The People History

What Happened in 1961 Important News and Events, Key Technology and Popular Culture

What happened in 1961 Major News Stories include Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space, Alan Shepard makes first US Space Flight, Peace Corps is established by John F. Kennedy, Construction of the Berlin Wall begins, IBM introduces Golf Ball Typewriter, "Freedom Riders" test the United States Supreme Court decision, Pampers the first disposable diaper introduced, US Cuban Exiles and CIA mount unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro known as the Bay of Pigs, UN General Assembly condemns Apartheid,

Jump To 1961 Fashion -- World Leaders -- 1961 Calendar -- 1961 Technology -- Cost Of Living -- Popular Culture -- Toys

Cost of Living 1961

How Much things cost in 1961
Yearly Inflation Rate USA 1.07%
Yearly Inflation Rate UK 2.9%
Average Cost of new house $12,500.00
Average Income per year $5,315.00
Cost of a gallon of Gas 27 cents
Average Cost of a new car $2,850.00
Bacon for 1LB 67 cents
Eggs per dozen 30 cents
Below are some Prices for UK Pounds Sterling
Average House Price 2,770


1961 The cold war continued to worsen with the USSR exploding some very large bombs during testing and then masterminding the building of the Berlin Wall separating East from West Berlin, America sent a battle group to Germany and Americans and Russians Glared at each other across the border, due to this uncertainty many Americans built backyard fallout shelters in case of nuclear war. To make matters worse the Americans financed anti-Castro Cubans for an invasion at the bay of pigs which was an unmitigated disaster. The Soviets put the first man in space on April 12th Yuri Gagarin followed by the US in May with Alan Shepard. Popular music included Chubby Checker's "Pony Time" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by the Shirelles, and top movies included "West Side Story" and "The Parent Trap."


Space --- First Men In Space

  • Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space.
More Information and Timeline For The Early Space Race
1. 1957 October 4th The Soviet Union puts the worlds first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 into orbit around the earth
2. 1957 November 3rd The Soviet Union puts Sputnik 2 the worlds first spacecraft to carry a living animal, a dog named Laika into orbit around the earth.
3. 1958 January 31st The United States puts it's first satellite into space the Explorer 1
4. 1959 September 14th The Soviet Union launches first spacecraft to reach the surface of the Moon Luna 2
5. 1961 April 12th The Soviet Union launches the first spacecraft to take a man into space the Vostok 1 carrying Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
6. 1961 May 5th The United States launches it's first man in space Alan Shepard on the Freedom 7
7. 1961 President Kennedy asks Congress for $531 million to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade
If you look at the timeline for space travel up to this point the The Soviet Union was consistently one step ahead of the United States, but following the speech by President Kennedy on May 25th the United States was determined to be the first to put a man on the moon which they achieved on July 20th 1969 when Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr, who became the first human beings to walk on the Moon's surface.

USA -- Peace Corps Established

U.S. President John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps during March. Kennedy issued Executive Order #10924 which created the group as an agency within the State Department. The Peace Corps works to train young Americans in community development efforts and then deploy them around the world as helpful volunteers in developing countries. Their intended goal was to promote democracy, freedom, and peace by building positive American influence around the world, acting as a counter-effort against Soviet groups promoting communism during the Cold War.

Cuba --- Bay of Pigs

  • US Cuban Exiles and CIA mount unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro known as the Bay of Pigs
More Information and Timeline For Bay of Pigs
1. 1959 Cuban Revolution ends with Fidel Castro holding power following the defeat of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista
2. 1959 - 1960 Cuba Declares It is a now a Communist country and Nationalizes Land and Businesses including U.S. assets totaling $1 billion
3. 1960 August 18th , US President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves funding for assault on Southern Cuba by anti Castro Cuban exiles backed by CIA
4. 1961 January 20th John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States
5. 1961 Fidel Castro declares Cuba bans free elections
6. 1961 April 17th to 19th A 1,500 CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles invade southern Cuba at the "Bay of Pigs" / Bahía de Cochinos
7. 118 are killed and 1,202 are captured by Cuban forces
8. 1962 1,113 prisoners are released in exchange for US$53 million in food and medicine
This has to be one of the worst planned and executed invasions in modern times poorly thought out, as a covert operation it was a bust with Cuban and Soviet Forces knowing almost to the day where and when the operation would occur.

United States -- John F. Kennedy Inauguration

John F. Kennedy was sworn in by Chief Justice Earl Warren as the 35th President of the United States during January . Kennedy, the youngest person to be elected president at the time, was also the first Catholic president. He was a decorated World War II veteran who had served in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives and a Senator from Massachusetts and came from a family that had been previously involved in politics. JFK’s inauguration was notable for his memorable speech which featured the imploration to his fellow citizens, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy would remain as the U.S. President until he was assassinated in November of 1963.

