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Oral Histories

Radiologist Hymer L. Friedell, M.D., Ph.D.


Short Biography

Early Training and Research

Pre-War Radiation Therapy

Pre-War Experience at the University of California

Amount of Information Provided to Patients

Prominent Researchers Working at Berkeley

The Army Medical Corps and the Manhattan Project

Work at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

Inspection of Manhattan Project Facilities and Proposed Sites

Search for Data on Human Exposure to Radiation

Purchase of a Cyclotron; the Manhattan Engineer District's Early Biomedical Program

Plutonium Injection Studies

Patient Consent in the Plutonium Injections

Advisory Role in the Early AEC Biomedical Program

AEC Isotope Distribution Committee

Work at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

FRIEDELL: I'm not sure I was interested in joining. I was just interested in making sure that I was discharging my obligation. I don't know that I looked upon it with great enthusiasm. But at the same time, I felt it was a responsibility of mine. They agreed, and then I received rather odd orders.

I received orders to appear at the Presidio for induction, which I did. Then I was given special orders to go to Chicago and respond to a Captain Craftan. I was to appear in civilian clothes at the MET Lab.63 The address, I believe, was 5125 University Avenue in Chicago; I believe that's the address, if I remember correctly. Anyway, that was the MET Lab, and there I was received by Dr. Craftan, who immediately instructed me to go to New York and see a Colonel Marshall and a Major Blair, who would instruct me further. That simply explains to you how I got into this.

In August of 1942, I left the University of Chicago, and was a participant in what was then the Plutonium Project. Although we never really used that term. First of all, we [never] used the word plutonium. We used to talk about plutonium as "product"; and "uranium," I think, was called "tuballoy."

I then discovered that Dr. Stone had been going there at periodic intervals, and the decision was made, apparently, to transfer him to Chicago, as well—I guess a little before I got there. I think Dr. Stone felt that I would then be on his staff, as I did. Well, we began then to pursue certain activities; primarily with regard to [medical] surveillance of individuals to make sure that we knew something about their physical condition.

I examined a lot of people. One in particular was Edward Teller,64 whom I got to know very well. I don't know whether you want this on the record or not, but Edward Teller—first of all, I discovered, had one leg. He lost his leg, and taking the history—I recorded it somewhere—taking the history, he lost his leg in apparently a streetcar accident in Berlin. At least, that is as I remember the history. He has a prosthesis, and he had lost part of the leg below the knee. I think it's the right leg, but I'm not sure now. He also had a hernia, a very large hernia, and I think to this day he might think I was a great diagnostician. But anybody could identify it. He had it correct[ed] at the [University of Chicago's] Billings hospital.
MELAMED: So you were doing [medical] surveillance of some of the scientists?
FRIEDELL: We were doing surveillance of the various people. I remember once examining Herbert Anderson, who was the assistant, that is well-known, to [MET Lab director Enrico] Fermi. He didn't see what the hell I was doing there anyway. I was just cluttering up the place, and doing all these nonsensical sort of things. But we were doing surveillance, doing basic studies, making some estimates of how we would measure the radiation; then beginning to look at some of the agencies that were involved in radium and uranium.

I was assigned to go out and see a lot of these; partly because it was easier for me to do this as an officer. I could easily get orders to do this, whereas there were civilian personnel there, and they could have done it as well as I. But they probably thought I should do it. Besides, I had a little more experience with radioactive materials. As a matter of fact, I had had more experience than most, having come from, in effect, the citadel of radioelements [(the UC Radiation Laboratory)];65 I knew quite a lot about it. In some ways I was more familiar with some of it than Dr. Stone was, because he was involved, really, in the broad administration of the department and wasn't doing direct research himself. But the Army—I should say this first: I believe that a lot of this was still under the Office of Scientific Research and Development.66 It may have been in the OSRD still. But the Army was beginning to take over.

I discovered that there were grand plans when I went to New York, and was met by Colonel Marshall (no relation to the General Marshall). It was Colonel William Marshall, and a Major Robert Blair, I remember them very well, and some other officers.

