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Amway offering provided shelter from nuclear fallout

Cold War artifact preserved beneath 120-year-old Michigan home

Walk down the narrow steps underneath a 120-year-old Michigan farmhouse and you’ll learn something about an all-but-forgotten chapter in U.S. history — and Amway’s role in it.

What resembles a small barracks is an underground survival shelter designed to protect a family from nuclear fallout. This rare Amway product was made nearly 60 years ago, during the height of the Cold War.

It’s a reminder that before Amway grew into a household name around the world for innovative health, beauty and home care products, the company experimented with different ways to meet the needs of customers with a wide range of products from a home-weather center to a duct-tape chair.

Well-preserved time capsule

Despite the rusted floors and walls, the shelter below the home’s basement is a well-preserved time capsule. Among 50 Amway shelters installed in the early 1960s, the bunker was outfitted with four bunk beds, air and water purifying systems and a portable toilet.

“It’s an egg shape, because what that does is allows the rain to come around on the top, and it keeps the hollow underneath. It’s actually on stilts, so that way the rain washes away underneath,” Dana Macklin explained.

The home in Edmore — about an hour north of Amway World Headquarters in Ada, Michigan — had been in Macklin’s family for decades.

The air and water pumps, along with the radiation detector, are still in working order.

Simple, but sophisticated

The air pump was designed to purify air from the outside through six radiation filters, with the capacity to change out the supply in seven minutes, drawing and exhausting air from pipes going up to the patio. If the power went out, a hand crank could be used to draw in air.

“It’s a very simple, but sophisticated system. They thought of everything when they built this. They really did a great job of engineering,” Macklin said, demonstrating aspects of the bunker.

Historic significance

Though Macklin remembers using the underground bunker as a hangout when he was a kid, he didn’t really understand its significance or local connection until five years ago when he discovered a box in the survivor kit with “ship to Amway” on the side.

He reached out to Amway, which supplied brochures and photographs about the product. They even sent him a price list, showing the 14-foot shelter — big enough to hold eight people — sold for $1,750, plus another $160 for the connecting tunnel. The latter was carved through the home’s thick stone foundation to create an alternate escape route.

Macklin, who recently sold the home, hopes the new owners will continue to preserve this slice of local history. He’s doing his part by donating the contents of the original survival kit to the Amway archives.

Only 50 Amway shelters were installed in the early 1960s. Each bunker was located 15 feet underground and outfitted with four bunk beds, air and water purifying systems and a portable toilet.