the U.S. Office of Civil Defense, America's Last Defense Against Nuclear War - And One of their Heuer Stopwatches

Unlike today, during the 1960s Heuer used to specialize in far more than watches - to include stopwatches for sports timing, yachting, science and research (like the example here), automotive, aircraft, and far more. 


Its stopwatches were designed to measure everything from 1/5th a second to 1/100th of a second, and the example here - a 1970s Ref. 403.201 (on offer, here) - measures 1/5th a second and was designed for science and research applications.


Per Heuer literature of the era, the 1/5th second stopwatches were most frequently used for measurements in laboratories, research, and sport - and particularly humorous (per the same literature), the 403.201 was also recommended for use by...DJs. 


Perhaps less hilarious, this example here was issued to the United States Government (USG)'s Office of Civilian Defense, the predecessor of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).


A pivotal time, it marked the height of the Cold War, only a handful of years following the end of World War II.  No peace had ever brought so little security, in particular the advent of the thermo-nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to deliver them worldwide. 


Senior NATO military commanders were largely united in the assessment a widespread conflict would almost certainly result in the near if not total extinction of mankind. 

But in the face of adversity the same year - and possible extinction – humankind would walk on the moon, the Boeing 747 had its maiden flight, NASA launched numerous deep space probes, and the U.S. Navy established the Navy Fighter Weapons School (aka, “Top Gun”). 

During WWII, the USG established the Office of Civilian Defense (CD) in May 1941 to coordinate civilian defense efforts with a variety of USG entities, to include the Department of the Army – one of these entities continues to exist in contemporary times, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), today a civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force that conducts downed aircraft search and rescue missions.


But back to the 1960's - the 1960’s and early 1970s were an incredible time that witnessed unbelievable events, culturally and scientifically, with a drum roll of feats of imagination in motorsports, space, and military and political turmoil around the world.  America’s initiation of the “race to space” – pitting it against the Soviet Union – unleashed upon the world a tidal wave of scientific innovation. 


The 1960's were also a time of numerous tragedies – passenger jet crashes (some because of ascendant terrorism or state action – or both), assassinations, violent protests, and the death of President Dwight Eisenhower.   Marking it all – sometimes in the forefront, sometimes in the background – was mechanical watches and the adventurers that wore them during these historic events.


Within North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states – to include the U.S. – starting in the 1950s, Civilian Defense organizations (all of which used the same triangle “CD” logo, with  some European countries continuing to use it to this day) were tasked with preparing for the aftermath of a nuclear war between NATO and the Soviet Union, which seemed likely during the Cold War. 


These efforts even included the local neighborhood Mister Softee ice cream trucks - each truck carried a generator, potable water, freezer, refrigerator, loudspeaker and two floodlights that could be used to provide aid to communities suffering in the aftermath of an attack.


During their heyday in 1960's, Mister Softee ordered 800 ice cream trucks from the Boyertown Body Works, known for their long-standing tradition of quality workmanship dating back to 1872. 


The demands of the fleet business required a vehicle that was sturdy and dependable, but easy on the pocket book.  A Ford truck would certainly meet those demands - but the Softee trucks would be fitted - in addition to above - with a stainless counter, functional sink, and soft serve / freezer machine.

The mobile kitchen would be able to serve several hundred people with fresh food without having to replenish supplies back at headquarters.  It was this capability - and the nearly 1,000 trucks with them - that almost certainly made the Mister Softee trucks irresistible to Civil Defense coordinators during the Cold War.

​​In the early 1960s, the USG under President Kennedy launched an ambitious effort to install fallout shelters using the CD throughout the U.S.


Although the shelters would not protect against the blast and heat effects of nuclear weapons, they would provide limited protection against radiation fallout effects in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. 


Linked with the shelter effort, the USG established the Control of Electromagnetic Radiation (CONELRAD) system – primary stations within the assessed area of an attack would be alerted of an emergency and broadcast an alert, providing valuable time for affected individuals to shelter.


Some of the lighter, more memorable aspects of the Cold War civil defense effort were USG educational efforts, to include “Duck and Cover,” which Bert the Turtle who advocated children "duck and cover" when they "see the [nuclear detonation] flash."  USG booklets such as “Survival Under Atomic Attack” were also commonplace.


Subsequently, and in 1979, the CD – and various other related entities – were replaced with FEMA, which in turn was placed under the Department of Homeland Security in 2002; the USG shifted away from nuclear war preparations in favor of an “all hazards” (terrorism, natural disasters, etc) approach after the tragic events of 9/11.