National Fallout Shelter Sign Fact Sheet


In 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced an ambitious plan to identify, mark and stock existing public building space for fallout shelter protection for approximately 50 million U.S. citizens. In order to "mark" buildings offering this type of emergency refuge, the government had to design a sign. The following document explaining the National Fallout Shelter Sign was located by CONELRAD at the National Archives. Because of the cross-outs and handwritten additions, it is almost certainly a draft document.

Given the iconic status* of the Fallout Shelter Sign, this document is a fascinating one to read.

*Aside from achieving universal recognition value during the Cold War, the sign received perhaps its most prestigious honor when the British rock band The Who appropriated it as an advertising symbol for their 1973 North American tour.

The following is a transcription of the entire document:


FACT SHEET (Hand written above the title)


The National Fallout Shelter Sign will be a familiar sight all over the United States next year. It will mark buildings and other facilities as areas where 50 or more persons can be sheltered from radioactive fallout resulting from a nuclear attack.

The fallout sign will be used only to mark Federally approved buildings surveyed by architect-engineer firms under contract to the Department of Defense.

In awarding the contract for design of the sign to graphic arts studios it was designated 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 apex of the triangle 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.

# (hand written)

(The following text is crossed out in the original document) The sign was produced as a result of Department of Defense directives to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks to conduct an immediate national fallout shelter survey and marking program.
David Jansen (The Fugitive) and Susan Clark outside a building marked by a National Fallout Shelter Sign 'where 50 or more persons can be sheltered from radioactive fallout resulting from a nuclear attack'

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Record Group 330
Papers of the Secretary of Defense


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