Office of Legacy Management

Bill Coors Recognized for Historic Role in Manhattan Project

January 18, 2017

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Left to right: Colin Colverson, Oak Ridge Site Representative and Office of General Counsel; Padraic Benson, LM Historian; Tracy Atkins, LM Principal Representative for MAPR; Thomas Pauling, LM Acting Director.  Seated: Bill Coors.
Left to right: Colin Colverson, Oak Ridge Site Representative and Office of General Counsel; Padraic Benson, LM Historian; Tracy Atkins, LM Principal Representative for MAPR; Thomas Pauling, LM Acting Director. Seated: Bill Coors.

On December 2, 2016, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management Acting Director Thomas Pauling, presented William Kistler “Bill” Coors with the Energy Secretary’s Appreciation Award in Golden, Colorado. The award recognizes  Mr. Coors’ historic role in providing critical insulators to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Manhattan Engineer District (also known as the Manhattan Project) during World War II.

While Mr. Coors may be best known for his beer brewed in the Rocky Mountains,  few know about his contribution to World War II and the Cold War. In  January 1943, General  Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, met  with Y-12 Plant operators  in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and insisted that the first calutrons needed to be built and operational  within 7 months. The enormous calutrons  were needed for electromagnetically separating fissionable isotopes of uranium-235 from naturally occurring uranium, for use in atomic weapons. With such  a tight schedule to build an untested technology, the Y-12 project experienced setbacks with insulators constantly breaking down due to the extremely high-voltage used by the calutrons.

Searching for a solution, Richard Condit from the Berkeley Lawrence Radiation Laboratory telephoned Mr. Coors of the Coors Porcelain Company in Golden. The company had the experience, expertise, and capacity  to make the desperately needed, large quantities  of high-quality ceramic insulators capable of handling the tremendous electrical loads produced by the calutrons. Mr. Coors accepted the request and immediately got to work.

Although Mr. Coors had no idea what his insulators were being used for, they arguably saved the Y-12 project from failure. By February 1944, Y-12 began sending uranium-235 to Los Alamos, New Mexico,  to create the nation’s first atomic weapons.

Mr. Coors celebrated his 100th birthday in  2016.