I then discovered why it was called the Manhattan District—I'm sorry, it was never called the Manhattan Project—but it was called the Manhattan Engineer District of the Corps of Engineers. I think it was basically because a major office was in New York at that time. If I remember correct, their offices were on 29th and 5th [Streets]. I would go there not infrequently. So I began to learn that the program was going on. Before long, it became clear that they were going to go ahead and develop a program on their own.
MELAMED: Are you talking about a medical program, then?
FRIEDELL: A biomedical program of their own. Because they felt they had responsibility for the general surveillance in one way or another. It is my conjecture—and I want to make it clear that it's my conjecture—I believe that they wanted someone with considerable stature who had had experience with this to head the program. I believe they asked Dr. Stone to do it. I'm not sure that is the case, but I believe it to be so. I think that he was importuned not to do it and to remain with what was then the Plutonium Project.

The Army then decided, then conferred with me a little bit, because they thought I could make some suggestions. I really had no real suggestions to make. If I remember, I thought there were various superior individuals in radiology, that they might contact. I believe I may have even mentioned Dr. [Stafford] Warren67 in Rochester. But the only reason I would have done it—I didn't know him at all—it was only because he was a recognized leader in the general field of radiology. I felt that I was too young to take on this august responsibility, and I didn't know where it would lead to.

This created some minor problems for me, because here Dr. Stone had refused to accept this, if he indeed did. Now they were intent upon identifying someone, and about late December, or something on that order, they asked Dr. Warren to come on as a civilian consultant. That's when I first met Dr. Warren. Here I was, pursuing my activities as part of the Manhattan Engineer District, but Dr. Warren was my immediate consultant, and I knew that eventually he would become the director. They decided then that he should become—have a commission in the Army. And later arranged—there are some interesting anecdotes with this. But in any event, he became the director sometime in March of 1943.
FISHER: Had you already moved? Where were you living at this time?
FRIEDELL: At this time, I had already moved. As soon as I was detached—that is, as soon as I had been ordered to Chicago—I arranged to have my family go back to Minneapolis. And then, I tried to find a place for us to live in Chicago. Now recall, I had already lived in Chicago when I was at the Tumor Institute, so I knew something about the arrangements. Actually, I had lived in the vicinity of the university. I lived somewhere off University Avenue. When I was transferred there, I finally found a place. I believe I lived in Cornell Towers in Chicago. I moved my family there. At that time, my family consisted of my wife and a daughter about four or five years of age.
FISHER: Then you moved to Oak Ridge,68 when?
FRIEDELL: I moved to Oak Ridge—it must have been in the middle of '43 or something of that order. We'd lived in Chicago a little over a year, and then moved to Oak Ridge in '43, and then continued there until 1946.
MELAMED: Can you generally characterize your responsibilities, what you did in this whole period, as part of the MED?

Inspection of Manhattan Project Facilities and Proposed Sites

FRIEDELL: Until Warren actually came onto the scene, I was really under Dr. Stone's direction. And I was pursuing activities that Dr. Stone determined were appropriate, which were generally surveillance. I visited various activities [(sites)]. I visited Harshaw Chemical,69 which was involved in the process, and to see what hazards I could identify. I went to places near Boston who were involved in these activities.

One of the things that I did that is of interest to you, is that in our conferences we were discussing how indeed we would assign whatever we learned about animals, to humans. Then we began to think, "Where are there any places where there are any human studies that would be useful?" Then, of course it occurred to me, it came like a flash, that Memorial Hospital [in New York City] had a group of patients that had been treated with total-body [irradiation], and there might be a source of information that could be used.

The idea of doing any work on humans was not seriously considered. Because first of all, the problems of secrecy. We didn't want anybody to know that we were working on radiation. Work on animals was secret, because we didn't want anyone to be aware of this. As a matter of fact, publications in the literature, once they came into our office, were stamped "secret." Throughout the literature—it wasn't to be discovered by anybody that we were looking at data in the literature. All of this, then, had to be handled in a secret fashion. That was obvious. Secrecy probably made a big difference.

