September 1961: Fallout shelters

Against a tense backdrop -- the construction of the Berlin Wall and the resumption of nuclear testing by both the Soviet Union and the United States -- Americans are taking a heightened interest in shelters that would (presumably) protect them from a nuclear attack and its radioactive aftermath.

May 9: "New York's Nelson Rockefeller went to Washington last week, with several other governors, to huddle with John Kennedy and urge a more vigorous federal building program for fallout shelters. Rocky seized the occasion to enjoy his first post-election meal with the President. On the menu: Rocky's own New York State Civil Defense "fallout biscuits," vitaminized crackers that can sustain life for weeks on end. Rockefeller has stockpiled seven tons of them -- and coffee, sugar, powdered milk, water -- in a 1,000 person fallout shelter under the New York State Capitol at Albany, first shelter built at any state capitol. (He has also built shelters under the Governor's mansion and his family estate at Pocantico Hills.) At last week's meeting, Rocky proudly presented Kennedy with a package of the biscuits, urged him to eat. The President just nibbled." (Time magazine, May 19) Photo at left shows Rockefeller inside a shelter model set up in The New York Savings Bank; photo by Walter Sanders.
* "Rockefeller's Civil Defense Program" (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1960): @
* Excerpt from "Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked" (book by Dee Garrison): @

May 25: In his "man to the moon" speech, President Kennedy assigns civil defense oversight to the Secretary of Defense and seeks increased funding.
* Earlier blog post (May 25): @

July 25: In his speech on the Berlin Crisis, President Kennedy says: "Tomorrow, I am requesting of the Congress new funds for the following immediate objectives: to identify and mark space in existing structures -- public and private -- that could be used for fallout shelters in case of attack; to stock those shelters with food, water, first-aid kits and other minimum essentials for survival; to increase their capacity; to improve our air-raid warning and fall-out detection systems, including a new household warning system which is now under development; and to take other measures that will be effective at an early date to save millions of lives if needed. In the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved -- if they can be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available. We owe that kind of insurance to our families -- and to our country. In contrast to our friends in Europe, the need for this kind of protection is new to our shores. But the time to start is now. In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack. I know that you will to do no less."
* Earlier blog post (July 25): @

September: The National Fallout Shelter Program begins. From the Civil Defense Museum: "The purpose ... was to locate, mark and stock as many fallout shelter spaces as possible. The local governments (city, state) did the work as far as delivering and placing the supplies in the shelters, while the federal government supplied the actual shelter supplies. The local government civil defense was the owner of the fallout shelter supplies in its municipality. These fallout shelters were for radiation protection only, although some of the shelters would have offered some blast protection depending on the structure's design and construction that the shelter space was located in. 70% of shelter space surveyed across the U.S. was located in the upper floors of high-rise buildings. These shelter spaces would have obviously afforded no blast protection. It was never intended for fallout shelters to be "bomb shelters" as some believe.

September 1: The Soviet Union ends a three-year moratorium on nuclear testing.
* Earlier blog post (August 31-September 1): @

September 15: In response, the United States begins a series of underground nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test Site.
* "Operation Nougat" (from nuclearweaponarchive.org): @
* "Operation Nougat: Final Report" (from U.S. Public Health Service): @
* "United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992" (from U.S. Department of Energy): @
* "Vela Uniform Participation in Operation Nougat and Gnome" (Department of Defense film): @

September 15: Life magazine's cover story, "How You Can Survive Fallout," includes a letter dated September from President Kennedy that says, in part: "The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy. But in these dangerous days when both these objectives are threatened we must prepare for all eventualities. The ability to survive coupled with the will to do so are therefore essential to our country."
* Sept. 15 edition: (cover story begins on Page 95): @

September 29: "The Twilight Zone" airs an episode called "The Shelter," in which neighbors turn against one another after a report that nuclear weapons have been launched.
* Watch the episode: @
* Episode summary (from TV.com): @

September 30: "Ethics at the Shelter Doorway" appears in the magazine America, aka the National Catholic Weekly Review. The author, Father Laurence C. McHugh, in talking about the need to protect one's self even at the expense of others, writes: "I doubt that any Catholic moralist would condemn the man who used available violence to repel panicky plying crowbars at the shelter door."
* Excerpts from article: @
* CBS footage of McHugh: @
* Excerpt from "One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture": @
* "Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104" (1964 educational film, Office of Civil Defense): @

December: Following up on Kennedy's July 25 speech, the Office of Civil Defense begins distributing the booklet "
Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack."

* Booklet (from archive.org): @
* Events leading up to publication (from conelrad.com): @

Other resources
* "Fallout Shelters" (from www.u-s-history.com): @
* Civil Defense Museum: @
* www.undergroundbombshelter.com: @
* www.conelrad.com (Cold War history, culture and propaganda): @
* www.atomictheater.com: @
* "Radiological Defense" (film by Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization): @
* "About Fallout" (1963 film by Office of Civil Defense): @
* "Nuclear War Survival Skills" (book by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1979): @
* "One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture" (book by Kenneth D. Rose): @
* "Fallout Shelter: Designing for Defense in the Cold War" (book by David Monteyne): @
* "Dr. Strangelove's America" (book by Margot Henriksen): @

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