A display of essential survival supplies for a well-stocked fallout shelter, c.1961. (Photo: NARA)
During the Cold War, as the arms race between Soviet Russia and the United States escalated, the perceived threat of nuclear attack became increasingly heightened. In response, the U.S. developed procedures to protect its citizens should the worst happen. In 1956, the National Emergency Alarm Repeater—NEAR—warning siren device was implemented to alert citizens to a nuclear attack. Students were drilled in “duck and cover“ practices at schools. Books with titles such as Nuclear War Survival Skills were issued. And the only means of protection against radiation in the event of such a catastrophe was a fallout shelter.
Designs for fallout shelters appeared in pamphlets, subway advertisements and displays at civil defense fairs. President Kennedy even got involved. In September 1961, the same month that the Soviets resumed testing nuclear weapons, Life magazine published a letter from the President advocating the use of fallout shelters. Rather terrifyingly, it was printed over an image of a mushroom cloud.
But that was just one of the many interesting graphical representations of the threat of annihilation. Below, check out our collection of fallout shelter designs and photographs that show just how people in the 1950s and 1960s tried to prepare for the unthinkable.
A 1958 drawing of a family fallout shelter designed to accommodate four to six people. (Photo: NARA)
A Civil Defense bus/subway poster from 1959. (Photo: Public Domain/Courtesy Civil Defense Museum)
A fallout shelter in Michigan, c. 1960, for a family of four. It had a 10-inch reinforced concrete ceiling and concrete walls. (Photo: NARA)
“See the Family Fallout Shelter”: the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization exhibit at a local civil defense fair. ca. 1960. (Photo: NARA)
Directions to a fallout shelter at a high school in Boston, 1962. (Photo: NARA)
A display for different types of family shelters from the 1960s. (Photo: Public Domain/Courtesy Civil Defense Museum)
Fallout shelter supplies being distributed to nuns in Goffstown, New Hampshire, 1963. (Photo: NARA)
A woman takes an inventory of supplies for her household’s fallout shelter, c. 1950s. A tub of potato chips sits under the table. (Photo: NARA)
An artist’s rendition of a temporary basement fallout shelter, ca.1957. (Photo: NARA)
A basement family fallout shelter, including a 14-day non-perishable food supply, a battery-operated radio, auxiliary light sources, a two-week supply of water, and first aid, sanitary, and other miscellaneous supplies and equipment, ca.1957. (Photo: NARA)