Last living person to have witnessed the first reactor

49 people, some luminaries, some journeymen, one woman amongst them all, signed a celebratory Chianti bottle after witnessing Enrico Fermi and Walter Zinn’s Chicago Pile-1 “go critical” (that is, achieve fission), on December 2, 1942. The first one of anything is always special. I spend an entire chapter on CP-1 and this wintry Chicago morning, and am a fetishist on the event, but I just came across something new from the University of Chicago, as part of its 75-year CP-1 anniversary activities. There’s a charming article (“A witness to atomic history“) about Ted Petry, the only original still alive. He’s 93, was a decidedly junior lab assistant back then, and left the atomic field altogether soon after, so it’s no wonder I never really came across him in my research.

Recollections of very old participants in history rarely say anything a historian can make use of. But one of Petry’s quotes does strike me as accurate and atmospheric. I decide to at least collect notes on this article.

(Image from U of C website.)