How to build your very own nuclear bunker (1961)

“Do-it-yourself” nuclear shelters were the latest talking-point of the American man-in-the-street as another Cold War crisis developed, reported the News Letter in September 1961.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 10:00 am
Members of CND hold a vigil and wreath laying, Sheffield, August 6th 1970, the 25th anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima. Picture: Yorkshire Post archives
Members of CND hold a vigil and wreath laying, Sheffield, August 6th 1970, the 25th anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima. Picture: Yorkshire Post archives

The News Letter noted: “As President Kennedy and Mr Khruschev exhanged tough talk on Berlin in July, war fears grew fast in America.”

The News Letter’s correspondent in the US continued: “The average European or other non-American might be astonished to realise how quickly many people here were once again gloomily discussing how they might be bombed, and what was the best way of surviving a nuclear bombardment.”

In the State of New Jersey, for instance, following Mr Kennedy’s television talk to the nation on Berlin, the civil defence director (Colonel Carl Koenig) reported that his office had been flooded with calls asking for plans for shelters and civil defence hints.

Newspapers carried columns of advice on survival in a nuclear war. One evening newspaper, in a commuters’ residential area a few miles outside of New York, typified the mood by devoting a whole page to hints to householders on fitting themselves up with shelters, complete with diagrams of the various types available.

One newspaper, describing the latest shelters available, almost sounded as if it were discussing television sets or washing machines as it wrote blandly: “A do-it-yourself basement shelter is the cheapest means of providing protection against radioactive fall-out . . . The family with no basement will spend more money.”

The News Letter’s correspondent wrote: “Already there seems a possibility that having a shelter and detection kit may become as much a fashion as a believed necessity. Housebuilders no longer advertise just swimming pools and the like as extras. One housing estate, in a fashionable dormitory are of New York, advertised a ‘family fall-out shelter’ as an optional extra for those buying homes there.”

They added: “Built as an integral part of the house, it is available for an extra $500 (£170) plus another $100 to $200 for fittings.

“Families without a basement are advised in the civil defence manual that they can have a concrete block hide-out erected in the garden for about $700 (about £250) plus builders’ fees.”