‘Wilhelm’s Way’: How one Midwesterner saved the Manhattan Project

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Winner of the Minnesota 2023 Book awards for general nonfiction, Wilhelm’s Way took first-time author Teresa Wilhelm Waldof ten years to write. It tells the story of the Midwesterner who helped save the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Dr. Harley Wilhelm was brought on to the Ames Project to help the Manhattan Project solve the problem of purifying uranium.

Teresa says it’s a story about achieving things no matter where you come from. “So [Wilhelm] grew up in southern Iowa on a farm down there. He was a sharecropper’s son and very meager means. And a pivotal moment happened in his life that brought him to be on the Manhattan Project at just the right moment.”

And the book also has a personal connection to the author. Wilhelm is actually Teresa’s grandfather.

She says, “He was so humble. And as I was growing up, I didn’t know this about him. He had won many awards. When he passed away in 1990, we opened his closet in his bedroom, and there was a shelf full of awards. And I was like, ‘Who is this man? I just knew him as my grandpappy.'”

She’s excited for people to check out his story. She says that most of the stories that come from the Manhattan Project and the creation of the nuclear bomb typically revolve around the physicists. Now it’s time for a chemist’s story to be front and center.