How to survive an atomic bomb: insurance company ad, 1951

"Whatever your attitude toward use of the atomic bomb, you must live with the fact that it exists," commands this ad. About the self-protection steps it details, "The wise citizen of this atomic era will memorize them so thoroughly that their use would be almost instinctive."

A vintage Mutual of Omaha insurance company advertisement from 1951, lovingly scanned and shared in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by v.valenti.

So, I'll need to look into this further, but did Mutual of Omaha offer "surprise atomic attack" coverage at the time? The ad doesn't make that clear.

(Update: Cory blogged this back in 2010.)


  1. This is a hoot! Duck and cover, cover you face and it will be all right-if not you are insured.

  2. They say don’t look towards the burning brightness but surely all you will see is superheated gas around the location of the bomb. The flash is what does the damage and it is all over by the time your nervous system has reacted.

  3. Whether or not this is accurate advice for surviving atomic bombs circa 1951, it’s funny that they’re threatvertising insurance. If you survive one bomb or a nuclear war, and if the nation survives, will your insurance company survive to cover all your injuries and damages?

    There’s a cold war propaganda film called “Bombproof” showing some nervous survivors in a civil defense bunker bitching about how their workplaces and jobs are destroyed. Sure, Bobby and Suzie are safe under their desks at school, but more importantly, will my pension survive? No need to worry, says their boss (who is also in charge of this bunker, naturally), because the company made microfilm back-ups of all their records, stored somewhere safe. Brought to you by a corporation that makes microfilm readers and cameras and serves all your microneeds.

  4. I wonder what Mutual of Omaha would have said if you called them to arrange cover for radiation sickness caused by a Soviet bomb detonating on your particular slice of Middle America.

    1. “Just as lightening-fast reflexes and knowledge of the natural world saved Jim Fowler from the deadly clutches of the Burmese python, Mutual of Omaha’s comprehensive nuclear fallout coverage protects you from the growing threat of Soviet aggression.”

  5. So, is the dearth of such “advertising” due to a growing awareness of how much BS is contained in such pronouncements? That is, now that the internet has made stuff like this available for review, for example, have we been exposed to such levels of amateurishly presented ideas that we are immune? Or have they simply gotten so much better at selling us the Brooklyn Bridge, as is my opinion?
    I’m sure there were folks back then who questioned the utility of survival, even without all the advances in knowledge about nuclear winter. Yet, we continue to be spoon-fed scenarios, even now, which sooth and calm us, all the while the storms approach, bringing the other, attendant dangers, like extreme environmental degradation, resource wars and increasingly successful efforts to suppress and oppress growing populations to name but a few.
    I’m glad I’m an old man. Two generations hence will curse progress, if they are allowed to find out how we got here, that is.

  6. The reactions here seem mostly as clueless as those who say there’s no point in fastening your seat belt on an airplane, because if the airplane falls out of the sky there will just be a big smoking hole in the ground — it will do no good.  I assume the same people don’t bother to buckle their seat belts on the highway, because a collision at 140 MPH relative (head on at 70 MPH each) is not very survivable.  Maybe they don’t buy health insurance, because, heck, most people who get heart disease die of a heart attack within a handful of years.

    it’s amazing no one can clearly distinguish between what is true for SOME, or even MOST people in a given situation, and what is true for ALL.  MOST people near a nuclear blast will not survive, and for MOST people the advice to shield your face from the flash is indeed pointless.  But not for ALL.  Someone would benefit.  If everyone in Hiroshima had known this stuff, then some hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives would be saved.  Not a big fraction of the 80,000 who died, to be sure.  But not zero.

    Is this innumeracy?  Is basic statistics not taught in school?  Or is it just PC to laugh at advice on doing your best in a nuclear war, while (say) advising someone on how to avoid having his iPhone stolen — which hardly happens to anyone, fer gawd’s sake!  Why worry?! — is seen as merely prudent?

  7. As a retired nuclear medicine physician I can attest that the advice given in the public service ad is valid and is what I would tell my adult children, especially with the growing threat of an unstable North Korea and a deranged Iran.  Does it really matter that it was sponsored by an insurance company?

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