Seattle tests a super siren during the Cold War on February 27, 1952.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/12/2002
  • Essay 3688

On February 27, 1952, the Seattle Civil Defense Corps tests a 135 horsepower super siren as part of preparedness for nuclear attack during the Cold War. The three-ton siren is erected on the Seattle Police garage at 5th Avenue and Cherry Street and measuring equipment is set up to determine if the signal for an attack can "penetrate office buildings above the clatter of office noise."

After 1948, the U.S. and the Soviet Union prepared for the possibility of war, which would involve the exchange of nuclear weapons. The competition between the superpowers and their allies became the Cold War.

Civil Defense organizations first created in World War II were revitalized. Planning in Seattle included the creation of 867 fallout shelters, which were stocked with food. The day before the super siren was tested, $500,000 worth of medical supplies arrived in Seattle to be staged in schools around the state. In the event of an attack, schools would be used as hospitals.

The Seattle area was defended from 1954 to 1974 by U.S. Army Nike missile batteries on Cougar Mountain near Issaquah, on Vashon Island, and at Kenmore, Kent, Kingston, Lake Youngs, Renton, Ollala, Poulsbo, Redmond, and Winslow. Nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules missiles were designed to bring down formations of enemy bombers. The missiles were removed as part of the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty which reduced nuclear weapons and defenses, and because the nuclear threat shifted from aircraft to ballistic missiles.

Results on the test of the super siren were mixed. It upset most of the pigeons downtown, but could not be distinctly heard in some buildings.


Scott Sparling, "Civil Defense Will Rise Again," The Weekly, December 5, 1979, pp. 23-27; "Super Siren Will Get Final Test Tomorrow," The Seattle Times, February 26, 1952, p. 5; "Reports Vary On Downtown Test Of Siren," Ibid., February 27, 1952, p. 11.

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