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Iowa State Daily
Ames, Iowa
Wednesday, October 11, 1995

Former ISU professor and member of the Manhattan Project
dies over weekend

by Heather WIESE, Daily Staff Writer

Harley WILHELM, co-founder of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and a scientist with the Manhattan Project, died at age 95 Saturday at the Story County City Memorial Hospital in Story City.

The Manhattan Project during World War II spawned the atomic bomb.

In 1931, WILHELM earned a doctorate degree and taught metallurgy at ISU, until Frank SPEDDING, head of the chemistry department that led the development of the bomb, recruited Wilhelm to assist in the Manhattan Project.

"It was a good thing that SPEDDING talked Harley into being a part of the project," said Harry SVEC, a former ISU researcher who worked with WILHELM to produce the highly pure uranium needed for the bomb.

WILHELM "was the kind of fellow who was destined to make a contribution to a lot of people, not only because he was a scientist, but because he was a human," SVEC said.

SVEC called WILHELM a "tinkerer" who always tried to find an easy way to do a difficult job. SVEC said if he was stranded on a desert island with WILHELM, "we would probably end up with a flush toilet. Harley was a very smart guy. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Drake University and you don't graduate Phi Beta Kappa because you are a dunce."

WILHELM'S metals research led to 44 inventions and in 1986 his contributions to science were recognized at ISU with the renaming of the Metallurgy Building, now Harley A. WILHELM Hall.

WILHELM served at ISU as both a scientist and a chemistry professor until 1971, when he retired at age 70.

Though WILHELM never served in the military during the war, his contributions to the war effort were immeasurable.

It was "war time, something that the present generation has no real feeling for," SVEC said. "When the project first started we knew that if we were successful, it would stop the war."

With friends and relatives already in the war, considering the social ramifications of the bomb was far from the concerns of the scientists on the project, SVEC said.

The idea that the bomb was a social blunder is "a great fallacy that pops up these days, especially among the younger generation," SVEC said. "There has been a lot of fallout for peaceful use, especially in medicine."

The atomic bomb and radar work of the World War II era "laid the foundation for the electronics we use today," he said.

WILHELM also played semi-professional baseball and was an accomplished accordion player. He played on a bowling league with SVEC for several years.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Christian Church of Ames. Burial will be in the ISU Cemetery.

NOTE: Dr. WILHELM was born near Ellston, Iowa, on August 5, 1900, the son of Bert Clement and Annie Bell (GLICK) WILHELM. He graduated from Ellston High School in 1919.

Transcription and note by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2010

To submit your Ringgold County obituaries, contact Sharon R. Becker at
srbecker@windstream.net.
Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.

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