US-President Dwight D. Eisenhower is succeeded by John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy appoints Janet G. Travell to be his physician, the first woman to hold this appointment.

The United States severe all diplomatic relations with Cuba.

British authorities announce that they have discovered a large Soviet spy ring in London.

An atomic reactor (SL-1) explodes at the National Reactor Testing Station near Idaho Falls, killing three military technicians. Three weeks later, a B-52 Stratofortress, with two nuclear bombs, crashes near Goldsboro, North Carolina.


Ham the Chimp, a 37-pound (17-kg) male, is rocketed into space aboard Mercury-Redstone 2, in a test of the Project Mercury capsule, designed to carry United States astronauts into space.

The most recent animated Disney movie is 101 Dalmatians.


 American dramatist Arthur Miller and film star Marilyn Monroe are granted a divorce in Mexico.


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The Etruscan terracotta warriors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, are exposed as forgeries.

After the Congo government announces that villagers have killed Patrice Lumumba, President Kennedy warns the Soviet Union to avoid interfering with the United Nations pacification of the Congo.

A Sabena Boeing 707 crashes near Brussels, Belgium, killing 73, including the entire United States figure skating team and several coaches.

The USSR launches Venera 1 towards Venus.

A total solar eclipse occurs in the southern part of Europe.


United States President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps.

Kennedy proposes a long-term “Alliance for Progress” between the United States and Latin America

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, allowing residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections.

 The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is signed at New York; an international treaty to prohibit production and supply of specific (nominally narcotic) drugs and of drugs with similar effects except under licence for specific purposes, such as medical treatment and research.


Max Conrad circumnavigates the earth in 8 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes, setting a new world record.

A second B-52 crashes near Yuba City, California (somewhat north of Sacramento) after cabin pressure is lost and the fuel runs out. Two nuclear weapons are found unexploded.

Nous les amoureux by Jean-Claude Pascal (music by Jacques Datin, text by Maurice Vidalin) wins the Eurovision Song Contest 1961 for Luxembourg.


The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins; it fails by April 19.

The 33rd Academy Awards ceremony is held. Among the Winners and Runners-up: Billy Wilder´s The Apartment, Alfred Hitchcock´s Psycho, John Wayne´s The Alamo, Spartacus, Inherit The Wind, Exodus, The Magnificent Seven, Cimarron, The Time Machine.

The Academy Juvenile Award goes to Hayley Mills.

Judy Garland performs in a legendary comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann begins in Jerusalem. After Germany’s defeat in 1945, Eichmann had fled to Austria, then moved to Argentina using false papers. Information collected by the Mossad, Israel‘s intelligence agency, confirmed his location in 1960. A team of Mossad and Shin Bet agents captured Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial.

Vostok 1: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space, orbiting the Earth once.


The Swedish ship Vasa is removed from the water after being sunk 333 years earlier.



 U.S. Freedom Riders begin interstate bus rides to test the new U.S. Supreme Court integration decision. A Freedom Riders bus is fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the civil rights protestors are beaten by an angry mob of Ku Klux Klan members. Alabama Governor John Patterson declares martial law in an attempt to restore order after race riots break out.

Mercury program: Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space aboard Mercury-Redstone 3.


Apollo program: President Kennedy announces before a special joint session of Congress his goal to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

 J. Heinrich Matthaei is the first person to recognize and understand the genetic code. This is the birthdate of modern genetics.

 Venera 1 becomes the first man-made object to fly-by another planet by passing Venus (however, the probe had lost contact with Earth a month earlier and does not send back any data).

The Prime Minister of Malaya, holds a press conference in Singapore, announcing his idea to form the Federation of Malaysia, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo (Sabah).

May 28Peter Benenson‘s article “The Forgotten Prisoners” is published in several internationally read newspapers. This is later considered the founding of the human rights organization Amnesty International.



Kennedy meets de Charles Gaulle in Paris.


June 4Vienna summit: John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev meet during two days in Vienna. They discuss nuclear tests, disarmament and Germany.


