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Historical Essay

Multi-Purpose Food from Fallout Shelter

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Multi-Purpose Food from Fallout Shelter | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeMulti-purpose food

Multi-purpose food, 1960

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1996.81.81

EnlargeFallout shelter supplies

Fallout shelter supplies, 1960

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1996.81.81

EnlargeFallout shelter supplies

Fallout shelter supplies, 1995

Fallout shelter supplies, 1995 prior to collection by State Historical Society.

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object collection #1996.81.81

EnlargeDepartment of Defense fallout shelter design

Department of Defense fallout shelter design

Department of Defense fallout shelter design similar to the one constructed in Sobel home. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1996.81.161

Multi-Purpose Food from Cold War fallout shelter in Racine, Wisconsin, 1960.
(Museum object #1996.81.81)

Paul and Edith Sobel purchased this and several other cans of Multi-Purpose Food (MPF) to help stock the fallout shelter they installed in their new ranch-style home in Racine, Wisconsin in 1960. At the time, the Sobels worried that nearby Chicago would be the target of an atomic bomb. Determining that the fallout might drift to their city, the Sobels decided to construct a fallout shelter in their new house.

The Sobels sent away for all the literature the local Civil Defense Office could provide, chose one of the suggested plans, and built the shelter into their basement at an added cost of only $150. The result was a 10'-by-6' room designed to house the Sobels' family of five for two weeks. It included an 18"-thick cement ceiling, walls of painted concrete block, and a second wall or baffle outside the door to protect the occupants from radiation. The 1962 Department of Defense plan taken from "Family Shelter Designs" is very similar to that constructed in the Sobel home.

The Sobel family purchased MPF because it offered high nutritional content in a canned product that could be stored for extended periods without degradation, perfect for stocking their fallout shelter. MPF had been developed near the end of World War II as a means to provide an inexpensive yet nutritious food product to help combat the threat of widespread famine that many feared would accompany the end of the war. MPF succeeded in this area and, by the early 1950s, it had been reformulated and used to assist with chronic hunger problems around the world. This new formula contained 50% protein and was completely precooked, all that was necessary was to mix a few tablespoons with liquid (such as water, juice, milk, or soup). In an emergency, MPF could simply be eaten as a dry powder. A two-ounce serving of MPF provided approximately one-third of the basic protein, vitamin, and mineral nutritional requirements of a 154 pound adult male.

In addition to MPF, the Sobels stocked their shelter with other supplies recommended in government pamphlets. Most of these supplies remained in the shelter until 1996, when the Sobels donated virtually the entire contents of the shelter to the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. These images show some of the fallout shelter supplies still in place in the Sobel's fallout shelter in 1995, just prior to donation.

Learn More

  • See the Online Exhibit: 'Living Under a Mushroom Cloud: Fear and Hope in the Atomic Age'
  • Curators' Favorites

For more information or to purchase an image of one of the objects featured in Curators' Favorites, contact our staff by email below:

[Sources: "Meals for Millions: How Freedom from Hunger Began" from the Meals for Millions website; William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, "The Meals for Millions Foundation and Multi-purpose Food: Work with Soyfoods"]


Posted on April 14, 2005