Cold War Hysteria

            Across the nation, Americans struggled with the decision to rely on public shelters or build private shelters. Many fearful Americans opted to build their own shelters. Here are a few anecdotes typifying contemporary American shelter sentiment:

  • In August 1961, Time Magazine cited a Gallup poll indicating that nine million families had stored food away for an emergency and three million had altered their home to provide some sort of protection.[i]
  • California home builder Richard Doremus offered bomb shelter options in a new development in the San Fernando Valley in 1961.  Twenty out of twenty-six buyers bought the shelter option.
  • A Chicago suburbanite threatened to affix a gun to his private shelter as he was worried that his less-prepared neighbors would attempt to seek refuge at his home.
  • A Las Vegas civil defense organizer suggested a 5000-man militia would be necessary to ward off refugees from California heading into Nevada in the event of nuclear attack.
  • After Kennedy championed the effort to establish community shelters, home shelter manufacturers quickly saw a sharp decline in sales. “All this blah-blah-blah about a $30 shelter or a $300 shelter and about private and community shelters,” lamented a shelter manufacturer. “People got so confused they didn’t know what was right and they still don’t.”[iv]

[i] “Civil Defense: One in Five Getting Ready,” Time Magazine, Aug 25, 1961, accessed October 6, 2010,,9171,895614,00.html. 

[ii] “Modern Times:  Built-In Bomb Shelters,” Time Magainze, March 24, 1961, accessed October 6, 2010,,9171,827725,00.html.


[iii] “Religion:  Gun Thy Neighbor,” Time Magazine, August 18, 1961, accessed October 6, 2010,,9171,872694,00.html. 

[iv] “Civil Defense: Boom to Bust,” Time Magazine, May 18, 1962, accessed October 6, 2010,,9171,896157,00.html.

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