Soviet Union - Tsar Bomba

  • The USSR tests the "Tsar Bomba," the largest nuclear bomb ever.
More Information for the Tsar Bomba
1. The Soviet Union conducts the largest ever nuclear bomb test despite worldwide objections during October .
2. The "Tsar Bomba" also known as the "Kuzkina mat" and "Big Ivan" was detonated over the Novaya Zemlya island in the Arctic.
3. The strength of the blast was equivalent to about 50 megatons (over 50 million tons of T.N.T.) and registered as a 5.0 on the Richter scale.
4. Light from the blast was seen over 600 miles away from the detonation site.
5. The "Tsar Bomba" was the largest and most powerful man-made weapon ever created and just a few years after the test the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, banning all nuclear tests conducted anywhere but underground.


Germany --- Berlin Wall

  • East German Authorities close the border between east and west Berlin and Construction of the Berlin Wall begins.
More Information and Timeline For Berlin Wall
1. 1957 December 11th East Germany introduce a new passport law reducing the overall number of refugees leaving Eastern Germany
2. 1961 20% of the entire East German population leave and defect for West Germany including a high percentage of engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers
3. Following the large defection of professionals from East Germany a decision to build a wall securing the border is confirmed by Soviet and East German leaders
4. 1961 August 13th German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) closes the border with West Germany and install barbed wire entanglements and fences
5. August 17th First concrete elements and large blocks being put in place to create the Berlin Wall
6. 1961-1975 Concrete wall 87 miles long built separating East and West Germany
7. Nine border crossing points between East and West Berlin including Checkpoint Charlie at the corner of Friedrichstrae and Zimmerstrae, which was restricted to Allied personnel and foreigners
8. 1989 The separation of East and West Germany ends as the Berlin Wall is taken down leading to eventual German reunification on October 3rd 1990
The Berlin Wall was a good example how society was effected by the Cold War which existed between the East and West following the end of World War II up to the nineties.

1961 Back In Time Gifts

United States -- Mercury Atlas 5 Mission

NASA launches the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) mission during November . MA-5 was the final test mission prior to beginning manned missions by the United States. The space capsule carried a chimpanzee named Enos aboard. While in space, Enos performed a few tasks to test his psychomotor capabilities. The spacecraft made 2 orbits around Earth and the flight lasted about 3 and a half hours. After the capsule splashed down it was recovered with Enos was alive and in good condition.

United States --- Disney - Babes In Toyland

  • Disney releases their first live action musical film, "Babes In Toyland."
More Information for the film Babes in Toyland
The film "Babes In Toyland" premieres during December . "Babes In Toyland" was created by Walt Disney and was the first live action musical to be produced by the company. The film, starred Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn, and Annette Funicello. The Mother Goose themed musical focused on the evil character of Barnaby's plot to derail the upcoming marriage between characters Tom and Mary in an attempt to further his own romantic agenda. Despite heavy promotion the film was considered a flop for Disney but it did receive two Academy Award nominations for Best Costumes and Best Music.

U.K. - World Wildlife Fund

  • The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) started.
More Information for the World Wildlife Fund
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was officially founded and opened its first office during September . The World Wildlife Fund was created by the world's top conservationists as a means to organize and collaborate on conservation fundraising throughout the globe. The WWF used its influence and resources to bring public awareness to conservation issues with the goal of lessening humanity's impact on natural wildlife habitats and preserving endangered species. Since its founding, the WWF has become the world's largest conservation organization.

Soviet Union --- Venera 1 space probe

  • The Soviet Union launches the Venera 1 space probe.
More Information for Venera 1
The Soviet Union launches the Venera 1 space probe during February . The unmanned probe was the first spacecraft to fly by Venus. The Venera 1's mission returned some data back to Earth verifying the presence of plasma in space, but it was ultimately a failure as contact with the probe was lost within about a week of its launch. It did not transmit any data back about Venus when it passed by the planet. The Soviet Union launched a total of 16 Venera probes and many succeeded in providing detailed data and images of Venus.


More News and Key Events From 1961

UK - Applies to EEC
  • Britain applies for membership of the EEC

U.S. - Segregation
  • Segregation on railways in the south ends

U.S. - Peace Corps
  • The Peace Corps is established by John F. Kennedy

Brazil -- Xingu National Park
  • The Xingu National Park is created in Brazil

Somalia -- Flooding
  • Somalia suffers wide spread flooding after the two main rivers, overflowed their banks and merged in a vast flood plain leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

U.S. -- Texas Sales Tax Introduced
  • Texas Sales Tax Introduced

UN -- Condemns Apartheid
  • UN General Assembly condemns Apartheid

U.S. -- John F. Kennedy inaugurated
  • John F. Kennedy inaugurated as President of the United States

U.S. - build bomb shelters
  • President John F. Kennedy advises American families to build bomb shelters

South Africa -- independent republic
  • South Africa becomes an independent republic.

