Moment in Time: Amway’s Fallout Shelters

BombShelterIllustr60S-9-300x232In the fall of 1961, as the cold war and fears of a nuclear attack escalated, two men climbed into a bomb shelter in Waterbury, Connecticut and sealed the door shut.

They would not re-emerge until two weeks later, on November 11–Armistice Day.

One of those men was a local radio DJ, the other worked for the civil defense office. Over those two weeks, they lived and carried out their business inside the fallout shelter–even conducted periodic radio broadcasts from inside via telephone hookup.

To us it may sound like a flashback on the ABC show “Lost,” or a reality show plot on doomsday preppers. But in 1961 this was actually a very practical safety demonstration.

The shelter was on display inside the Clark’s Discount Store in Waterbury, and the point of this exercise was to raise public awareness about safety procedures in the event of a nuclear attack.

Believe it or not, the shelter, complete with a color photo slide presentation, was an Amway product.

For a short time in the early 1960’s, Amway-made fallout shelters were displayed in various cities around the U.S., and sold by direct distributors. They were originally test-marketed in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, close to Amway’s world headquarters in Ada.

BombShelterRibbonCut60S-8-300x230You can imagine that a shelter, big enough for a whole family, might be tough to transport and sell in the early 60’s, and the shelters were never produced in high volume.

From time to time Amway gets word about a shelter turning up in a basement, or building somewhere–the contents inside barely disturbed by the decades. For instance, here’s afun interview segment from Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD TV about a perfectly intact Amway shelter in the basement of a local home.

In 2009, the Grand Rapids Public Museum featured an Amway exhibit that coincided with our 50th anniversary. The exhibit featured one of the Amway fallout shelters, along with many other historical pieces and products from Amway’s history. Here’s a link to apiece from The Grand Rapids Press that does a nice job of walking you through the exhibit.

So now you know. One of the lesser known products ever produced by Amway was the early 60’s Survival Shelter. My thanks to the Amway archives for all the help in digging up information for this story. It’s always fun to look back at old Amagram articles and learn something new!

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