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Brooklyn and the Atomic Age

Oct 14, 2009 4:00 PM | 3 comments

I was born in the late 1970s and cannot remember a time when the nuclear threat kept me awake at night.   I've been exposed to tornado drills, not air raid drills; calls for nuclear disarmament formed a background hum that was soft and loud by turns.   

While I was digging through some of our Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, I found several images that represent Brooklyn life during the Cold War.  They cover a wide range of subjects from atomic air raid drills and civil defense preparedness to exhibits on nuclear physics, at the same time providing a primer on 1950s fashions.

 Air Raid Instructions

This poster was distributed by the Office of Civil Defense in Brooklyn.  It was 9x14 inches and was suitable to hang in the kitchen or an office as a reminder of what to do in if Brooklyn was attacked by a nuclear weapon. Those of us working in the Library would have been well placed,  as the local bomb shelter was in the Central Library's basement.

Children at PS 125

Here are children at Public School 125 in Brownsville going back to class after an atomic air raid drill.  These kindergarteners were sheltered in a hallway. 


The regional winners of the Eagle-sponsored Miss Brooklyn pageant participate in the Brooklyn Civil Defense Day recruiting rally. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 8, 1951. 

I would love to know what the other facts are, but the two depicted in this photograph are definitely winners. Held aloft by Miss Brownsville East New York and Miss Bensonhurst: "Fact #12 Women can play as important a role as men, in the civil defense forces." Note the manly clipped fingernails above the perfect manicure holding the shovel. And our favorite presented by Miss Heights-Downtown and Miss Coney Island: "Fact #1 If an atom bomb drops we will not all be killed." Now that is a fact that I am sure is still relevant today. At the edge of the two-mile radius shown, only one little figure is lying flat while all the others--who appear to be wearing trousers, not skirts, by the way--are still standing! I for one am grateful to the publishers of the posters--the New York City Office of Civil Defense and the National Committee of Thirteen Against Superstition, Prejudice and Fear--for those immensely comforting words.

Close up

Update - we just had to resize this poster for everyone to see!

 Atomic Age Halloween.  Brooklyn Daily Eagle November 1, 1951.


 Atoms for Peace exhibit, Brooklyn Public Library, 1957

Brooklyn Public Library played a role in promoting the peaceful uses of atomic energy in 1957 through an exhibit and lectures.  "Atoms for Peace" was a traveling exhibit prepared by the United States Atomic Energy Commission.  The exhibit opened with a one-of-a-kind ribbon cutting by City Council President Abe Stark.  He used a set of mechanical hands that were on exhibit to show the public how to handle radioactive materials safely at a distance.  The exhibit focused on industry, medicine, and the "advances" being made in agriculture and the food industry. 

Brooklyn Public Library invites you to look into the atomic future with two outstanding nuclear physicists, April 1957

Dr. Lawrence V. Parsegian spoke on the wonder of the atom followed by the screening of the film "A" Is for Atom.  Three weeks later, Dr. Lyle Borst discussed Atoms for Peace: In the Home, In the Factory, In the Classroom. 

The Library's leading role in both education and defense is evident from these materials, which provide an uncannily immediate sense of what it must have felt like to live in Brooklyn during that time.




10/17/2009 4:55:01 PM #

Wonderful post AND posters!


10/24/2009 3:41:25 PM #

Great choice of images. I remember this time so vividly. Brooklyn in the 1950's. Well done.


6/15/2012 1:51:54 PM #

how much are they worth i just bought the 1st poster+ a vietnam one for $5 all together