Soviet spacemen were flying overhead. The Berlin Wall had just gone up. The moratorium on nuclear testing had abruptly ended with the detonation of hydrogen bombs that could unleash ten times the explosive force of all the bombs used in World War Two combined! It’s almost impossible to describe how close the end of the world felt to Americans in September 1961. The government and media were doing nothing to allay those fears save the faint hope offered by a cozy hole in the ground. In the September 15 issue of LIFE magazine appeared a letter from President Kennedy and designs for building a fallout shelter. Later that month, CBS aired an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The Shelter”. Bob Crane on Radio KNX would ask Rod Serling about the episode a few weeks after it aired.
A Message to You from the President
The White House
September 7, 1961
My Fellow Americans:
Nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore today. I do not believe that war can solve any of the problems facing the world today. But the decision is not ours alone.
The government is moving to improve the protection afforded you in your communities through civil defense. We have begun, and will be continuing throughout the next year and a half, a survey of all public buildings with fallout shelter potential, and the marking of those with adequate shelter for 50 persons or more. We are providing fallout shelter in new and in some existing federal buildings. We are stocking these shelters with one week’s food and medical supplies and two weeks’ water supply for the shelter occupants. In addition, I have recommended to the Congress the establishment of food reserves in centers around the country where they might be needed following an attack. Finally, we are developing improved warning systems which will make it possible to sound attack warning on buzzers right in your homes and places of business.
More comprehensive measures than these lie ahead, but they cannot be brought to completion in the immediate future. In the meantime there is much that you can do to protect yourself — and in doing so strengthen your nation.
I urge you to read and consider seriously the contents in this issue of LIFE. The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy. But in these dangerous days when both these objectives are threatened we must prepare for all eventualities. The ability to survive coupled with the will to do so therefore are essential to our country.
John F. Kennedy