1962 fallout shelter design booklet


The Mt. Holly Mayor found a stockpile of civil defense documents at an an estate sale. He uploaded this DIY "Family Shelter Designs" booklet published in 1962 by the U.S. Dept. of Defense. As a bonus, he linked to the fun 1983 Donald Fagan video about a hot date in a fallout shelter.

The New Frontier - Department of Defense Family Shelter Designs from 1962


  1. I’ve got four folders of this sort of thing on my bookshelf (mostly British though), as the design/psychology of Cold War public information was the focus of my master’s thesis… I guess I ought to scan some of it if people are interested…

    1. Yeah, that’d be pretty awesome! Get them on flicker or something and we can all have a look at Cold War nuclear-coffin designs.

  2. Boy they don’t look very comfortable. Now picture them after two weeks in a space so small that nobody can stand up and only one person can lie down at a time. With a pail for a bucket and a candle for light.

  3. I once stumbled across two booklets on the same subject published by the Canadian government – one booklet from the mid-60s, the other published in the mid-80s. Vastly different in style. In the 1960s one, the paranoia was much stronger; by the 1980s, it had much more of a generic do-it-yourself handyman feeling to it, with lots of construction-for-dummies diagrams. Unfortunately I forget most of the details; the only part I remember now was a suggestion that if you couldn’t line your walls with appropriately thick concrete or whatnot, you could make do by using office filing cabinets filled with sand.

  4. Mom pretends to read in the utterly dark shelter while young Thad tries out a new “keep from having to pee” position. Meanwhile, Dad regrets voting for Goldwater and wonders what the cobalt isotopes are doing to his lawn.

    Two blocks away, the family German shepherd, Tiffany, uses her new mutant powers to telekinetically rip the door off of the Schmidt’s shelter so her pack can feed on the tender human flesh within.

  5. From an engineering perspective, this pamphlet is pure entertainment gold. Flimsy construction methodology, no cleansing of supply air, toxic building materials… it just keeps coming! Never mind the fact that none of the proposed designs would actually allow any of the occupants to survive to produce another generation.

    Thanks Mayor of Mt. Holly!

  6. Wow! This brings back such great memories. My dear old pop had a binder of these in our house. I hoped he would make one since it would be a really cool fort for my brother and I and our friends. Unfortunately, he just ended up burying a U-Haul Truck box (sans cab and undercarriage) in the back yard. Boring!

  7. One of my childhood friends had an above-ground bomb shelter, but by the late 70s, it was mostly used for storage and as a place, where we could smoke dope, play strip poker and hook-up with local girls.

  8. There was a great episode of Malcolm in the Middle in which the Dad gets trapped in a until-now-unknown backyard bomb shelter, which to his great delight turns out to be a smartly furnished man pad, complete with Hi-Fi and wet bar.

  9. Around 1960, my grandfather put my dad and his brothers to work building a shelter quite similar to this (and similarly useless for surviving a nuke attack) in their suburban LA backyard.

    My uncle _did_ get quite a lot of use out of the shelter once he started bringing home girls. Made quite an excellent makeout room apparently.

  10. I recall an article years ago re So. CA homes equipped with bomb shelters. They gave the real estate agent pause as to what to say in the multiple listing. The folks who marketed these things relied on scaring the piss out of people. The Chad Mitchell Trio did a song about an upscale shelter being offered that was a “creme de la creme crematorium”. Then there was the Tom Lehrer song, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go”.
    The only thing useful that came out of this was the idea of “cover-in-place”. When there has been a toxic release from an oil refinery, staying inside beats trying to predict the direction of the wind.
    If someone has been exposed to toxins or radiation or pesticides, being able to get out of clothing, wash, and change to new clothes is pretty important. As has been already pointed out, hiding in a culvert drain pipe doesn’t cut it.

  11. “Pail for a bucket”? I meant pail for a toilet. And not only is duct tape and plastic cheaper, it’s much quicker. The idea that the Soviets would have given us a day or two’s warning to dig our holes was one of the difficulties with many of these designs.

  12. Help, please. I understand that this thing would have failed at its intended purpose but, assuming that it would have offered protection from a nuclear attack, what is that little pipe on the left for? Wouldn’t that let all the nasty stuff in (as well as letting somewhat less nasty stuff out)? Am I over thinking this? Was I just born to late to get it? Thanks.

  13. Shouldn’t the giant asparagus point INTO the shelter, so that the people can eat it? Nobody likes eating the woody end.

  14. #20: The thing that Dad is cranking away at is an air filter / pump. I’m more worried about the gap above the sandbags in the entrance. More than enough room to let “hot” dust in and the tempting smell of live humans out.

  15. I remain convinced that the true purpose of most of these designs was to make sure that you had safely buried yourself ahead of the conflagration.

  16. From a 1967 pamphlet titled “Fallout Protection for Homes with Basements”, here’s the absolute best design: a brick snack bar for your basement rumpus room that TRANSFORMS into a small shelter. I like the cushioned bench made of a stack of loose bricks, which you quickly toss on top of the lowered snack bar ceiling to offer overhead protection.


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