Children of the Manhattan Project
If you see a picture of World War II Oak Ridge, you are almost certainly looking at the work of Ed Westcott.
In May of 1945, William L. Lawrence, Pulitzer-Prize winning science
writer on loan from the New York Times, was directed by General Leslie
R. Groves to prepare press releases about one of the "biggest
stories of all time", the official story of the Atomic Bomb.
The job began on May 10 at Lawrence's special office in Oak Ridge. In the next two months, 14 separate press releases were prepared regarding the bomb, the science, the plants, the town of Oak Ridge, and the military commanders of the Project.
Ed Westcott shot hundreds of exposures for this effort, and, assisted by the late H. B. Smith, processed over 5,000 prints of the 33 photos selected for inclusion. Lt. George Robinson, Manhattan District Public Relations Officer, set up a restricted room at Oak Ridge with twelve handpicked WAC's to produce thousands of pages of the press releases for distribution. On July 27, the completed press packets, along with Ed Westcott's photos, were dispatched with Intelligence and Security agents from Oak Ridge to several key cities where they were held in secret until the order was given to deliver them to the news media.
At 11:00 AM on Monday, August 6, in the White House Press Room, Asst. Press Secretary Eben Ayres broke the news. In seconds, newswires throughout the world were humming with the story of the atomic bomb.
Oak Ridge seemed in shock until mid-afternoon, then great rejoicing spread through the city. Oak Ridge became the focal point of the news media, but local citizens, whose sworn secrecy had become second nature, confined their discussions to the information officially released.
A few days later the Japanese surrender ended the horrible fighting and the brutal Japanese occupation of eastern Asia and the Pacific. The most destructive war in history was over. The avoidance of the planned invasion of Japan brought about in part by the efforts of Oak Ridge, saved millions of lives, both American and Japanese.
Ed Westcott went to work for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1941. The following year he became the official government photographer of the top secret Manhattan Engineering District (MED) in Oak Ridge. Among the first in the new secret city, Ed shot thousands of photos documenting the construction and operations, as well as the lives and times of Oak Ridgers from the beginning. AMSE's World War II exhibit could essentially double as an exhibit of Ed Westcott's work. The National Archives is the repository for all of Ed's MED negatives, and offers an extensive collection of Westcott photos from the period.
Ed continued in Oak Ridge under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) until 1966, when he transferred to AEC Headquarters in Washington, DC. As official photographer of the AEC and its successor agencies, ERDA and USDOE, he photographed presidents, diplomats, dignitaries, and events of significance until his retirement in 1977. Ed Westcott was actually the only known U. S. Government photographer ever officially allowed inside the Soviet Embassy in Washington.