Robert Ingersoll Howes Sr. was an electrical engineer and one of the first 100 scientists recruited to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project.
Howes received his Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering with a minor in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin in 1934.
After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1935, he moved to New Mexico in search of a better climate. For two years, he designed dams and other structures on Indian reservations with the Corps of Engineers. In 1937 he joined Oilfield Services at Breeze Burners ranch in Santa Fe, designing burners for oil burning stoves.
When the war broke out, a physicist acquaintance urged Howes to apply for a secret mission in Los Alamos, just outside of Santa Fe. In 1943, Robert Howes joined the small but growing team of scientists at Los Alamos.
He was an SD2 Group Leader and Assistant Shops Department Head. He shared few details about his work on the project with his family. His son, Robert Howes Jr., was later told that his father’s task was to take the concepts from men like Oppenheimer, Fermi, Bohr, and Teller and produce mechanical items for the construction of the first atomic weapons.
Unlike many of the scientists and staff recruited to Los Alamos, Robert Howes was already living in the area before the project. In 1943, the Howes family moved into the Sundt apartments onsite in order to be closer to the Lab. They shared the building with Enrico Fermi, who fixed the heater when it failed.
Luana Howes, his second child, was born in the army hospital in January 1945. As Los Alamos was a secret location, her birth certificate reads that she was born at “Box 1663, Sandoval County, New Mexico.”
Robert Howes remained in New Mexico after the war and worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was the project engineer for a fast nuclear reactor using man-made plutonium and helped develop the Los Alamos Human Counter, a predecessor of the modern MRI and CAT scan machines.
He retired in 1973, thirty years after he started work on the Manhattan Project. Howes died twenty-two years later in 1995 at his home in New Mexico.
You can watch an interview with Howes's son Robert Howes Jr. here.