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Fallout Shelters

As the 1950s dawned, a Communist attack seemed imminent. The Russians had grabbed Berlin and in 1949 had successfully tested their own A-bomb.

China had fallen to the Communists, South Korea teetered on the brink, and America believed the Red menace had infiltrated their very society.

The House Un-American Activities Committee started its investigations in 1947, and by the end of the decade, a good many were convinced that Communists lurked under every bush.


When the obscure junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph P McCarthy took up the cry in 1950, the Great Fear was already at fever pitch.

The unnerving gongs of an air-raid drill echoed through US schools monthly. With quiet excitement, the little troopers scrambled under their little desks, chins tucked, arms clasped behind their heads, eyes and ears covered. Those Commies weren’t going to catch them napping.

Concrete and steel fallout shelters began to appear across the US in 1950. Prefab models followed, complete with wall-to-wall carpeting.

In back yards across the country, Americans stocked their shelters with all the canned goods, eating utensils, sanitation supplies, first-aid kits, reading material and drinking water needed to wait out the necessary two weeks of fallout from a nuclear explosion.

falloutshelter_002As relations between the US, Cuba and the Soviet Union deteriorated in the 1960s (in the wake of the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion and the near-miss of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and the Cold War became a reality, John F Kennedy urged Americans to build their own fallout shelters.

As a result, the fallout shelter industry experienced an unprecedented boom.

Until such time as the bombs actually started dropping, most families used their new shelters as family recreation rooms, or as cubby houses for the kids.