America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on
imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand,”
Harry S. Truman said in his Special Message to Congress, 1947. Although
President Truman was addressing the Nation's economic standing after
World War II, this idea of courage, imagination and unbeatable
determination would resonate through not only his presidency, but also
the future of America in the Cold War.

This is especially true in the
Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). Established on January
12th, 1951, the FCDA set out to educate ordinary Americans about the
dangers of an Atomic bomb and the ways to mitigate the potential damages
through Alert America. In this new educational program, Alert America sought to counsel the effectiveness of how civil defense can help you survive.

Alert America Convoy Parade, Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts (1953) by U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: National Archives Catalog

The Civil Defense "Alert America" campaign attempted to revolutionize public thinking about citizen's responsibilities and dangers of modern war. Built off the concept of the Freedom Train tour in 1947-1948, the Alert America Convoy paraded through Boston on February 21, 1953. At the head of the parade was a battery of troops from the 745th AAA Gun Battalion, Fort Banks. Here the parade is shown passing in front of the Boston Public Library, Copley Square. Three separate convoys, each with ten 30-foot trailers cover a route across urban and rural America.

“Alert America” Exhibition Packed for Transport (1952) by U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: National Archives Catalog

Alert America Exhibit started in New York City on March 13th, 1952 at the 7th Regiment Armory, 66th Street and Park Avenue. According to the New York Times, "Mayor Impellitteri had proclaimed Alert America Week, preliminary to the public opening of the defense exhibition at 10 AM." (2). These men are moving the exhibits from the Alert America Convoy into the 7th Regiment Armory (now the Park Avenue Armory).

Children viewing Alert America exhibit, "Civil Defense Where You Live" by U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: National Archives Catalog

On the opening week, school children and adults line up to enter the exhibit. All Alert America Exhibits were free admission! 46,724 people attended the Alert America Exhibit in New York (1).

Children Viewing the Alert America Exhibits, "Traffic Control," "Protection Against Incendiary Warfare," and "Protection Against Chemical Warfare" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Alert America educated American citizens to be prepared against enemy attacks. These three panels shows Civil Defense workers in action to control the traffic, assist in fighting against incendiary and chemical warfare. Traffic control is helpful in allowing ambulance and fire trucks to arrive to their destination faster. While the American people has less impact in fighting against incendiary and chemical warfare, these panels illustrates the dangers that it poses, including the measures Civil Defense will take.

Alert America Exhibit, "Basic Services Manned by Volunteers" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Posters of the Past

The Alert America Exhibit informed the public about the destructive capabilities of an atomic bomb. These posters promoted and educated the American people about how the Civil Defense will help against such an attack. Through these educational efforts, the Civil Defense offers measures for preparation and response in the case of an emergency. According to the FCDA 1952 annual report, it claims that "a survey [of] civil defense activities in 1,468 schools across the Nation indicated almost 90 percent of elementary and secondary schools had civil defense education programs in operation" (3).

Alert America Exhibits, "Civil Defense Where You Live," "Civil Defense Where You Work," and "Rescue and First Aid" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

The film "Our City Must Fight", one of the original films produced by the FCDA in 1951, describes a message to the public discouraging evacuation. This film argues that evacuation would create greater chaos, and encourages citizens "to stay and fight" for their city. These panels show the capacities of the Civil Defense in preparing ordinary citizens in their home life and workplace. (4. Clip used. "Our City Must Fight")

Mr. Civil Defense by Al Capp, Federal Civil Defense Administration, and U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: National Archives Catalog

Mr. Civil Defense, the Al Capp creation that symbolized the efforts of thousands of volunteers to support the nation's defense, gets a cheery greeting from a young child.

Alert America Exhibit, "Psychological Warfare" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Alert America includes these series of posters across the nation. This display on psychological warfare depicts how you should be wary of foreign propaganda. This includes sample newspapers from Communist governments, such as "Nowa Kulture" which means New Culture in Polish, and "Kultura i Zhizn" which means Culture and Life in Russian.

Alert America Exhibit, "Sabotage" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Sabotage, which is a result from either foreign espionage or propaganda, could lead to the disruption of a city's infrastructure. Visitors and American citizens were told of "City X", an average city that "could be your city". "City X" represented the crux of how the average city can change due to an enemy attack, via sabotage or a nuclear strike.

Alert America Exhibit, "Chemical Warfare" by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Based off the film and the pamphlet "What You Should Know about Biological Warfare", this poster attempts to portray what and how cities and people could be affected by chemical bombs. Major fears described in the pamphlet were germs, toxins, and chemicals like weed killer. (5. Clip used. "What You Should Know About Biological Warfare.")

Illustration of District Report Center Employees at Work by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

With the growing fears of an atomic bomb attack on "City X", the Civil Defense is responsible for informing American citizens what they should do and where they should go. The District Report Center mapped and coordinated with civilians to guide them to the appropriate shelters in case of bombing raids.

Illustration of Civil Defense Ground Observers Responding to a Fire by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

In addition to Civil Defense procedures, the fire departments in various cities also worked along with the FCDA to put out fires after bombing raids, sabotage, or an atomic bomb explosion.

An Illustration of an Atomic Attack by U.S. National ArchivesOriginal Source: National Archives Catalog

From another perspective of "City X", this poster illustrates the initial explosion of an atomic bomb, while the mushroom cloud is about to form. "City X" was a reminder of how an atom bomb can occur to a city.

Illustration Depicting Aftermath of Nuclear Bomb Explosion by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

This poster depicts the destruction of "City X" by the atom bomb. Cars, subway trolley, and telephone lines are scattered across the city. The Civil Defense attempted to show both the destructive capabilities of the Bomb and small chance of surviving above ground during the attack.

Alert America Mural of Family in Aftermath of Nuclear Bomb Explosion by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

Survivors emerged from bomb shelters to see their city destroyed by a single atomic bomb. This image portrays a mother with a child as they wander through their ravaged city. The father is nowhere to be seen in this image, but one can assume he is fighting behalf of the Civil Defense for his home and city.

Illustration of Civil Defense Workers Assisting Children by U.S. National ArchivesU.S. National Archives

One of the many duties of a Civil Defense worker is to recover what can be salvaged after an attack. These two Civil Defense workers are giving children metal tags, similar to military dog tags in order to identify missing civilians in the mist of the confusion.

Credits: Story

Curator - Kevin Chen

Acknowledgements -
Thanks to Professor Michael Kort, Professor of General Studies, at Boston University for Russian translations.


1. FCDA Annual Report for 1952. https://training.fema.gov/hiedu/docs/historicalinterest/fcda%20-%201952%

2. "DEFENSE EXHIBITS PREVIEWED HERE; Major Demonstration of Civil Problems and Progress to Open to Public Today". New York Times. May 13th, 1952.

3. FCDA Annual Report for 1952.

4. "Our City Must Fight (1951)". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RNcTnvTJa0

5. "What You Should Know About Biological Warfare 1952". Civil Defense Administration.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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