The other reason was that it was necessary to do some control: how were you going to do it? The more we examined it, the more it seemed that we would somehow learn to do some extrapolation from the data that we did [have] on animals. There is something to be said here about this that I got from Norman Hillberry, who was Dr. Arthur Compton's right-hand man, who was really his executive officer. You'd probably get to see Dr. Compton if you wanted anything done in the lab. Norm Hillberry would be the man to see. You probably know his history. Later on, he left Chicago and went to Tucson at the University of Arizona. It's not called University of Tucson.
FISHER: University of Arizona.
FRIEDELL: There isn't a University of Tucson—the University of Arizona. As a matter of fact, when I was later-on looking at the history, he confided in me something rather interesting that might be useful. It's an anecdote. I'm quoting, really relaying it from what Dr. Hillberry said. He [(Hillberry)] said, in a facetious way, he said that they were concerned about the pile70 that they were going to build and the enormous amount of radioactivity that would be produced.
FISHER: At Hanford?71
FRIEDELL: No, in their experimental piles [at the Met Lab, in Chicago], and their other studies. They said, "Well, doctors don't know much about this stuff, so we've got to get a good biophysicist." So they got a hold of Dr. Kenneth Cole. Kenneth Cole is really the first individual who was assigned any responsibility in this. Then he said, after reflection—they said, "What will we do if something serious happens? We don't have anybody who has medical credentials. So we better get somebody who has medical credentials." That's when they contacted Dr. Stone, who came on as a consultant and who would visit on-and-off.

Now it always puzzled me that Chicago [—which] was going to be the seat of the plutonium project for a while—would not have contacted their own Departments of Radiology. Perhaps they did. And it may be that they suggested Dr. Stone. I don't know. But anyway, they were not involved in any way, as far as I know.
FISHER: Maybe to maintain secrecy, perhaps?
FRIEDELL: Possibly to maintain secrecy. But Leon Jacobsen72 was involved immediately because he was a hematologist. And, as you know, one of the ways we use for monitoring was blood cell counts;73 which are obviously a pretty crude way of doing it, but nevertheless was one of the ways that we used. So, he became involved in the project.
FISHER: What was your understanding of the project when you were working that one year at Chicago?
FRIEDELL: I don't know that. Because of secrecy, there was a considerable compartmentalization. Often, we weren't told everything. But my understanding was: that they were going to see whether they could build an experimental pile. Then we knew that they needed a moderator.74 We learned a lot about the nuclear science by the fact that they looked at moderators, and they decided that carbon [(graphite)] was a very good one. And we used to see carbon blocks around there and machining of carbon blocks. There was already some talk about—
MELAMED: (smiling) I could shut the door.
FRIEDELL: Did somebody open it?
FISHER: (smiling) We didn't ever close the door.
FRIEDELL: It's no secret. So we knew that they were going to do this. We were discussing—we saw reports. I have them somewhere in my files, as you do. You have everything I had, as a matter of fact, but you probably can't find them.


You see, I have much smaller files. And so, the presidential commission,75 when they came along, copied a lot of this stuff and they have it.

In any event—so we got to know what the approach would be. I seem to recall that they must have been studying this approach for a long time, because I recall when I was in Chicago, that Du Pont76 was sending its representatives regularly to visit various people at Chicago (which was later called the Plutonium Project). We never called it the Plutonium Project. We said, "the metal MED project," or whatever it was.

I do recall a weather expert who was looking at the possible kinds of discharges from tall columns, under various conditions; which he called wind roses. They must have already been looking at some kind of chemical plants in Hanford. Of course, I didn't know the exact approach. After all, you didn't ask too many questions; it wasn't your business. But I knew that some things were going on. As I said, we learned a lot by osmosis. The fellow who was really the original biophysicist was a fellow by the name of Ernest Wallen. He was the first one who [was] a biophysicist interested in radiation hazard assessments and surveillance, and so on—of course, the group [leader] later on.

Even before it really gelled, it seemed to me that they had already on the drawing boards, had an approach to this. I can tell you that for some reason, General Groves77 asked me to go to Hanford even before it was built—maybe I've pointed it out in some of my collections of material— to review the possible hazards that might occur if they had some kind of a nuclear pile there. He didn't really go into any details. He just asked me whether, indeed, I could identify any conditions that would prohibit any kind of operation at that time.

