James Bryant Conant, an American chemist, was born Mar. 26, 1893. Conant played a vital role in the Manhattan Project of World War II; many people have heard of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the chief scientist on the Manhattan Project, and some know of his boss, General Groves, but few can tell you who Groves worked for–it was Conant, who was chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, which oversaw the project to build the atomic bomb. Conant came to Washington on loan from Harvard, where he had been president since 1933, and where he single-handedly turned Harvard from a rich-boys school to a major research university. Conant was on the cover of Time Magazine four times: first when he was appointed Harvard President at age 40 (first image above); again when Harvard celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1936 (second image); in 1946, honoring Conant’s role in the reform of Harvard (third image); and in 1959, when he was celebrated for his active leadership in reforming American secondary education, especially science education (fourth image). The last image above is a photo taken at the Harvard commencement in 1947; Conant is in the center of the front row, between Gen. Omar Bradley (to the viewer’s right of Conant, and looking nothing like Karl Malden) and Secretary of State George Marshall (who would announce the Marshall plan a few minutes later); T.S. Eliot is next to Bradley, and Oppenheimer is at the far left.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City