What’s In A Name?

The Manhattan Project was a World War II nuclear weapons research and development program beginning as early as 1939 but starting in 1942 under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves. In 1942 Groves appointed Nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to head the project’s secret weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The project’s task was to create two types of atomic bombs that could be used during the war: a relatively simple gun-type fission weapon and a more complex implosion-type nuclear weapon.
Three different designs were contemplated but what do you call these new “secret weapons”? This is where Physicist Robert Serber comes into the story. Serber created the code-names for all three design projects, “Thin Man” (plutonium gun), “Little Boy” (uranium gun), and “Fat Man” (plutonium implosion). He chose the names based on their design shapes and names of characters from Dashiell Hammett detective novels.

Thin Man

“The Thin Man” was a novel, and 1934 film, featuring Nick and Nora Charles, (a retired detective and his wife) who were hired to find Clyde Wynant (described to be a “thin man with white hair”).
The bomb, however, was the proposed plutonium gun-type nuclear weapon using plutonium-239. It was an 8000 pound, 17 feet long, 38-inch wide tail and nose assemblies, and a 23-inch midsection (long and thin). The final weapon model proved to be impractical and was abandoned.

Little Boy

“Little Boy” would be the last of the three bomb designs and was named only to contrast the “Thin Man” bomb. It was, however, the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare and was the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., commander of the 509th Composite Group of the United States Army Air Forces.
It was a uranium- 235 gun-type, 9700 pound bomb that was 10 feet long and 38 inches in diameter.

Enola Gay
Fat Man

“The Maltese Falcon” was another Dashiell Hammett novel, and 1941 film noir, based on a private investigator named Sam Spade.
The story follows Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart on the right) and his dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers, one of which is named Casper Gutman (played by Sydney Greenstreet on the left) aka “Fat Man”, all of whom are competing to obtain a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette.
The bomb, however, was the second atomic bomb used in warfare dropped over the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 from the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney.
The device was indeed “fat”, it was a 10,300 pound implosion-type nuclear weapon with a solid plutonium core measuring 10 feet 8 inches long, and 5 feet in diameter.

If you want to learn more about the Manhattan Project here is a great book: The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition by Richard Rhodes
If you want to watch a video about the Manhattan Project take a look here: Modern Marvels – The Manhattan Project (History Channel)
If you want to watch the movie “The Thin Man” you can get it here: The Thin Man- 1934
If you want to watch the classic film noir “The Maltese Falcon” you can get it here: The Maltese Falcon- 1941