Andrew James John Mackenzie
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A-dvertising-Bomb; Hiroshima and the Mosler Safe Company

Across the years, marketing departments and advertising agencies have always tried to formulate ever more varied and outlandish strategies for maximum effect in the marketplace. Unscrupulous, annoying and weird some may be, but none quite so unique as the campaign launched by the Mosler Safe Company in the aftermath of the Second World War. Only one year after the apocalyptic event of 6 August 1945, Mosler stepped up its campaign for their premium, apparently unbreakable vault products, citing the nuclear fallout of Hiroshima in its product placement strategy. Mosler safes found in the Teikoku Bank were, according to the bank manager, “stronger than the atomic bomb.” This was an unparalleled testimony to be sure, certainly not one to be left under utilised by Mosler marketers – particularly at the beginning of the ‘Atomic Age’.

Following the Enola Gay deployment of ‘Little Boy’ and the subsequent devastation of Hiroshima, reports came in concerning the sheer scale of destruction caused. Modern day historians and contemporaries alike find it very difficult to imagine that anything could have survived. It was unbelievable, therefore, to discover that in one building there remained, virtually untouched, surviving remnants of civilisation, vaults of US design and manufacture. In a report written by an unknown US Army lieutenant, the atomic-proof depositories built by the Mosler Safe Company, located in the Teikoku Bank 360m from the epicenter of the atomic blast, were described as follows:
“In visiting the remains of the City of Hiroshima, I found in one of the three structures still standing, four large vaults built by the Mosler Safe Co. of Hamilton, O. The vaults were entirely intact and except for the exterior being burned and rusted there was no damage. Across the room from the American-made safes were two vaults made by the Takeucho Co. located at Tokyo. These were completely destroyed, their doors blown off the hinges, and the sides crushed. To me this was a very positive demonstration of the superiority of American equipment. No other test than that of the atomic bomb could have been more severe or exacting.”

Further to the testimony given by the anonymous US Army lieutenant, Mosler commissioned its own fact-finding mission, writing up their findings in another report:
“Those buildings constructed of steel and concrete in Hiroshima were best able to stand the explosion and hence protected their contents to some degree. …The explosions cracked the exteriors, tore the cement floors into pieces and the fire which followed gutted the buildings of all else. Those buildings constructed of reinforced concrete only, such as the Teikou [sic] Bank, were damaged to a larger degree. Those built of wood or brick were completely demolished. Two Mosler bank vaults, one being located at the Teikou [sic] Bank in Hiroshima and the other located in the Geibi Bank in Kure, were in excellent condition and were in operation.”

The ‘unbreakable’ and ‘atomic bomb-proof’ vaults and safes were very well received by banks in both the United States and overseas. Both the Farmers State Bank and the Merchants National Bank proclaimed their acquisition of Mosler vaults and safes proudly, adorning most of their advertising and pamphlets with stock photos, model names and testimonies of Mosler Safe Company products. The ‘Atomic Age’ was a time of much trepidation and anxiety, fear of the Reds and nuclear fallout circulated everywhere. Safeguarding one’s material wealth and livelihood became just as important as protecting loved ones and preserving oneself. Indeed, the American Banker publication stated that “[m]any of the estimated 13,000,000 holders of safe deposit boxes [in the United States] have voiced their concerns over the resistance of bank vaults to atomic explosion, according to letters from bank officials.” Mosler provided the solution, therefore, encapsulating the public mood into more profitable enterprises.

     Farmers State Bank advert                                                                Merchants National Bank advert

By the 1950s, the Mosler reputation was at its peak. Commendations kept pouring in, including one particularly noteworthy example from the Teikoku bank, Hiroshima on 22 May 1950. It is an unbelievable account, giving little emphasis to the many thousands of people who died:
The Teikoku Bank Limited 
Kawayacho, Hiroshima Japan
May 22, 1950
We consider it our great honour to inform you that The Teikoku Bank, the successor to the Mitsui Bank, had in 1925 when its Hiroshima branch was newly built dared to set two vault doors made by your Hamilton Factory.
As you know in 1945 the Atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, and the whole city was destroyed and thousands of citizens lost their precious lives. And our building, the best artistic one in Hiroshima, was also destroyed. However it was our great luck to find that though the surface of the vault doors was heavily damaged, its contents were not affected at all and the cash and important documents were perfectly saved. The superiority of your goods is completely verified as truly told to the whole world in the American Bankers [sic], the July 13th issue of 1946. Your products were admired for being stronger than the atomic bomb.
Since then about five years have elapsed. The building and doors of the vault have been completely repaired and we have started our business on the first of the month. Recently many tourists have come to see our building and when we show them your vault we proudly explain to them how strong they were against the atomic explosion. 
We hereby wish to have a letter of congratulations and some souvenir to celebrate our opening business at out old office. We shall appreciate it as our utmost honour, and we believe it will do much to keep and promote a good will relation for the long future.
Yours very faithfully,
The Teikoku Bank Limited
Manager, Hiroshima Branch.

The praise was used to great effect in the many publications printed by the company, using the glittering testimonies as a part of their ever growing marketing strategies. Their techniques and slogans became ever more explicit and tactless in nature. Beginning in one of their campaigns, was the line “The Hiroshima Story Comes to Life with a Bang.” Certain contemporaries were flabbergasted that such unabashed and inappropriate material could be allowed to circulate in commercials and popular advertising, the subject matter being so utterly offensive. The poet Robert Lowell, in his poem For the Union Dead, criticised the company and its campaign by including the following lines:
“…on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph / shows Hiroshima boiling / over a Mosler Safe, the ‘Rock of Ages’ / that survived the blast.”

     Letter from the Teikoku Bank                                                        Mosler Safe Company advertising. 1950s

Even with the less than tasteful material used, the Mosler Safe Company continued to perform well and achieved great success in the public sector and governmental functions, executing numerous contracts for the production of vaults and bunkers, including one vault to house the original Declaration of Independence. Indeed, it developed a separate division to incorporate what it termed “protective construction” projects. One such protected project was the assembly of a 25 ton vault door to reinforce the then-secret bunker for the members of Congress, located at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Despite these successes, even the dogged and cunning executives of the Mosler marketing department and PR office were unable to rejuvenate the company in the wake of economic disparity and competition from overseas that plagued them in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With 153 years to their name, the Mosler Safe Company ceased to trade in 2001, closing its offices in Hamilton, Ohio in that same year. Surviving an atomic blast in 1945 ensured the company’s apparent invulnerability and indestructibility in the market. The ‘Atomic Age’, too, brought with it a ceaseless stream of customers and economic prosperity. Ultimately, however, the ‘Atomic Age’ was but a transitory phase, the economic explosion of the Mosler Safe Company mirroring the half-life of Hiroshima’s radioactive fallout, decaying in potency and energy as the years went by. 
American Banker, “Will U.S. Vaults Resist Atom Bombs? Hiroshima Experience Proves They Do,” American Banker (13 July 1946), p. 8. Copyright © 1946-2012 American Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
Robert Lowell, “For the Union Dead,” Life Studies and For the Union Dead (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1964). Copyright © 1964 Robert Lowell. All rights reserved.
All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.
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