One Local Woman Correcting History

For seven years from conception to publication, Teresa Wilhelm Waldof stayed true to her vision to set the historical record straight about a key portion of the Manhattan Project. For those who need a
refresher, the Manhattan Project was the culmination of efforts during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons, leading to nuclear power and nuclear medicine. And according to Waldof’s findings, her grandfather was instrumental and mostly unnamed in this endeavor.

When Waldof was young, she recalls attending a ceremony in which a building at Iowa State University
was being named in her grandfather’s honor. At that age, she did not understand his importance in
history. At the ceremony, a speaker stated, “If it weren’t for Harley Wilhelm, we’d all be speaking
Japanese.” While Waldof sees this as an overstatement, it began her search to learn just what Harley
Wilhelm’s role was in American history.

A chemist, Dr. Harley Wilhelm was tasked with purifying uranium with his team at Iowa State. This had
never been done. In 1942, they accomplished this herculean feat making way for the Atomic Age.

Waldof explains, “With my father and other family members in their 80s and 90s, I decided I needed to
do this now. I knew they were great sources and a logical place to start when researching my

“Wilhelm’s Way: The Inspiring Story of the Iowa Chemist Who Saved the Manhattan Project” is Waldof’s first book. She explains, “I became a sleuth. To find details and information, I read through documents and experiments. I do not have a chemistry background so I had to learn terminology just to determine if the old photocopies and records were important. I handled documents from the 40s that were
probably still radioactive!” Waldof notes that if she had started the project when she had first had the
idea, it would have been nearly impossible. “If I had started just 10 years earlier, digitized documents
would have been nonexistent. I was able to find small town newspaper and archival records online,
making research more manageable.”

Once Harley Wilhelm’s team had accomplished pure uranium, they were tasked with unimaginable
production goals. They needed to go from the 20 grams first purified to 2,000 pounds per day—a
1,000% increase in a two-month period.

Again, they succeeded.

“This story is amazing,” Waldof explains. “It’s a story about ingenuity, passion, stick-to-itiveness and

Waldof’s book is a self-published work that received Honorable Mention in the national awards given by
Writer’s Digest. It was a finalist in the biography category of the Independent Author Network.
Currently, it is a finalist for both the Minnesota Book Award, general nonfiction and Iowa’s Excellence in
History Award. Waldof was asked to present during World Nuclear Energy Day—a global event
celebrating the 1942 successful experiment during the Manhattan Project. Her book received mention in
the ASM International’s magazine, “Advanced Materials and Processes.” The book—by all accounts—is a success.

Waldof says, “I am in shock at the reception. I am definitely thrilled! I think it speaks to my hard work
over seven years. I love the fact that this is a historical account and a biography and an inspiring story.
To be recognized, I’m over the moon.” She continues, “After all my research, I can categorically say that
chemist Harley Wilhelm—my grandfather—invented the process to purify uranium and supplied the
uranium core for the history-making experiment in December 1942. Without that pure core, the project
would have stalled, the U.S. would have invaded Japan and likely millions more would have died.”

Filled with other details such as Iowa’s first car accident, when university tuition cost $15 per course and
the time her grandfather scored every point in a Drake basketball game, Wilhelm’s Way is indeed
evidence of the passion and perseverance in every page.

“Wilhelm’s Way: The Inspiring Story of the Iowa Chemist Who Saved the Manhattan Project” is the first- ever account of Dr. Harley Wilhelm’s innovations in chemistry and manufacturing that led to the success of the Manhattan Project. Available wherever books are sold. For author-signed copies, order at


About Author

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Gina is a writer and author living in Rochester with her husband, two entertaining children and whoodle pup.

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