The secret of the general’s safe

What did General Groves stash for safekeeping during the Manhattan Project?

October 5, 2021

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General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project and candy aficionado

“Safekeeping” takes on a heightened meaning for protected materials from the Manhattan Project. The top-secret World War II initiative was cloaked in redactions, code words, and need-to-know access limitations.

In the case of General Leslie Groves, “safekeeping” was sometimes literal — he kept precious items locked in his Remington Rand Safe Ledger Tray. The safe is now in the Bradbury Science Museum’s collections. The artifact begs the question: what did General Groves keep inside?

Was it private?

Was it secret?

Was it ... delicious?

The candyman

General Groves loved candy. He was very protective of it, too.

In the book “The General and the Bomb,” author William Lawren wrote of Groves’ daily habits, “Lunch was a sandwich brought from home, generously supplemented by the rock candies he kept stored in a private safe.” In a 1965 interview, his wife, Grace Groves, observed of the general, “He doesn’t smoke. He likes candy.”

While other Project Y leaders soothed their stress with alcohol and tobacco, Groves was an upright character who abstained from the usual vices. His teetotaling was perhaps a byproduct of having a pastor for a father. The general’s preferred indulgence was a steady supply of sweet treats. In addition to his beloved rock candy, anecdotes mention Groves’ munching on fudge and frequent candy bars.

Practical snacking

The Remington Rand Safe Ledger Tray was a perfect choice for a man who frequently traveled by train to Manhattan Project sites around the country, and who wanted to keep sugary snacks readily available. The locking cabinet was advertised in the 1940s as portable, since casters were attached, and able to provide both a working surface when the lid was closed, and a large accessible area to reach contents when the lid was open. 

Leave it to General Groves to upgrade the usual candy jar to a protected, functional piece of equipment vital to the daily operations of the Manhattan Project. Safekeeping, indeed.

Read more about General Groves’ love of the sweet stuff on this Facebook post from our friends at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

To check out other artifacts from the Bradbury’s collections, visit our online collections.