JFK's Nuclear Fallout Shelters Were Pure Folly

On September 15, 1961, millions of Americans who subscribed to Life magazine pulled the latest issue from their mailboxes and beheld something remarkable inside: a letter from President Kennedy addressed to them. But if the fact of the letter was a pleasant surprise, the glow wore off quickly: JFK's news wasn't good. “My Fellow Americans,” he wrote, “nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore today.”

Kennedy went on to explain that the federal government would soon begin a program “to improve the protection afforded you in your communities through civil defense.” A national survey was in the offing, one that would identify “all public buildings with fallout shelter potential,” and mark them accordingly.

In other words, the federal government was devising a way for 50 million Americans to survive a nuclear war by scurrying to the nearest basement. The National Fallout Shelter Survey and Marking Program had begun.

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