Fallout Fears

 
When I was a kid, every other week the air raid sirens would screech their alarming wails and my classmates and I would be ordered to “duck and cover.” The remedy for nuclear attack (that so many pundits were predicting) was to crawl under the desk and “kiss your ass goodbye.” When released from school, I would go home to Stuyvesant Town (a postwar middle class project), where I was greeted daily by a recently installed yellow and black fallout shelter sign. Apparently, since my building was constructed of brick and mortar, we inhabitants would be safe from radioactivity. Ha ha! The fallout shelter sign was both a sign of eventual doom and a joke that survival was possible. 
 
Bill Geerhart, editor of Conelrad.com, has just published an extensive history of “An Indelible Cold War Symbol” and for scholars and buffs of vernacular design, it is essential reading. “On Saturday, December 2, 1961, a
deceptively modest graphic, transmitted the day before by the Department
of Defense to the wire services, appeared in newspapers across the
country heralding the new symbol that would quickly come to define an
era,” he writes.
Walk around any major city today and you will still be able to see
at least a few rusty Fallout Shelter Signs attached to buildings of a
certain vintage,” he adds.
The article details the reasons for creating such public shelters as well as the rationale for the design itself.
 
Greehart traces his research steps: “It turns out that the key to unraveling the story was hidden in
plain sight from the beginning. On most Fallout Shelter Signs … there is the following fine print: ‘Not to be used or reproduced without Department of Defense permission.’
From day one this should have been a red flag to us that the
sign was registered with some legal authority with a corresponding paper
trail explaining its development. Unfortunately, it took us another few
years to realize this point and to finally reach our ‘
Eureka!’
moment.” You don’t have to wait a few years for the blast of realization. Read it here
 


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This semester I took a class on American foreign policy. The text stated that the government had an official program to inform people about their safety in order to get Americans on board with the whole Cold War thing. Signage is such an effective tool in propaganda.

  2. This semester I took a class on American foreign policy. The text stated that the government had an official program to inform people about their safety in order to get Americans on board with the whole Cold War thing. Signage is such an effective tool in propaganda.

  3. This semester I took a class on American foreign policy. The text stated that the government had an official program to inform people about their safety in order to get Americans on board with the whole Cold War thing. Signage is such an effective tool in propaganda.