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Library helps solve atomic bomb mystery on “History Detectives”


Microfilmed patent documents in UT’s Hodges Library helped PBS’s “History Detectives” resolve a mystery relating to the invention of the atomic bomb.

Episodes of “History Detectives” attempt to solve historical puzzles submitted by viewers. In an upcoming program, a contributor is certain that his father worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. His father refused to talk about his war assignment, except to say that he sold his patent to the U.S. government for a single dollar. Along with the patent, the contributor has a letter from the Atomic Energy Commission stating that his father’s patent had been declassified.

According to Harvard doctoral student Alex Wallerstein who is one of the experts consulted in the episode, the Manhattan Project generated over 5,600 inventions relating to the atomic bomb, resulting in some 2,100 patent applications filed in secret with the U.S. Patent Office. Many of those secret patents have now been declassified, allowing the “History Detectives” to unravel the father’s wartime secret.

Was this invention used to build the atomic bomb? To find out, watch the Manhattan Project episode of “History Detectives” 9 p.m., Monday, June 29, on your local PBS station.

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