“Use [of billboards] during tactical warning, actual attack, and between attacks seems impractical.”
-- Civil Defense official Lewis E. Berry, 9/27/1960
The Dwight D. Eisenhower administration raised civil defense planning to a paranoid art form (the Operation Alert drills of the Fifties were nothing if not theatrical) and helped transform America into a nation of low-budget motorized tourists with the Interstate Highway System. It is fitting then that the Cold War contingency drones viewed the medium of billboards as an especially appropriate tool to convey pre and post-apocalyptic propaganda to a car crazy citizenry. Recently CONELRAD found evidence of this unique strategy buried in a box at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and we are delighted to be able to share the material here.
On September 28, 1960 Deputy Administrator of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization Lewis E. Berry (1914-2005) sent a letter to his management detailing his efforts concerning billboard messaging with attached “Preattack” and “Postattack” sample text. Needless to say, the latter category is far more amusing (and frighteningly Orwellian).
The previous day, September 27, 1960, Mr. Berry composed a longer draft of his memo that is noteworthy for its optimism (the CONELRAD emergency broadcasting system would not be needed after an attack, Berry reasons, because normal radio frequencies would return to the air) and the author’s mastery of the obvious: “Use [of billboards] during tactical warning, actual attack, and between attacks seems impractical.”
The following is the entire document containing the billboard copy suggestions that Berry’s team came up with. Unfortunately, CONELRAD could find no paper trail to suggest that this concept ever materialized as proposed (although there are some examples of public service civil defense announcements via billboards that we have included in this post). We would have loved to have seen an artist rendering of the post-attack signage.
Source: National Archives, College Park, Maryland: Record Group 396: Office of Emergency Preparedness A1 (P-95), Folder L-8, Lewis E. Berry Memorandum RE: Prearranged Emergency Billboard Messages, September 28, 1960.