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Bradbury Science Museum

A treasured time capsule

One man's tools of the trade.
October 1, 2018
Wooden tool chest and tools

James Wilson "Jim" Snyder's tool chest.

What is less often in popular media’s foreground are stories of those in supporting roles, including the mechanics, craftsmen, and machinists continuing vital mission support after August of 1945.

Often, when one thinks about Los Alamos and the Lab, what springs easily to mind are the resulting weapons and prominent scientists and engineers who made them possible. The Manhattan Project is part of our social culture and national identity and our discourse about it continues to shape us now, 75 years after its inception. Through countless literary works, film and stage productions, and museum exhibits in many flavors, we learn about General Leslie Groves, the Lab’s first director J. Robert Oppenheimer, and many other of the Project’s scientists, engineers, and staff. We learn about the Ranch School, the homesteaders, the families who made the mesa their home. We uncover themes of grand scientific discovery and personal sacrifice and internalize the stories as our own personal backdrops.   What is less often in popular media’s foreground are stories of those in supporting roles, including the mechanics, craftsmen, and machinists continuing vital mission support after August of 1945.   

While memoirs of these unsung heroes may be few and far between, we at the Bradbury Science Museum have the unique pleasure of accepting historically significant artifacts relevant to the Lab’s history. Of these, perhaps one of the most touching and personal recent accessions is a beautiful, wooden tool chest belonging to James Wilson “Jim” Snyder. 

The tool chest, with Jim’s tools, was recently brought to museum staff by his daughter, Sharon Snyder. Jim worked as a machinist and inspector for over 20 years at Los Alamos. A former pilot with the U.S. Army Air Force, Jim began his career with Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and dedicated his time at work to ensuring the accuracy and safety of the equipment crafted in the machine shops. 

Tool chest and tools            tool chest and tools                                                                                                                            Peering into Jim’s tool chest, one sees well-worn, handcrafted tools, as well as jotted-down notes and dog-eared handbooks. Like looking an artist’s studio, the viewer gets a sense of Jim’s attention to detail and affection for his tools. As the public’s “Window to the Lab”, the Bradbury welcomes its responsibility to help envision the narratives of our diverse workforce, past and present.  As part of a new exhibit slated for the Lab’s training center in White Rock, Jim’s tool chest will represent not simply examples of hand tools used decades ago, but the full measure of talent and dedication offered in service, over decades and now, by thousands of highly skilled and treasured craftspeople.