Monday, September 24, 2012

Florida History: Fallout shelter craze turns into Miami growth biz

Shelter sign in NYC
The Cold War heated up to nearly white hot during the early 1960s. The Soviet Union resumed testing of A-bombs in 1958 and continued into the new decade. They began building the Berlin War in August 1961 to mark their sphere of influence in Europe. 

President John F. Kennedy decided one of the most effective steps the U.S. could take to show that it stood firm in Europe was to immediately develop an air raid shelter program.

Kennedy wanted to convince the Kremlin that the American people (far more cohesive then) were willing to undergo an atomic war if necessary rather than to back away from the Russians in Europe. JFK told Americans it would be possible to organize or build shelters quickly by reinforcing public buildings and constructing safe havens at individual homes.

American entrepreneurs smelled a new opportunity and turned home shelter building into a growth business. By September 1961, 19 manufacturers in Miami were approved by the Dade County Office of Civil Defense to build home fallout shelters.
Lib. of Congress

Newspapers published articles about companies and their offerings and pages were filled with advertising. Shelters ran from $1,195 to $2,495 and could be constructed to protect from six to 12 people in fortifications that ranged in size from 10 feet by 8 feet to 14 by 16 feet.  Some could be installed adjacent to a house or in a garage (there weren’t many basements in South Florida). All qualified for financing under FHA’s Title 1 home improvement program.

Shelter advertisements nearly shouted with:
No down payment!
All forms of financing!
Shelters - use as playrooms or for storage!
Adequate shielding is the only effective means of preventing radiation casualties!
Do it yourself, just send $1 for plans!

Ancillary businesses opened to manufacture appliances for shelters and devices to power ventilation blowers, TVs and lighting.

By the mid - to late 1960s, fears diminished and, as with Dr. Strangelove, Americans learned to stop worrying and to love the bomb. Perhaps some today are used as hurricane shelters but more than likely, most are gone.

Palm Beach Post, July, 17, 1961
Miami News, Sept. 24. 1961
Miami News, Nov. 16, 1961

Tags: Miami business in 1960s, Miami during the cold war, Fallout shelter business 

The Wright Brothers

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