Actually, I went all over the place, walked over some of it, flew over most of it, and reported back to him that I could not identify anything that was unusual. My guess would be, simply looking back, that I must have done it very early, because it would have been more appropriate for Stafford Warren to go there than I. So it must have been before Stafford Warren came on the scene.

[Groves] also asked me to go to Oak Ridge, before it was built, partly to examine whether there were medical facilities in Knoxville that could handle the growth of, what were then called the Clinton Engineer Works. I had a chance to survey these areas, long before they ever got well-developed.
FISHER: Was this while you were assigned to Chicago?
FRIEDELL: This was still while I was in Chicago. I'd never heard of the Clinton Engineer Works, and I had never been to Knoxville. Obviously, if I were, the only places I would have been would have been at Chicago and Oak Ridge. It was when I was at Chicago.
FISHER: When you went to Hanford, was the site construction activity quite intense?
FRIEDELL: No, as far as I could make out, there were none.
FISHER: This was before construction, then?

Search for Data on Human Exposure to Radiation

FRIEDELL: Before construction. They must have looked at this for a long time, because they wouldn't suddenly send me off there. That's, as I surmise, the situation. My then somewhat oblique analysis is: that they must have been planning this for some time, with the Du Pont people coming there regularly, with my visiting there. An expert on environment and wind shifts [was] doing studies there. We got a chance to look at them. This must have been planned, even in the OSRD78 days before the Army took over.

One of the things that I did was, when we talked about human studies—and that's something you want to learn about, as I recall—here was a possibility to get some information. So I was instructed by Dr. Stone, and I got privileges. I had to always find someone, since I wasn't the director and chief. In order for me to travel anyplace, I had to receive orders.

I got orders to go there to Memorial Hospital. I didn't go to Memorial Hospital alone. As I recall, I went to some of the places around Boston, and then came back to the Memorial Hospital, and then spent several days in New York; possibly visiting the headquarters there. But in any event, working with the records. As I said, when I was looking over some of this data, I suddenly discovered that I had a list of patients that I must have gotten from the Memorial Hospital. I brought them along with me.

Incidentally, I didn't fill this [oral history agreement form] out. I'm glad to fill it out, but it requires some little decision making on your part. You have to tell me whom I'm—the way this comes out. I'll sign it.
FISHER: We'll help you with it.
FRIEDELL: There's no question about this in any way, but [tell me] how exactly would you like it filled out and I'll fill it out. But we can leave that for later.
MELAMED: No problem.
FISHER: We'll do that. We can't forget to do this. These are notebooks that you're showing us now from that visit to—
FRIEDELL: Right. I don't know what this is, right there.
FISHER: That one says, "Beverly, Mass."
FRIEDELL: That's one of the places. I don't understand how I got this. This would be secret. So this must have been enclosed in some "secret" envelope and put away; and when it was declassified I got it back. What I want to show you is this. You see. Here is the list. I must have gotten it.
FISHER: It's a list of people's names with dates. It would be from 75 to 225.
MELAMED: We're discussing the papers Dr. Friedell is showing Darrell.
FISHER: Then there are two numbers: maybe a first blood number, a second blood number, and a time period.
FRIEDELL: Let me see what I think they are.
MELAMED: Dr. Friedell is examining the papers for us.
FRIEDELL: This is the period of treatment, I think. And these are the white counts: 10,000, 4,400, 50. This must be the rads that were delivered.
FISHER: Then the reduction in blood cell count.
FRIEDELL: Right. But the main point . . . Then there are these.79 These are patients with solid tumors, I believe. Carcinoma of the tonsil, carcinoma of the breast, endothelioma.80 These, I think, are [the] studies. Then, later on, Dr. Stone made contact with Dr. Lloyd [F.] Craver, who had been my immediate supervisor when I was at the Memorial Hospital.81 So I got these from the records there, and I brought them back, and I gave them to Dr. Stone, I believe. Then there was, at some appropriate time, I guess—they put them in the records, or they decided not to pursue it any further. But in effect, this was material that was being used for some kind of assessment of what happened to patients, who had been exposed to whole-body radiation. So I have these here, and I suppose they can be reproduced.
FISHER: I think they would be of interest.
MELAMED: Maybe we could copy them when we're done.
FRIEDELL: I think we can probably reproduce them here, and I'll get you a copy.
MELAMED: Thank you.
FRIEDELL: That is my—since you specifically asked about my experience—that was my experience with regard to the Memorial Hospital data, as I recall. In my discussion with Dr. Craver—I don't know how I did this—because obviously, there was a matter of secrecy. That may be that Dr. Craver had already been clear[ed]. However I did this, there was—I had access to the data. And this may be the basis for whatever studies we were thinking about, in regard to humans.