 The Soviet submarine K-19 reactor leak occurs in the North Atlantic. K-19 was one of the two first generation nuclear submarines equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles. On its initial voyage on 4 July 1961, it suffered a complete loss of coolant to its reactor. With no backup system, the captain ordered members of the engineering crew to find a solution to avoid a nuclear meltdown. Sacrificing their own lives, the engineering crew jerry-rigged a secondary coolant system and kept the reactor from a meltdown. Twenty-two crew members died from radiation sickness during the following two years. The sub experienced several other accidents, including two fires and a collision. The series of accidents inspired crew members to nickname the sub Hiroshima.


 Mercury program: Gus Grissom, piloting the Mercury-Redstone 4 capsule Liberty Bell 7, becomes the second American to go into space (sub-orbital). Upon splashdown, the hatch prematurely opens, and the capsule sinks (it is recovered in 1999).

U.S. President John F. Kennedy gives a widely watched TV speech on the Berlin crisis, warning “we will not be driven out of Berlin.” Kennedy urges Americans to build fallout shelters, setting off a four-month debate on civil defense.


The Six Flags Over Texas theme park officially opens to the public. It is the first Six Flags theme park.

 Vostok 2: Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov becomes the second human to orbit the Earth, and the first to be in outer space for more than one day.


Construction of the Berlin Wall begins, restricting movement between East Berlin and West Berlin and forming a clear boundary between West Germany and East Germany, Western Europe and Eastern Europe.


The Soviet Union resumes nuclear testing, escalating fears over the ongoing Berlin crisis.

Tom and Jerry make a return with their first episode since 1957, Switchin’ Kitten. The new creator, Gene Deitch, makes 12 more Tom and Jerry episodes until 1962.

During the F1 Italian Grand Prix on the circuit of Monza, German Wolfgang von Trips, driving a Ferrari, crashes into a stand, killing 14 spectators and himself.

United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in an air crash en route to Katanga, Congo.


Walt Disney Presents,  the Walt Disney anthology television series, renamed Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, moves from ABC to NBC after seven years on the air, and begins telecasting its programs in color for the first time. Years later, after Disney’s death, the still-on-the-air program will be renamed The Wonderful World of Disney.


Baseball player Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hits his 61st home run in the last game of the season, against the Boston Red Sox, setting a new record for the longer baseball season. The record for the shorter season was still held by Babe Ruth.

 Paris massacre of 1961: French police in Paris attack about 30,000 protesting a curfew applied solely to Algerians. The official death toll is 3, but human rights groups claim 240 dead.

 West Side Story is released as a film.


Confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie: A standoff between Soviet and American tanks in Berlin, Germany heightens Cold War tensions.


Imperial Airlines Flight 201/8 crashes while attempting to land at Richmond, Virginia, killing 77 persons on board.

Neil Armstrong records a world record speed in a rocket plane of 6,587 km/h flying a X-15.

 Michael Rockefeller, son of New York Governor and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, disappears in the jungles of New Guinea.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy sends 18,000 military advisors to South Vietnam.

The funeral of longtime House Speaker Sam Rayburn is held in Washington, D.C. Two former Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower) and one future one (Lyndon B. Johnson) join President Kennedy in paying their respects.


Fidel Castro announces Cuba will adopt socialism.

The American involvement in the Vietnam War officially begins, as the first American helicopters arrive in Saigon along with 400 U.S. personnel.

Adolf Eichmann is pronounced guilty of crimes against humanity by a panel of three Israeli judges and sentenced to death.

Walt Disney‘s first live-action Technicolor musical, Babes in Toyland, a remake of the famous Victor Herbert operetta, is released, but flops at the box office.

The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, United States, is completed.

Notable toys of the year

Barbie” gets a boyfriend when the “Ken” doll is introduced.

Notable childrens´  books of the year

Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Dr Seuss, The Sneetches and other stories

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird

Notable films of the year

The Absent-Minded Professor, The Parent Trap, Blue Hawaii, Gidget goes Hawaiian, also: Tammy tell me true,  West Side Story, El Cid, Breakfast at Tiffany´s, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Notable television shows of the year

Mr Ed, Ben Casey, The Dick Van Dyke Show, American Bandstand, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Captain Kangaroo, Leave it to Beaver, Rocky and his friends/The Bullwinkle Show, Ozzie and Harriet, Andy Griffith Show, Donna Reed Show, Bugs Bunny, Ed Sullivan Show, The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, QuickDraw McGraw, Margie, Top Cat, The Twilight Zone.