The H-Bomb Over Illinois

Illinois Civil Defense Agency


"Illinois-a green and fertile land.  Industrial.  Productive.  A land rich in resources. A prime target!"  An authoritative narrator opens with this flattering description and an ominous warning.  In spite of massive radar installations, Nike Missile bases and jet interceptors, in an atomic attack, some enemy aircraft may slip through to bomb the "Peaceful Land of Lincoln."  Why Illinois?  Chicago provides the most likely answer.  When the Illinois Civil Defense Agency released The H-Bomb Over Illinois in 1956, Chicago was the second largest American city.  A hydrogen bomb detonating over Chicago would not only wipe out a massive population, but also paralyze the Midwest's largest industrial center and transportation hub. Indeed, the film's predictions are frightening.  Upwards of four million people could perish with damage spanning from Highland Park to Wheaton.  Depending on wind conditions, subsequent fallout radiation could spread as far west as Dubuque or as far south as Springfield.  In a dramatic voice-over cameo, Governor William G. Stratton encourages readiness and vigilance.  "With the possibility of war, cruel, devastating war, exploding on our doorstep-civil defense becomes everybody's problem!"  With proper civil defense preparation, the film argues, 80% of Chicago's population could be saved.

Beyond the city limits of Chicago, the film makes it clear that Illinois' vast multitude of resources means that several areas of the state may be subject to enemy attack.  Acre after acre of tillable farmland produces an annual agricultural crop worth over two billion dollars.  Six-hundred million dollars in slaughterhouse facilities ensure Illinois tops the Nation in meat-packing and processing.  Vast deposits of coal and oil, along with 20% of America's steel mills make Illinois a leader in those industries as well.  Aerial shots of tractors in verdant fields interspersed with scenes of heavy industry, all accompanied by a jovial tuba march, highlight the State's economic vitality.  Other population centers as well, present a risk.  A direct hit on St. Louis would likely include East St. Louis with casualties of 200,000.  A bomb over Peoria would cause damage from Water Works Park to Pottsdam with deaths estimated at 89,000.  The defense industries of Rock Island and the other Quad Cities could see 48,000 dead and damage extending as far as the fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa.

Retired General Robert M. Woodward, Director of Civil Defense for Illinois, appears on the screen to stress the importance of viewers participating in the many vital roles needed for a strong civil defense network.  His words frame the final moments of the film.  A close-up shot of a blaring air raid siren pulls back to reveal a crowded public street as citizens mill in panic.  Properly rehearsed evacuation procedures can avoid this type of reaction.  Similarly, well trained first-aid responders and heavy rescue crews will save many lives in the immediate aftermath of an attack, but only if enough volunteers answer the call.  Auxiliary firefighters, amateur radio operators and watchers with the Ground Observer Corps are also needed.  Exciting sequences of all these groups in action accompany brief descriptions of their duties.  General Woodward closes by firmly assuring that "all roles in civil defense are necessary!"  Because The H-Bomb Over Illinois was limited to that state, and not marketed or released nationwide by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, its fate is difficult to determine.  While contemporary newspaper articles show it enjoyed a number of screenings at civic meetings and societal presentations in the late 1950's, references to the film almost entirely vanish after 1960.

The H-Bomb Over Illinois may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.