Educator Resources

Photographs and Pamphlet about Nuclear Fallout


In August 1945 the United States unleashed a new weapon of mass destruction against the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brought an end to World War II. Unlike conventional bombs, these new atomic bombs killed in two ways. They killed by sheer magnitude of the blast and the resulting firestorm, and they killed by means of nuclear fallout. In 1945 the United States possessed a monopoly on this new dreadful weapon.

The exclusiveness was short-lived, however. In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Although the United States and the Soviet Union had been wartime allies, by this time they had become peacetime enemies with conflicting ideologies and competing global interests. In an attempt to get or maintain an advantage in the power and numbers of nuclear weapons, both nations embarked on an arms race while at the same time preparing their citizens in the event that nuclear weapons were deployed. In effect, a Cold War was being waged, and civilian populations could no longer be shielded from the violence of war.

The arms race resulted in nuclear weapons testing. These tests consisted of above-ground and below-ground explosions of nuclear devices. The above-ground explosions generated nuclear fallout.

With each incremental increase in the level of hostility between the two superpowers, the need to develop and popularize civil defense procedures became more apparent. Of the two outcomes of a nuclear explosion, firestorm, and fallout, techniques to defend against radiation poisoning resulting from nuclear fallout had the only real possibility of success. One technique was to shield oneself from the blast by means of a barrier such as a "fallout shelter." Where a "fallout shelter" was unavailable, virtually any barrier would have to do, even a school desk or a kitchen table. Students practiced drills called "duck and cover" to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear attack. Private homes and public buildings had fallout shelters that were stocked with canned goods and other necessities. Drilling for nuclear war became a part of life's routine in the 1950s and like fire drills, today in the schools was taken very seriously.

Other Resources

CNN Web Site -- Cold War Series at

Judge, Edward H., and John W. Langdon. The Cold War: A History through Documents. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Schaller et al. Coming of Age: America in the Twentieth Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

The Documents

1. Pamphlet entitled "Facts about Fallout"
National Archives Identifier: 306714
View Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

2. Photograph [Operation Cue]: Two-story wood frame house at 5,500 feet (from blast site), May 5, 1955.
National Archives Identifier: 541785

3. Photograph [Operation Cue]: A few minutes after detonation the atomic blast in Operation Cue looked like this, May 5, 1955.
National Archives Identifier: 541787

4. Photograph [Operation Cue] - Two-story wood frame house at 5,500 feet after the blast, May 5, 1955.
National Archives Identifier: 541788

5. Photograph of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization exhibit at a local civil defense fair. ca. 1960.
National Archives Identifier: 542102

6. Photograph of a display of survival supplies for the well-stocked fallout shelter, ca.1961.
National Archives Identifier: 542103

7. An artist's rendition of a temporary basement fallout shelter, ca.1957.
National Archives Identifier: 542104

8. Photograph of a basement family fallout shelter that includes a 14-day food supply that could be stored indefinitely, a battery-operated radio, auxiliary light sources, a two-week supply of water, and first aid, sanitary, and other miscellaneous supplies and equipment, ca.1957.
National Archives Identifier: 542105