But what kind of human studies you could do wasn't clear. Obviously, you couldn't do total-body radiation with normal subjects [as it was not medically ethical]. That was out of the question. No such decision was really ever seriously considered; partly because of the secrecy. If they had decided to do it, they probably would have made a contract with somebody in a hospital someplace, and they would have sent these patients over. Then again, to send a normal patient over, no way it could be done. There was no question.

Then, all the studies were essentially directed towards doing animal studies. These were done ad infinitum. In some ways, it was probably overdone, probably a lot of redundancy. But it was a fairly new problem. They didn't quite know how to handle this thing, and so a number of agencies were involved.

I should say something about the University of California and how I got to know Dr. Hamilton better, and his group. First of all, I was a little astonished that Dr. Lawrence hadn't been involved in the Manhattan Project. The reason was, that he had worked with radioelements and [had been] learning about the metabolism longer than anybody, probably. He was considered an authority in at least therapeutic uses of this. It turned out later, I discovered that he had made a commitment to the Air Force to study oxygen tensions at various altitudes. And they needed radioactive materials, primarily. I think oxygen could be obtained. So he was involved in that program, and made this commitment.

Then, what also was interesting in retrospect, and it seemed a little odd at first, was that Dr. Hamilton made all his reports to the University of Chicago; possibly because it was considered the plutonium project. But nevertheless, all other groups like [the University of] Rochester, and so on, always reported directly: made their own reports and submitted them somewhere to the Manhattan Project someplace. It wasn't known as the Manhattan Project, so it came to the Manhattan Corps of Engineers. And then, the reports from the University of Chicago all then came to us, once it was organized.

It was always interesting that the reports came under the general [(General Groves)]. First of all, it always identified Compton as the director, Stone as the director of the biomedical studies, and then Dr. Hamilton as the director of the studies which were being done on fission products.82 It was an illogical, in a way, thing to do. And it was obviously the best place to do it because they had the cyclotron working there. They would then go ahead and do these studies. The reports were always made through Chicago, and then, in turn, we would receive it.
FISHER: In Oak Ridge?
FRIEDELL: Oak Ridge. For a while, while I was in Chicago, I would receive it.
FISHER: Was Colonel Warren in Oak Ridge when you arrived?
FRIEDELL: Yes. He was not in Oak Ridge. But when it was decided that the headquarters would be in Oak Ridge, we made plans to move, and he made plans to move from Rochester to Oak Ridge. So we came simultaneously, and I was already visiting with him and communicating with him.
FISHER: You mean the headquarters of the Manhattan Engineer District was moved from New York to Oak Ridge?
FRIEDELL: It was moved from New York to Oak Ridge, correct.83 The new director was Colonel Kenneth Nichols.84
FISHER: Up in Chicago?
FRIEDELL: No, in Oak Ridge.
FISHER: The new Manhattan Engineer District's office.

Purchase of a Cyclotron; the Manhattan Engineer District's Early Biomedical Program

FRIEDELL: Obviously, all of the shots were really being called by General Groves from Washington. Often, General Groves would call on me to do things. One of the anecdotes is that—I have written it up—was that he asked me to go to Boston to Harvard [University] to buy their cyclotron. The reason for asking me to do it—and I was still at Chicago—the reason for asking me to do it was: they wanted to camouflage the idea that the Army was buying a cyclotron—well, that the Manhattan Engineer District was buying a cyclotron.

