Democratizing Survival: The Fallout Shelter Handbook by Chuck West, 1962
While 1962 marked the shift of attention from private to public shelters, families that still sought to build their own shelters could consult a number of instructional guides that proposed quick, cheap, and innovative ways to build your very own fallout shelter. Pictured here is Chuck West’s 1962 The Fallout Shelter Handbook, which claimed to cover everything from stocking plans to guerilla warfare. The book features idealized images of fallout shelter life, such as a man installing an air ventilation hose next to a pair of American flags, well dressed housewives caulking cinder blocks with “Raybestos” brand mortar, and a nuclear family playing cards to pass the time. Two key words that feature throughout the book are “practical” and “low-cost," implying that anyone can build a good shelter with a little initiative. While the guide is not entirely realistic, it might have had an empowering effect on the families who owned it and therefore felt more prepared to survive a nuclear strike together. As with most fallout shelters, the positive effects are largely psychological. The Fallout Shelter Handbook is also fascinating in the way that it ties into American consumer culture of the time as it concludes with a series of ads for objects ranging from the “Port-O-Bif” chemical toilet to the Lafayette Radio Family Radiation Survival Set. The advertisements reveal that a whole market of survival goods thrived due to the fears and anxieties of American citizens during a turbulent time.