The threat of nuclear war spurred a move to build domestic fallout shelters. In the back of many people's minds: the ever-present specter of a mushroom cloud. In the accompanying image, the aftermath of the atomic explosion that decimated Nagasaki, Japan on Aug. 9, 1945.
Against the backdrop of escalating tensions with the U.S.S.R., President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to build bomb shelters. For much of the Eisenhower administration, the government did not promote the construction of home fallout shelters. That changed with the 1957 publication of the Gaither Report, which backed the building of shelters that "permit people to come out of the shelters and survive."
During a speech on civil defense on on Oct. 6, 1961, Kennedy also pressed Congress to allocate more than $100 million to construct a network of public fallout shelters.
An artist's rendition of a temporary basement fallout shelter, 1957. Starting in the late 1950s, the Office of Civil Defense began to promote home fallout shelters. It also issued a series manuals that showed Americans how to construct their own home shelters.
American fallout shelter from around 1957.
Family fallout shelters came in all shapes and sizes. Some were more modest, some were more elaborate. Their popularity was a byproduct of the anxiety over growing international tensions. In 1961 a majority of Americans believed a nuclear war would take place within five years.
Fallout Shelter, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, HI
Fallout shelter with a 10-inch reinforced concrete ceiling with thick earth cover and concrete walls built by Louis Severance near his home near Akron, Mich. It featured a special ventilation and escape hatch, an entrance to the basement, kitchen, running water, sanitary facilities, and a sleeping and living area for the family of four. The shelter cost about $1,000.
Photograph of a display of survival supplies for the well-stocked fallout shelter, 1961.
Nuclear bomb shelter. The Office of Civil Defense pledged to provide public fallout shelters with at least a couple of weeks' worth of supplies After two weeks, it was believed, the initial intense radiation from a nuclear explosion would drop to a level where civilians could safely venture outside.
Home, sweet home
In a Nov. 16, 1962 archive photograph, Mrs. W. C. Bruner and daughter Rhonda, 8, pose in their home fallout shelter in Knoxville, Tenn. The photo's original caption was headed "Prepared for the Worst."
The John F. Spalding family, left, and the Chester R. Richmonds demonstrate how people of the town would sit out a nuclear attack and its radioactive aftermath in Los Alamos, New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic and hydrogen bombs Jan. 29, 1962. They are in the well-stocked basement of a scientific laboratory building. Boxes marked MPF contain "multi-purpose food." The American scientific community is divided on the value of a fallout shelter program.
Husband helps his wife through the entrance to their fallout shelter, Herdon, Virginia
The old United States civil defense logo. The triangle emphasized the 3-step Civil Defense philosophy used before the foundation of FEMA. In 1961, the Community Fallout Shelter Program got underway, the idea being to map out and supply as many fallout shelter spaces as possible.