Fun fact, the world came to the brink of becoming a highly radioactive cinder in space back in the early nineteen sixties. Known historically as the Cuban Missile Crisis here in the west, or the Americanski Pantski Shit to the Soviets, those 13 days in October 1962 proved the closest we have come to testing the veracity of the United States’ and Soviet Union’s M.A.D., or Mutually Assured Destruction nuclear strategies.
In the preparation of just such an event, the US maintained a massive air raid warning system coast to coast, as well as an education program that taught kids that dropping and taking cover under their school desks would protect them from nuclear Armageddon.
It’s that air raid siren system that’s of greater interest however, as that would have needed to have worked in order to alert the kids to take refuge under the desk with all their old boogers and fossilized wads of Bazooka Joe. When I was a kid, that system was tested monthly, its mournful rising and dropping wail (if you’re too young to remember, listen to the opening of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs) as an indicator it was the last Saturday of the month.
Most of the sirens were used for natural disaster warning, and to inform of an impending mushroom festival soon arriving in town. To do so they would use a preset code of horn blasts determined by the local civil defense authority. In 1952, American Telephone & Telegraph devised the Bell and Lights Air Raid Warning System which split both auditory and visual warnings into Red (attack imminent), Yellow (attack likely) White (all clear), and Blue (we don’t know what the hell’s going on).
The sirens that peppered the American landscape were all meant to be loud, some up to 135dB at 100 ft. One siren however not only met that specification, but blew it out of the water, taking the record – at 138dB – as the loudest warning device ever confirmed. You may have felt that you’ve had accidental farts in quiet social circumstances that were as loud, but the fact is, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren of the 1950s is the loudest thing you’d ever have been likely to hear.
Powered by a 180-bhp version of the company’s industrial Hemi V8, the Chrysler Air Raid Siren was sold in the hundreds through the fifties. Able to move upwards of 2,610 cubic feet of air a minute at 7 PSI, the exit velocity from the siren’s six horns measured in excess of 400 miles per hour. The output wasn’t just impressive on a sonic level, it’s also claimed capable of starting fires from the sound waves and turning fog into rain. Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!
While Chrysler powered and built, these air raid sirens were originally designed by Bell Telephone Laboratories during WWII. The Cold War models, built between 1951 and ’57 were the loudest of the ones Chrysler offered during and after the war. At over 12 feet long and 6 feet high,and weighing more than three tons, the huge warning devices had the capability to be heard over thirty miles away, weather permitting.
The Hemi spinning the siren is a derivation of the FirePower V8 first introduced in 1951. At 180-bhp it’s highly under-stressed, and future editions in automotive use easily pumped out twice that amount. For Chrysler enthusiasts, the Hemi V8 represents a pinnacle of the brand’s technological achievements. As proven by the record-setting Chrysler Air Raid Siren, it also proudly served as an apex of our Cold War preparations, and protectorate of a nation.
Find more pictures of Chrysler Air Raid Siren installations here.