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Tightly wound, Ken was a dutiful husband and father but not a demonstrative one.

Combined with his constant air of preoccupation, his reserve must have been confounding to a child.

By the time he reached Henry Ford High School, Ken had decided to pursue a similar career, though he was fascinated by the idea of drawing the blueprints, not building the tools.

The metropolitan area was then home to Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, as well as to thousands of small shops that produced machine parts, brake linings, and industrial tools for the Big Three automakers.

KEN SILVERSTEIN is an investigative reporter for the Washington, D. A former contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, in which a portion of this story first appeared, he has written for Mother Jones, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among others. With his father at work and his unmindful mother listening to music in the living room of the family’s small apartment in suburban Detroit, he rummaged through the medicine chest and undersink cabinet and gathered toothpaste, soap, medicines, cold cream, nail polish remover, and rubbing alcohol.

He mixed everything in a metal bowl and stirred in the contents of an ashtray used by his mother, a chain-smoker.

Growing up in suburban Detroit, David Hahn was fascinated by science.

While he was working on his Atomic Energy badge for the Boy Scouts, David’s obsessive attention turned to nuclear energy.

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