In 1962, just following the Cuban Missile Crisis, signs went up in the apartment building where I lived in New York. I was surprised to find one of these “Fallout Shelter” signs on my 7th floor. Apparently, all floors from the basement to 7 were deemed protected from radiation. I lived with the reminder of nuclear war most of my preteen and teenage life. I hated that yellow sign with its radiation symbol. From time to time, I see remnants of the signs on New York walls. I still shudder at the sight.
The Office of Civil Defense issued a standard fact sheet titled “National Fallout Shelter Sign.”
“In awarding the contract for design of the sign to graphic arts studios it was designated that the services of a psychologist be obtained to recommend a visual symbol that could be easily identified and remembered. The sign had to meet the psychological requirements of simplicity, easy identification, retention and arresting color combination.”
“It had to be simple enough to be easily identified by children, non-English speaking persons or others who may not be able to read. The color combination, yellow and black, is considered as the most easily identified attention getter by psychologists in the graphic arts industry. The sign can be seen and recognized at distances up to 200 feet.”
“The shelter symbol on the sign is a black circle set against a yellow rectangular background. Inside the circle, three yellow triangles are arranged in geometric pattern with the apex of the triangles pointing down.”
“Below the fallout symbol, lettered in yellow against black, are the words Fallout Shelter in plain block letters. Yellow directional arrows are located directly underneath the lettering which will indicate the location of the shelter.”