Duck and Cover – Vintage Atom Bomb Safety Video

Below is an unforgettable and somewhat controversial piece of U.S. history. Commissioned in 1951 by the US government, Duck and Cover was distributed as a children’s safety education film that taught atom bomb preparedness.

This film is chock-full of alarming statements like, “There are two kinds of attack: with warning and with no warning”  and “Tony knows that the bomb can explode any time of the year, day or night, and he’s ready for it!”, over striking footage of schoolchildren dropping to the ground in the middle of play, “enemy planes” dimming the skies, and the U.S. military at the ready. Made during the height of the red scare, Duck and Cover feels more like a Pinko-paranoia-induction tactic than a safety film, especially when we consider that all of the methods shown would be absolutely useless at ground zero. From the film’s Wikipedia page:

For those not at ground zero, there would be a delay between the flash (indicating the need to duck and cover) and the arrival of the blast wave, which could shatter windows and cause other blast or impact injuries (although electromagnetic radiation, such as infra-red and gamma rays, would arrive at the observer’s position at the same time as the light flash, leaving the observer no time to find cover from these particular aspects of a nuclear detonation). A newspaper would, at least in theory, block alpha radiation although skin does this anyway, provide some shielding from the heat (IR, visible and UV) radiation and small debris, though it would have no effect on the beta and gamma radiation or on the shockwave that would accompany an atomic detonation.

Watch Duck and Cover below and pay close attention. After all, you never know when the bright flash may come.

9 Responses to “Duck and Cover – Vintage Atom Bomb Safety Video”

  1. Heather Says:

    wasn’t it the Simpsons who took the piss out of that? They did a fake duck and cover film and all in one of the episodes. Oh how I laughed. the mere idea that covering your head and organs would protect you from radiation is the ultimate in pacifying misinformation.

  2. Jason Says:

    thats Great!…yeah it’s gonna burn you alright!…like a Pork Rind!..and it will break windows All Over Town!

  3. Kevin Says:

    You may laugh about the pitiful safety precautions suggested in this film, but they’re not completely absurd. The simple act of wearing lighter colored clothes could mean the difference between life and death at the right radius.

    Say, does that mean we’re less likely to get bombed after Labor Day?

  4. Marc Says:

    Questionable advice or not, It certainly is a lot more uplifting than Threads, the painfully bleak 80s BBC documentary that seared nuclear paranoia into many a poor young brain.

    And just in case I wasn’t already scared enough by the whole idea of atomic war, Threads was also set in my home town. Thanks for that BBC.

  5. m1k3y Says:

    it was an early South Park ep that lampooned this

  6. Rick Says:

    Heather – You might be thinking of the South Park volcano episode from season one (interestingly enough, titled “Volcano”.) You can check it out here:

    Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Simpsons did it, too.

    As for the video itself, I used to keep a copy of it on my computer, but I found it so damn frightening that I never watched it. I think my first exposure to it was the 1982 doc Atomic Cafe, which you can apparently watch in its entirety on Hulu. I also remember my parents laughing hysterically at it… man, my parents were way cooler in the 80s.

  7. Mer Says:

    You guys have all seen The Iron Giant, right? There’s an INCREDIBLE spoof of “Duck and Cover” in it. Hogarth’s class is seen watching an animated film named “Atomic Holocaust” that is only slighty more ridiculous than the real deal.

    I love that movie so much.

  8. Babalon's Orgasm Says:

    Sadly, the American population have lost touch with the threat of nuclear annhilation and now only worry about the existential dilemma of iphone vs droid.

  9. Lindsey Tucek Says:

    I love your posts they always keep me really upbeat, both mentally and sometimes phsycially! Thanks a lot, I have joined via RSS.