Manhattan Project Report Signed by J. Robert Oppenheimer Sells at Auction

The document was “likely the very first publicly available report on the creation of the bomb,” according to RR Auction

Piece of paper with lots of signatures against black background
The document was signed by 24 contributors to the Manhattan Project, including J. Robert Oppenheimer. RR Auction

report describing the creation of the atomic bomb signed by J. Robert Oppenheimer sold for $53,594 at auction last week.

The RR Auction sale took place just a few days after Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer cleaned up at the Oscars, where it won in seven categories (including Best Picture and Best Director). The movie is the highest-grossing biopic ever made, with nearly $1 billion in international box office sales.

The 200-page document—titled “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”—was signed by Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who directed the Manhattan Project, and 23 other contributors, including Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence, James Chadwick and Harold Urey. It provides a detailed description of the “technical and administrative history” of the atomic bomb’s development.

White piece of paper with typed text on it
Henry Smyth wrote the report ahead of the first atomic bomb test in 1945. RR Auction

“This document not only represents a crucial chapter in scientific history but also serves as a poignant reminder of the ethical considerations surrounding technological advancement,” says Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction, per Fine Books & Collections.

Henry Smyth, a physicist who worked as a consultant on the Manhattan Project, wrote the report in the weeks before the first atomic bomb test took place on July 16, 1945, in a remote area of southern New Mexico. The detonation, code-named “Trinity,” could be seen from as far as 200 miles away.

The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan took place on August 6 and August 9. The report was released to the media a few days later, on August 12.

“It is thus likely the very first publicly available report on the creation of the bomb,” according to the lot listing.

Nellie V. Sanderson, the secretary for General Leslie Groves (who oversaw the Manhattan Project), collected the signatures, intercepting the men as they came to meet with Groves and asking them to sign the report.

Along with the report, the anonymous buyer also got several items that belonged to Sanderson, including letters, documents and a Manhattan Project shoulder patch. One of Groves’ business cards was also included in the lot.

Separately, the auction house also sold a typed letter Oppenheimer sent to Stephen White, a journalist at Look magazine, in 1952. In the letter, signed by “Opie,” Oppenheimer described the atomic bomb as a “weapon for aggressors.” It sold for $17,270.

The auction featured many other historical documents, including a typed letter signed by Albert Einstein, a Revolutionary War discharge document signed by George Washington and a check signed by Marilyn Monroe.

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