Steuart Pittman, head of Cold War fallout shelter program, dies

Steuart Pittman was in charge of trying to create fallout shelters for every American citizen against a nuclear attack.

The man charged with creating enough fallout shelters for every American during the Cold War has died.

Steuart Pittman was 93 when he died Feb. 10. He served as the chief of President John F. Kennedy's civil defense program.

According to The Washington Post, Pittman, appointed in 1961, was responsible for a massive national effort to create a system of nuclear fallout shelters across the country. During the Cold War, Congress approved more than $200 million for supplemental defense – primarily, fallout shelters.

The Post reported that at the peak of the nation's preparedness, Pittman believed about two-thirds of Americans could be offered a shelter.

The New York Times reported the fallout shelter project was fraught with controversy. Some pushed back against the high cost of the shelters while others debated which level of government – from local to federal – should have control of them.

Pittman managed to stock about 100,000 model shelters in 14 cities, the Times said. In the course of his work, he inventoried the nation's subway systems and public buildings, and learned what the public thought about shelters.

The Times reported Pittman resigned from the job in 1964 in frustration while debate continued over exactly how the fallout shelter program would work. According to the Times, people even told Pittman they'd rather die in a nuclear attack than face the trials of surviving.

He called the job "unappetizing, unappealing and unpopular," according to the Times.

For his part, Pittman advocated for community, rather than individual, shelters. After he resigned, the Times said, Pittman and his wife built a shelter at their home.

Pittman died of an apparent stroke, the Times reported.


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