May 23, 2024

Historian speaks of stories from the Secret City

Y-12 Historian Ray Smith spoke at the second installment of the UT Science Forum about the history of Oak Ridge and the Y-12 Facility.

The second installment of the UT Science Forum presented Y-12 Historian Ray Smith on Friday. Smith has occupied the position for the last five years and is the first person ever to hold it.

Smith has been involved at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for 43 years. Smith is described as a natural rhetorician and storyteller, qualities that are important, because he is now the official historian of the facility. Smith presented his stories, his history and the history of Oak Ridge, each topic inseparable from the other when recalling the history of the Y-12 facility.

“There were thousands of trailers in Oak Ridge at the time…it was the fifth largest city in the state in 1945. The fifth largest city in the state wasn’t on any map,” said Smith.

He worked at the facility as an electrician and later became an associate director of maintenance. When a change in ownership eliminated his position, he used some calculated maneuvering to prove to be indispensible at Y-12, effectively creating the historian position for himself.

Since becoming historian, Smith has written eight books and helped publish five photo books. He has made several films, most notably one entitled A Nuclear Family, considered to be the definitive history of Oak Ridge.

Smith centered his stories on the people involved in the town and the facility’s involvement in atomic weapons. His lecture included a detailed summary of John Hendricks, known as the Prophet of Oak Ridge, who foresaw both the creation of the Y-12 facility and its role in national history. He also spoke of the more conventional historical figures such as General Leslie Groves and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Oak Ridge had 75,000 people living there, nearly all of them connected to the Y-12 facility. His lecture was accented by the photography of Ed Westcott who documented the workers at Y-12.


Edited by Nichole Stevens 




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