United States and American History: Late 1960

About the history of the United States in 1960, Chessman is executed, a U-2 plane shot down in Russia, first contraceptive pills on the market, debates between Nixon and Kennedy.


May 2 Caryl Chessman was executed at San Quentin prison, Calif., despite worldwide protests. Chessman had been convicted on 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping, and attempted rape in 1948. Since then he had taught himself law, received 8 stays of execution and written 4 books--Cell 2455 Death Row, sold 500,000 copies in the U.S. and was translated worldwide. Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, and Aldous Huxley were among thousands that sent personal appeals for his life.

May 5 A U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down over central U.S.S.R. The incident led to the collapse of the May 16 Eisenhower-Khrushchev Paris summit when the U.S. did not apologize, though Eisenhower did announce discontinuing such flights. On May 11, Eisenhower called espionage "a distasteful but vital necessity" caused by the U.S.S.R.'s "fetish of secrecy and concealment." On May 24, the U.S. launched the Midas I satellite, 1st of a series which replaced the U-2 in military reconnaissance.

U-2 pilot Gary Powers was sentenced by the U.S.S.R. August 19 to 10 years in prison, but was released during February, 1961, in exchange for a Russian spy.

May 9 The Federal Drug Administration approved the 1st public sale of contraceptive pills, Enovid, at $10-$11 for a month's supply.

May 10 U.S. atomic submarine Triton surfaced after 1st underwater circumnavigation of the globe: 30,708 mi. in 84 days.

Sept. 26-Oct. 17 Four TV debates between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy were seen by 8 million Americans. The candidates spent most of the time debating the U.S.'s commitment to defend Quemoy and Matsu, islands just offshore China, and neither clearly won. Political commentators agree, however, that the debates gave Kennedy his slim election victory (0.1%), since he came off at least as knowledgeable and articulate as Nixon, offsetting Nixon's claim to superior experience, and because Kennedy was the more appealing TV personality, due in part to Nixon's poor makeup job in the 1st debate.

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