1960 Revisited

Ah, nothing says 1960 like a big-ass Caddy

The New Year brings a personal milestone for the History Nerd, as he faces – with absolutely no amount of courage or sanguinity – his 50th birthday. Putting aside my angst, I’d like to highlight some truly momentous events of 1960, and as the 50th anniversary year unfolds, I might revisit some of them in more detail. The birthday, however will be ignored, at least here; for the ranting, railing, and downright whining about aging and mortality sure to come as the day approaches, check out the aptly named Crisis? What Crisis?


But he got it right when he warned us of the military-industrial complex...

In his State of the Union Address, President Eisenhower tells the nation, “We now stand in the vestibule of a vast new technological age – one that, despite its capacity for human destruction, has an equal capacity to make poverty and human misery obsolete. If our efforts are wisely directed – and if our unremitting efforts for dependable peace begin to attain some success – we can surely become participants in creating an age characterized by justice and rising levels of human well-being.”

Unfortunately, as reported this week, “Average household incomes adjusted for inflation have been shrinking since 2000.” So much for rising levels and making poverty obsolete.

Vice President Richard Nixon announces his candidacy for president, less than a week after Senator John F. Kennedy throws his hat into the ring. The two candidates will later engage in the first televised presidential debates (September and October), letting the world admire Tricky Dick’s sweat and five o’clock shadow. The election itself is a close one, with Republicans leveling charges of fraud against Kennedy and the Dems, especially in Illinois and Texas. Historians agree they are mostly unfounded, but I doubt any would say there was no fraud anywhere. After all, this is America.


Jimi (then Jimmy) Hendrix plays with the Rocking Kings at Washington Hall, Seattle. Some online sources claim this is his first public gig, but Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience, says he had already played out with that fine band, the Velvetones.


Actor William Talman, a star of the hit TV show Perry Mason, is arrested while attending a Hollywood “wild nude party” that featured pot. CBS cans him from the show but allows him to return after he is found innocent. Other partygoers are thankful Raymond Burr hadn’t attended.


The Soviet Union shoots down U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. The US denies he is a spy, but the Soviets reveal the assortment of spy tools he had with him. One essential item in any spy’s toolkit – poison, meant to be used if the agent was captured and feared torture. Powers carried his on a tiny needle hidden inside a hollow silver dollar. He goes on trial, is convicted, and is later swapped for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

Caryl Chessman – one of those names you come across in the history books and the occasional Genesis song. The habitual criminal is executed after 12 years on Death Row and repeated claims of innocence. A reprieve comes just moments after the gas pellets that will kill him hit the chamber floor.

One pill does not make you larger, praise the Lord

Drug makers Searle receives approval to sell the first birth-control pill. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Of course, in my home state of CT, using it and other forms of birth control remains a crime until 1965, when the Supreme Court tosses out the offending statute in Griswold v. Connecticut, which also introduces the idea of an implied constitutional right to privacy, ticking off conservatives ever since. But don’t think the issue is settled: Some Catholics and fundamentalists still hope to outlaw birth control.


Alfred Hitchcock makes his obligatory cameo appearance

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is released. Hitchcock said it was shot in black-and-white because of the blood in the shower scene (slightly more squeamish about those things then), which took a week to shoot. (For what it’s worth, the History Nerd would much rather sit through repeat viewings of many other Hitchcock classics.)

The 23rd Amendment is sent to the states for ratification. You remember that one, right?  No? Well, it gave residents of Washington, D.C., the right to choose electors for the Electoral College. Fifty years later, DC voters are still waiting for Congress and the states to give them representatives in the House and Senate. Ah, democracy in action.


Theodore Maiman publicly demonstrates the first working laser, then watches as another scientist did what any good American inventor does – argue over originality and patents. Gordon Gould had coined the acronym laser and did important research on it. After a long legal battle, he was awarded the first of four patents relating to lasers in 1977.


Meeting in Baghdad, five nations –  Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and  Venezuela – vow to always remain best friends with the United State. Nah – actually, they form OPEC.



Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run gives the Pittsburgh Pirates a World Series victory over the New York Yankees (no way a lifelong Red Sox fan was gonna let that one slip by…).

Campaigning for Kennedy, former president Harry Truman tells an audience that Richard Nixon never told the truth in his life. Ah, no wonder one bio of the Missourian was called Plain Speaking (though evidently interviewer Merle Miller made up most if not all of the quotes therein).


A bunch of people win the Nobel Prize, most of them unknown today except to scientists and literature geeks (sure, like you know Literature laureate Saint-John Perse, pseudonym of French poet and diplomat Marie-Rene-Auguste-Alexis Saint-Leger).

That’s all I got. I know there are plenty of other milestones, and I’d love to hear from you if you have any to add to the list.

  1. A legal geek a/k/a the prof. who asked the question
    March 8, 2010 at 2:47 am

    It has happened…I have met the history geek to match my geekness.
    I await to read the 1962 post.

  2. mburgan
    March 8, 2010 at 3:03 am

    Geekness is such a funny thing, isn’t it? I guess theoretically I should wait till 2012 to do the 1962 recap, but I could be persuaded to do it earlier (good grade, cough, cough)

  3. A legal geek a/k/a the prof. who asked the question
    March 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I suspect you won’t require any addtional assitance. For several years now, I am always suspect every term of the seemingly quiet students who sit in the back of the classroom. They never fail to produce interesting surprises!

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