By Brian Duff
Ancient Times – 1900
The history of prepping and preparing for adversity can be traced back to the earliest of human times. One only needs to look to the story of Noah and his ark for an example of preparing for a natural disaster. Following the great flood, both human history and the history of prepping is riddled with examples of people who prepared in advance to overcome future challenges.
Humans have preserved food since the earliest days. Without our modern conveniences, people had to plan and prepare well in advance for difficult times. For example, in the Middle Ages, people preserved food in the summer so that it could be eaten in the winter. Because of the expense associated with feeding animals in the winter, most were slaughtered in the fall and preserved to provide a supply of meat through the winter.
This basic need for preparing for adversity continued for thousands of years. It continued because it was necessary for survival. Without preparing, most would have surely perished. Imagine a winter in the 1800s without pre-chopped wood, or preserved food. The history of prepping is full of examples of those who did not think ahead or prepare and proved Darwin right.
1900 – 1970s
Even in our recent history, preparing for adversity was an accepted and encouraged the practice. Through most of the 20th century, people and governments encouraged people to prepare for challenges and seek some level of self-sustainability. In many cases, this was done in an effort for a country’s citizens to help support a national effort.
World War I & World War II
Numerous countries involved in the wars encouraged their citizens to plant “victory gardens.” The promoting of victory gardens went hand in hand with the rationing of food. These campaigns for preparedness and self-reliance were promoted as patriotic endeavors that would help win the wars.
In the United States, the effort to motivate the population into improved self-reliance was successful and resulted in the planting of 20 million victory gardens. In 1944, these victory gardens produced over eight million tons of fruits and vegetables. This accounted for 40% of all fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States and was equal to all commercial U.S. production.
During WWII, some feared that German aerial bombing was not far behind the U-Boat attacks that targeted the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, another preparedness action taken by many was the construction of home bomb shelters. Many of these bomb shelters still exist today.
The Cold War
With the end of WWII, the world entered the nuclear age. Along with the nuclear age came the fear of nuclear war between the world’s superpowers. This fear resulted in the building of bomb shelters throughout the United States by individuals and local and federal governments.
Perhaps one of the most famous and massive bomb shelters is the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. The Greenbrier began in 1958 as “Project Greek Island.” This was the code name for what would eventually become the potential shelter for 1,100 people, including all of the US Congress. The Greenbrier remained in operation until 1992 when it was outed by the media. Had it not been exposed by the media, it would probably still be part of the Governments survival plan today. However, while the US Government may not plan on using the Greenbrier as its future apocalyptic home, it is certain that there are other Greenbriers readied for a cataclysmic event.
The government not only built shelters such as the Greenbrier, but it also instituted “duck and cover” education and drills. Ask any elder who was a child of the times and they will most likely be able to recall watching public safety films, such as Atomic Alert, and conducting nuclear bomb drills. These drills were based on guidance similar to what is provided in the US Army’s Field Manual, FM 3-4 NBC Protection:
“Nuclear attack indicators are unmistakable. The bright flash, enormous explosion, high winds, and mushroom-shaped cloud clearly indicate a nuclear attack. An enemy attack would normally come without warning. Initial actions must therefore be automatic and instinctive. Dropping immediately and covering exposed skin provide protection against blast and thermal effects.”
These widely accepted Cold War preparedness measures continued well into the 1970s.
1970s – 1998 (The Survivalists)
Brief History of U.S. Preparedness
The next phase in the history of preparedness began in the mid-1970s. It was in 1976 that Kurt Saxon coined the phrase “survivalism.” It was also during the mid-1970s when Howard Ruff wrote his book, Famine and Survival in America. Ruff’s book, based upon the turbulent financial times, helped lay the foundation for many of the concepts that make up today’s modern prepper philosophy. At the same time, the start of the modern firearms training and competition movement began at the American Pistol Institute (now Gunsite Academy), which was founded in 1976 by USMC Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper.
Unfortunately, as the 1980s progressed into the 1990s, the media and a large portion of society began to negatively label people who took preparedness actions. The media wrongfully combined anyone and any group who practiced preparedness into one targeted group of wrongdoers. Rather than identify people and groups based on their individual merits, the media used blanket accusations in an attempt to paint all preparedness people as crazy, racist, and anti-government. It was an untrue but effective tactic that drove many good but concerned people who engaged in preparedness underground to prepare in secret.
1999 – Today
Fortunately, in the late 90s, as the specter of Y2K approached, the media campaign against people who prepared began to soften. Y2K was the fear that due to a computer glitch, computers would shut down at the start of the new century. This resulted in the mainstream media running stories of potential power grid failures and society shutdown. Fortunately, 2000 started off without a hitch and the prophecies of a Y2K doom never materialized.
What did materialize though, was a rebranding of the survivalist movement and preparing for adversity, which resulted in an increased acceptance across society. The word “survivalism” was replaced with “prepper,” which turned “survivalists” into “preppers.” That acceptance, while not complete, continued to increase and does so today. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ushered in a new age of ongoing worry and concern with preparing for adversity. That level of worry and concern is possibly unmatched in the history of preppers.
Media Driven FearAs time passed, the flames of worry and concern continued to be fanned across society by the never-ending 24-hour news cycle. It is this media driven news cycle, which sensationalizes such tragedies as swine flu, avian influenza, Ebola, increased crime, repeated terrorist attacks, financial upheaval, etc., with non-stop round-the-clock coverage. Because of the fear from the sensationalized news stories, many more people are becoming concerned for their future safety and security, and are preparing for adversity. As a result, the prepper ranks continue to swell as it has at no other time in the modern history of prepping.
This increasing population of preppers is further augmented by the explosion of the Internet. With more and more prepper-related websites, blogs, and podcasts becoming accessible, the availability of information is unsurpassed in the history of preppers. This allows for begging preppers to become proficient and prepared within a short period of time. It also serves to further demystify preparedness, increasing society’s acceptance, further increasing the number of people willing to identify themselves as preppers.
This has resulted in a widening definition of what is considered as ʺbeing prepared.ʺ Some preppers consider a few days of food and a family emergency plan to be a satisfactory amount of preparedness. Others, however, desire to have a fallback location ready in the event they need to evacuate their family due to a Hurricane Katrina-like event, or a bigger occurrence. Regardless of the desired amount of preparedness, one fact holds true today, just as it has through the history of prepping: Any preparedness is better than no preparedness.
Lastly, never forget, when preparing for adversity, you’re just one prep away…
If you have any other information, suggestions, or thoughts on the history of prepping, please leave a comment below.
Stay safe, secure and prepared.