country to translate original scientific discoveries into an entirely new kind of weapon. When the existence of this nationwide, secret project was revealed to the American people following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most were astounded to learn that such a far-flung, government-run, top-secret operation existed, with physical properties, payroll, and a labor force comparable to the automotive industry. At its peak, the project employed 130,000 workers and, by the end of the war, had spent $2.2 billion.
The legacy of the Manhattan Project is immense. The advent of nuclear weapons not only helped bring an end to the Second World War but ushered in the atomic age and determined how the next war, the Cold War, would be fought. In addition, the Manhattan Project became the organizational model behind the remarkable achievements of American "big science" during the the second half of the twentieth century. Without the Manhattan Project, the Department of Energy, with its national laboratories--the jewels in the crown of the nation's science establishment, would not exist as it does in its present form.
The Department of Energy is proud of and feels a strong sense of responsibility for its Manhattan Project heritage. Following the end of the Cold War, the Department began a process to thoroughly document the project and preserve and interpret--in place, if possible, in a museum or other setting if necessary--the historically significant physical properties and artifacts from the Manhattan Project era. In the 1990s, the Department developed a list of eight Manhattan Project properties, designated as "Signature Facilities, that provided the essential core for successfully interpreting the Manhattan Project mission of developing an atomic bomb. In 2011, the Department joined with the Department of the Interior in recommending to Congress the establishment of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, with three sites at Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos. Finally, the Department has developed and made available to the public, in print. online, and on display, a variety of Manhattan Project historical resources, including histories, reports, and document collections.