Civil defense and the protection of the citizens of the United States started before the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. This was in the form of air raid sirens, air riad shelters, and blackout orders.
However, once the atomic bomb was born and the nuclear arms race began, protection became even more necessary because a new threat arose with the creation of these new weapons: fallout.
It was soon apparent as nuclear weapons were tested that radiation from the bombs could travel far away from the blast in the form of fine dust and particles. Not only would people in the area of the blast be affected, but cities and towns miles away could also see radiation issues with fallout.
Tensions with The Soviet Union only increased once they made a nuclear weapon of our own, and the possibility of nuclear war became a very real thing. In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy had given a speech, and during that speech pledged to increase civil defense in the US.
On July 25, 1961, he gave another speech regarding the Berlin crisis (which is available above). During this speech, he outlined his wish for citizens in the United States to be able to protect themselves in case of attack, and with the line below (around the 16:15 mark), the Fallout Shelter as we know it came to be:
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 minimal essentials for our survival.
By September of 1961, the Fallout Shelter sign had been created and the National Fallout Shelter Survey began. It would be close to a year in many places before signs were posted and shelters were stocked, and this continued through the mid-1960s until funding started to decrease and the program fell out of favor.
As the Fallout Shelter program turns 60 this year, it is important to remember where it began in the first place.
© 2021 Fallout Five Zero
Audio clip of President Kennedy’s speech retrieved from JFK Library and is listed as public domain.