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Safety Begins at Home

On this date in 1962, there was an announcement by Dan Robinson, Burleigh County civil defense director. Robinson urged everyone to remember that the public fallout shelters in Bismarck were for the benefit of transients and those who were unable to build their own shelters. He urged Bismarck residents to plan ahead for their own families in case of emergency.

Cold war tensions were at a fever pitch in the early ‘60s. There was widespread fear that nuclear war was possible, and an underlying fear that nothing could be done to prevent it. Schools taught children to “Duck and cover,” hiding under their desks and covering their heads. The cartoon character Bert the Turtle sang a catchy little tune to remind children how to respond.

President Eisenhower supported the construction of fallout shelters to provide protection. On October 6th, 1961, President Kennedy encouraged families to build shelters in their homes. He said, “We owe that kind of insurance to our families and our country.” Kennedy also asked Congress to designate more than $100 million for the construction of public fallout shelters. Suitable public buildings were designated as shelters and stocked with supplies. These buildings displayed signs informing the public of their availability as shelters.

Newspapers and magazines began to spread the word about the benefits of fallout shelters. In January 1962, Life Magazine ran a cover story with an illustration of a proposed shelter with beds, an eating area and supplies of food. How-to pamphlets gave homeowners instructions on building their own shelters. Building material manufacturers took advantage of the growing concern, with hardware stores offering product demonstrations and building plans.

Brochures gave advice on what products should be stocked in a shelter. Food and water were among the most important. Canned food was on the list. After that came bedding, clothing, a first aid kit, tools, and batteries. Some brochures advised readers to plan on sheltering for five days. Others suggested 30 days was more advisable.

Today, fallout shelters are not a priority. But at one time, they were very much on the minds of Americans.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bismarck History. “It Happened in Bismarck.” http://www.bismarckhistory.org/?id=55&offset=700  Accessed 23 September 2018.

Groovy History. “1960s Fallout Shelters.” http://groovyhistory.com/1960s-fallout-shelters-safety-begins-at-home Accessed 23 September 2018.

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