Ostensibly, the cyclotron—actually—the cyclotron was being purchased for Los Alamos.85 We used the facade of my representing the [Army's] Medical Corps, which wasn't true, and that I wanted it for medical purposes. We were going to treat lots of leukemia, some polycythemias, and use it for the usual medical reasons: iodine preparation for possible therapeutic studies and iodine for diagnostic studies, and so on. I made this pitch as best I could. I'm not sure that they really believed it. But nevertheless, we adhered to it, and they finally agreed to it.

What isn't known—if you look through the records, you'll find that Robert Wilson, who later became director of the Fermi Lab [National Accelerator in Batavia, Illinois], had written up this. But one of the things he didn't realize, didn't know, was that [Harvard President] James [Bryant] Conant had written a letter, a handwritten letter, to General Groves, saying, "We will transfer this to you for one dollar," or something like that. The reason I know about it is that General Groves asked me to come to Washington first. And then he explained to me what he wanted done. In fact, he didn't explain it to me, he directed me. He gave me this letter to read, which outlined what was going to happen. We were going to get the cyclotron, no matter what. We wanted to purchase it.

He told me, "When it comes to money, ignore that. Whatever they [(Harvard's negotiators)] want, you agree to, because they're not going to get it, anyway." Then they apparently had Robert Wilson, [in] the group was a finance officer, a legal officer; Robert Wilson; and myself. I did most of the talking because I was trying to convince them that this was going to the Medical Corps. I think—I've forgotten the name of the chairman of the Department of Physics, who was a well-known, towering individual in physics—he must have had an inkling of what was going on, because some of his staff had already disappeared to Los Alamos, Ken Bainbridge,86 for example—so he may have been aware of this, but he didn't dare say anything. I think he wasn't the chairman; the chairman was a professor of History or Administration. The names are there someplace.

In any event, we finally agreed that it would be done. Robert Wilson was an expert on [the] cyclotron, and he knew how to dismantle it and put it together; and he was going on to Los Alamos anyway. I think they shipped it to the medical depot to further obscure what was happening, and then got it from there on.
MELAMED: It would seem from the story that General Groves was pretty closely involved in the biomedical program. He kept a close eye on it and he oversaw it.
FRIEDELL: He was involved, because I'm sure that he had to make some decisions about these various things. He was involved, as a matter of fact, in the fishery study. The reason the fishery study, I think, was done at the University of Washington [(Seattle)] (it was a logical place, anyway) was: I think that General Groves had done some studies there, or may even have been a graduate of the University of Washington, and then a program was created. I didn't really know about it until it was full-fledged, because I think it was handled primarily by Dr. Warren and General Groves. In any event, he was interested, and he would often contact me or General Groves about various problems.

One of the issues that I think we need to discuss—on your list there may be some other things you wanted to ask about—is the studies that were done at—the human studies with plutonium. We ought to get into that at the appropriate time. Are there any other?
FISHER: Just leading in to that. Can you briefly describe Colonel [Stafford] Warren, his personality, and your relationship with him?
FRIEDELL: Colonel Warren was, I think, a very easily approachable man. People liked him. He was very likable. He was very enthusiastic. I would say that he was very interested in research, and had a lot of contact with research. As a matter of fact, I discovered later that one of the reasons they considered him very seriously, was that he had contracts with the Office of [Scientific] Research and Development. I discovered from a member of the staff here, who had one Jack Coy, who was on the staff of the OSRD, who recalls that his contracts with the University of Rochester for Stafford [Warren] were abruptly canceled. Then he didn't know why, but afterwards, he discovered that [(Warren's appointment to Oak Ridge)] was the reason.

He was a very affable sort of person. People liked him. He delegated responsibility easily. I think he got along very well; people liked him. I think, though, that I wouldn't have said he was a superior scientist. I thought that some of the physicists, for example, were more rigorous in their approaches to scientific problems. But he was pretty good. He was interested. I would say he wasn't quite at their level. He would often turn to me with problems. The truth of the matter is that I knew more about radioactivity than he did at the time, because I had been involved in it at great extent. He leaned on me very extensively and gave me many opportunities to pursue my own approaches. As in the Army, I always did it under his authority.

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