What Is the Real History of Lewis Strauss?

In the movie “Oppenheimer,” Robert Downey, Jr. plays Lewis Strauss, the nemesis of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Strauss took a most unlikely path to become one of the most important atomic energy advisers during the Cold War. Born into a horse-and-buggy world in 1896, Strauss devoured books on radiation and wave mechanics in high school, but his dreams of studying physics in college after graduation yielded to the reality of his father’s struggling footwear business.

Instead of toting textbooks, Strauss lugged trunks of shoe samples across the Southeast as a traveling salesman. He eventually became a self-made millionaire as a Wall Street investment banker, but maintained his love of physics. In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed Strauss to the newly created Atomic Energy Commission where he clashed with Oppenheimer.

While many Americans viewed the “father of the atomic bomb” as a national hero, Strauss saw Oppenheimer as a national security risk. To learn how Strauss orchestrated Oppenheimer’s downfall and blacklisting, read this piece I wrote for History.com.


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