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NATO’s travelling exhibitions

The idea of informing the people of Allied member countries about NATO’s origins and why it came into being dates back to 1951. At the time, the only channels of information were newspapers and the radio. People who lived far from major cities only rarely had access to them. Hence the idea of going out to meet those people.

With this aim in mind, in 1952 the first travelling exhibition, called “Caravan of Peace” and made up of a large tent and an expandable trailer, set off from NATO Headquarters in Paris to make its way down to Italy. It was an immediate success, and from February to August 1952, 1,542,815 visitors flocked to the exhibition in Naples, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Bari, Genoa, Turin, Florence and Venice.

Then it was Greece and Turkey’s turn. The travelling exhibition made its way through all the countries of the Alliance in this way. The roads were often hostile and hazardous for the vehicles, which would travel an average of 300 km a day at a maximum speed of 70 km/hour. Breakdowns and other incidents were not uncommon. But these efforts were always followed by the joy of reaching out to curious audiences keen to learn more about NATO.

Later on, in 1960, the concept of “Mobile Information Centre” was reviewed. NATO decided to reduce its fleet and to sell its five trucks (donated by the United States) to buy two fully equipped information buses. These new vehicles were better suited to operations in faraway countries and in complex environments. They were escorted by a technician and an officer from the armed forces of the NATO host nation, who answered questions from the audience. The buses were also designed to be used as movie theatres that could seat 50 adults. If there was a large crowd and the weather was nice enough, NATO films could also be shown on a big outdoor screen or on a projector screen at the back of the bus.

Posters explained in detail, in the language of the host nation, how the Alliance worked. Leaflets were also handed out. NATO’s two information buses toured through the countries of the Alliance until the 1970s, by which time most households in NATO countries had televisions as their window on the world.