Bill Manly’s remarkable career can be attributed to good fortune—not to mention hard work and knowing his stuffBill Manly admits that he’s been lucky. During a long and storied career in both government and the private sector, and even as a kid, he’s had his share of good breaks.
For the past decade, the former ORNL metallurgist, program manager and industrial executive has been a consultant on technology transfer and economic development matters for ORNL and the Oak Ridge community. He currently serves on the board of the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee.
Much of the advice he proffers and influence he wields is home-based in a Spartan little office in Building 4500-South. His origins are just as modest.
“During the Depression, my father made a living running a trapping line. He caught foxes, raccoons and even skunks and possums and sold the pelts. Later, I worked in a local agricultural plant for 25 cents an hour, but later was raised to 33 cents an hour, the biggest percentage raise I ever received!
"I don't know metallurgy; you don't know business. Keep me out of trouble and you'll have this place in three years."
“Mother said I had to go to college, so I went half-time to Antioch College. When World War II broke out, I joined the Marines. They sent me to Notre Dame and put me in a holding pattern for officer candidate school.”
Manly says he got a free year at Notre Dame out of it. That was some good luck. It was to continue.
“We were preparing to invade Japan when they bombed Hiroshima. Instead, I was sent to Tsingtao, China—the same city as the beer—to secure the city, disarm the Japanese troops and send them back home. The son of one of the Japanese families there translated for us, and later I stayed with “Mama-san” and her family to protect them from any unfriendly Chinese. I got to know the family pretty well and years later contacted them when I was working with Mitsubishi on a project in Japan.
“We expected thousands of casualties in invading Japan. I was damn lucky in the war.”
Manly went back to Notre Dame to study metallurgy, where he worked on a phase diagram of a nickel-cobalt-chromium system that he says serves as the basis of high-temperature alloys.
“One of my professors at Notre Dame told me that Oak Ridge National Laboratory was starting a metallurgy department. I arrived in early 1949 just prior to the gates being opened.
“I have joked that the only reason I married my wife was to get a D house, which required you to be married with two kids of the opposite sex and one older than six years of age.”
He may have been pushing his luck with that last remark, but Manly set to work on a project to understand the ductility of beryllium, which was needed for Idaho’s Materials Test Reactor. “We never could make beryllium ductile—you have to use powder metallurgy techniques to this day.”
Manly also worked on solving problems with aluminum cans to contain uranium slugs for the Hanford and Clinton reactors and to study the properties of thorium. At about that time came a new project: The Aircraft Propulsion Program, or nuclear airplane.
“A study called the Lexington Project was asked if it was possible to make an atomic-powered airplane that could fly continuously. It became the basis of a huge portion of our reactor metallurgy program and the largest total program this Lab ever had. It built the Metallurgy Division (Metals and Ceramics’ forerunner). We started the welding and brazing lab, powder metallurgy and ceramics labs and the creep and corrosion labs, which looked at liquid metals and fused salts for reactor coolants and fuels. Materials were crucial to the project: You had to have thin heat transfer surfaces, which demanded very thin walled tubing for the aircraft radiator and heat exchange, and you had to be able to inspect the tubing for flaws.
“We formed the first nondestructive testing group of any magnitude in the United States.”
Manly’s group came up with a new form of the alloy Hastelloy-B, called INOR-8 after International Nickel Company and Oak Ridge. That alloy was to become an industrial alloy called Hastelloy-N.
“But the nuclear airplane died. With the space program, you didn’t need radar scout airplanes. This put the Lab in a fix because many divisions depended on funds from the program.
“About this time a Congressional group returned from visiting the Magnox Gas Cooled Reactors in Great Britain and proposed that AEC start a gas-cooled program. A group from ORNL headed by Bob Charpie spent two days in Washington convincing the AEC managers that ORNL was the perfect place to conduct a study on the gas-cooled reactor. This resulted in three reports that suggested various types of gas cooled reactors and the programs that should be followed to develop this type of reactor in the United States.”
The program came at a fortunate time for ORNL. When Charpie left the Laboratory for Union Carbide, Manly says Director Alvin Weinberg “took a terrible gamble” by making him director of the Gas-Cooled Reactor Program.
Manly was also involved in early and secretive fusion programs known as Project Sherwood (i.e., “sure would be nice if it worked”). He’s credited with an enduring remark at a fusion program meeting in Washington, D.C.
“I sat in on all the discussions; heard all the problems about confining the plasma and the wall problem. They turned to me about how to make the neutron-absorbing blanket for the reactor.
Bill Manly: "We could solve the blanket problem on a Sunday afternoon."
“I told them that if they could solve the plasma and wall problems, we could solve the blanket problem on a Sunday afternoon,” Manly recalls.
“I knew I’d never live to see it, so I decided I was gonna get the sharpest, youngest metallurgist I could find to work on it. And we placed Bob Clausing on the program.”
Eventually, beset by growing frustrations and his wife’s suggestions that he “go out and make money,” he left ORNL for a position in private industry, first with Union Carbide. But he would soon change jobs.
“I got the task to bring Haynes Stellite into the twentieth century. I was to bring a ‘new era’ to Kokomo. Before, I was such a critic, I couldn’t visit the laboratory at Haynes. But people can change. I hired the first Ph.D. at Kokomo, a specialist from India.”
Manly rose through the ranks. During a fishing-business trip, the company’s president, Ray Behake, told Manly: “I don’t know metallurgy; you don’t know business. Keep me out of trouble and you’ll have this place in three years.” Manly says that’s what occurred.
Former ORNL colleague Charpie was with Cabot Corporation when they approached Union Carbide Corporation to buy Haynes Stellite. As part of the contract, Manly had to go to Cabot for three years. For years he has joked that he was sold into slavery, although he left Union Carbide and joined Cabot to help them expand into advanced materials.
Manly retired from Cabot in 1986, bought property in Kingston and prepared to settle down with his antique tool collection and blacksmithing hobby. He stayed in touch with ORNL and one day received a call from the director at that time, Herman Postma.
“He asked if I would be interested in consulting for the Lab; to show them that there is such a thing as a marketplace. I told him all I needed was an office with a phone and a secretary. And I’m here.”
While he’s been “here,” Manly has garnered career awards that include, in 1993, the National Medal of Technology. Manly acknowledges that good fortune has had a part in that sort of success; however, he says the death of his wife of 50 years, Jane, earlier this year was a blow that has caused him to reflect on his future plans. He’s moved into Oak Ridge and his property on Watts Bar Lake is up for sale.
A colleague at CROET, Jeff Deardorff, sums up what Manly brings to the economic development scene at Oak Ridge:
“Bill is internationally recognized and an acclaimed metallurgist with little tolerance for fuzzy thinking. His value on the CROET board alone as a technical subject matter expert has been worth literally millions of dollars to DOE, CROET and its clients.
“Ironically, I believe Bill Manly gets a bigger kick out of testing people’s mettle. No matter how good the performance, Bill will challenge you to get off your plateau and go up to the next performance level. Look at Bill’s illustrious life as a Marine, a father, a Boy Scout leader, as a technician and business manager. There is no room for mediocrity. I think that’s what makes him a great leader.”
Manly says success with economic development is long term. “It’s a slow process any time you try to attract industry. The only way we can compete is with our technology, skill, knowledge and availability to the public.
“But we’re having some success. The medical radioisotopes company that located here did so because it was close to their source of isotopes and knowledge. It’s a good skill match and the community is acceptable to industries that deal with radioactive products. That’s an ideal industry for Oak Ridge. You should never have a steel mill here.
“Have we turned the corner? Are we being successful?
“My answer is yes.”—B.C.