Romania -- Orient Express
  • Last Journey of The Orient Express Paris - Bucharest

Vietnam - US Military Involvement
  • First Direct US Military Involvement in Vietnam

U.S. - Six Flags
  • The first six flags theme parks opens "Six Flags Over Texas" at Arlington, Texas

UK - Amnesty International
  • Amnesty International Started in United Kingdom

World - Antarctic Treaty
  • The Antarctic Treaty System comes into force on June 23rd to regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica to ensure that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes

U.S. -- Pampers
  • Pampers the first disposable diaper introduced

Portugal - Santa Maria
  • Members of the Portuguese leftist movement hijack The luxury cruise liner Santa Maria.

UK - Portland Spy Ring
  • Members of The UK Portland Spy Ring are found guilty of selling plans of the HMS Dreadnought, Britain's first nuclear submarine to the Russians

World - Population 4 billion
  • Estimate of the Worlds Population reaches 4 billion

U.S. -- 23rd Amendment to the Constitution
  • The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution is Ratified which permits electors in the District of Columbia to choose Electors for President and Vice President. Available as a downloadable image on our Public Domain Images Page

Italy -- Monza Italian Grand Prix Race
  • During the Monza Italian Grand Prix Race Baron Wolfgang von Trips Ferrari crashes off the track onto embankment filled with spectators killing 14 plus the driver.

World -- World Wide Fund
  • The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) started

U.S. -- "Freedom Riders"
  • "Freedom Riders" test the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia by riding racially integrated interstate buses into the South. Some are attacked and beaten by white supremacist supporters of racial segregation.

Popular Culture 1961

  • The farthing coin, used since the 13th century, ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom.
  • British satirical magazine Private Eye is published for first time
  • The Pony become a popular dance
  • Black and white 5 pound notes cease to be legal tender in the UK

Popular Films

  • The Guns of Navarone
  • The Parent Trap
  • The Absent-Minded Professor
  • 101 Dalmatians
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • El Cid
  • The Misfits
  • The Hustler
  • West Side Story

Popular TV

  • Wagon Train
  • Bonanza
  • Gunsmoke
  • Perry Mason
  • The Red Skelton Show
  • Andy Griffith
  • Candid Camera
  • My Three Sons
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents
  • The Twilight Zone
  • Mister Ed (first broadcast in October, 1961)
  • The Avengers debut in the UK. But it was not seen in the U.S. until 1965.

Born This Year

Scott Baio September 22nd
Barack Obama August 4th
Peter Jackson October 31st
Nadia Comaneci November 12th
Frank Bruno November 16th
George Clooney, May 6
Lawrence Fishburne, July 30
Michael J. Fox, June 9
Wayne Gretzky, January 26
Woody Harrelson, July 23
Wynton Marsalis, October 18


  • Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space.
  • The First inflight movie is shown on TWA
  • The First electric toothbrush is produced Squibb Co.
  • Alan Shepard makes first US Space Flight
  • Niagra Falls starts producing hydroelectric power
  • The first quasar is discovered by Allan Sandage at Mt Palomar, California
  • IBM introduces the Selectric typewriter Golfball

Inventions Invented by Inventors and Country ( or attributed to First Use )
Human Space Travel Russia Yuri Gagarin - the first human in space

Major World Political Leaders

Australia -- Prime Minister -- Sir Robert Menzies --
Brazil -- President -- Juscelino Kubitschek -- Till 31 January
Brazil -- President -- Janio Quadros -- From 31 January
Brazil -- President -- Janio Quadros -- Till 25 August
Brazil -- President -- Ranieri Mazzilli -- From 25 August
Brazil -- President -- Ranieri Mazzilli -- Till 7 September
Brazil -- President -- Joao Goulart -- From 7 September
Canada -- Prime Minister -- John Diefenbaker --
China -- Chairman of the People's Republic of China -- Liu Shaoqi --
France -- President -- Charles de Gaulle --
Germany -- Chancellor -- Konrad Adenauer --
India -- Prime Minister -- Jawahar Lal Nehru --
Italy -- Prime Minister -- Amintore Fanfani --
Japan -- Prime Minister -- Hayato Ikeda --
Mexico -- President -- Adolfo Lopez Mateos -- Russia / Soviet Union -- First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- Nikita Khrushchev --
South Africa -- Prime Minister -- Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd --
United States -- President -- Dwight D. Eisenhower -- Till January 20,
United States -- President -- John F. Kennedy -- From January 20,
United Kingdom -- Prime Minister -- Harold Macmillan --