The Burroughs Corporation
Federal Civil Defense Administration
Cold War civil defense provided unique advertising opportunities for companies which could link their products to national and industrial survival. Though many businesses engaged in this tactic, the communications industry grew particularly adept at creating instructional films which functioned as thinly veiled commercials. The Burroughs Corporation, a pioneer in the computer field, had a similar strategy in mind when it teamed with the Federal Civil Defense Administration to produce the entertaining short film Bombproof in 1956. By telling the story of the fictional Donovan Manufacturing Company, Bombproof offers civil defense and business
continuity advice, however, the film quickly focuses on preserving vital records through the use of microfilm data storage machines, machines which were manufactured primarily by the Burroughs Corporation. Walter Abel, a prolific actor perhaps best known for his roles in Holiday Inn and Island in the Sky, stars as J.B. Donovan, the chain smoking head of Donovan Manufacturing who has responsibly duplicated essential documents and records.
Opening in a basement command post eight days after an H-Bomb attack, Donovan and his staff learn the grim state of affairs above ground when belligerent employee Charlie (who would go on to play a comical civil defense volunteer in the 1956 film Big Men in Small Boats) refuses to accept Donovan's optimistic take on their situation. "Your factory's nothing but a big radioactive hole in the ground! You're through!" In light of this demoralizing news, discontent in the shelter quickly grows. Employees openly worry about their futures and their paychecks. An angry deliveryman demands payment for a shipment of paint. Elderly machinist Fred
Bates (who is also featured in the 1956 film Warning Red) ponders his retirement options now that an enemy bomb has destroyed pension records. Donovan, clad in a CD armband, dismisses their complaints as unfounded. All of this information has been backed up on microfilm and stored in a secure bank vault in the nearby town of Rolling Hollow. In a flashback, Donovan relates how he was unnerved by a news article on the hydrogen bomb and so consulted a civil defense expert on how to protect his business interests. Following the expert's advice, Donovan and his skeptical accountant visit a local steel company which has utilized microfilm storage. Their knowledgeable employees lead Donovan through a room filled with Burroughs Corporation equipment, carefully describing each step of the microfilm process, while tersely explaining the impracticality of all other forms of record preservation. Having quelled his employees fears, Donovan remarks that with proper records in place, restarting his company will be no problem. "We can build again. We will build again!"
The Burroughs Corporation was far from the only data storage company to support civil defense measures. Throughout the 1950's, 60's and early 70's, General Electric and IBM, among others, sponsored pamphlets with similar messages. Often, the F.C.D.A. Staff College in Battle Creek, Michigan would hold seminars for business leaders on how to properly preserve any vital records. Although microfilm would remain a popular medium for the remainder of the Cold War, Bombproof would not enjoy such longevity. The film makes no mention of the radiation emanating from the enemy bomb strike, or the threat it
posed to those taking shelter in the blast zone. This omission ensured the film would be outdated when federal agencies shifted their policies to emphasize protection from radioactive fallout. Indeed, by 1965 the Office of Civil Defense had declared the film obsolete and ordered all government copies returned. Private owners were encouraged to cease screenings as well.