Events from the year 1961 in the United States.
- January 3 – President Dwight Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba.
- January 3 – At the National Reactor Testing Station near Idaho Falls, Idaho, atomic reactor SL-1 explodes, killing 3 military technicians.
- January 5 – Italian sculptor Alfredo Fioravanti marches into the U.S. Consulate in Rome, and confesses that he was part of the team that forged the Etruscan terracotta warriors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- January 17 – President Dwight Eisenhower gives his final State of the Union Address to Congress. In a Farewell Address the same day, he warns of the increasing power of a "military-industrial complex".
- January 20 – John F. Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States.
- January 24 – A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress, with two nuclear bombs, crashes near Goldsboro, North Carolina.
- January 24 – Musician Bob Dylan reportedly makes his way to New York City after bumming a ride in Madison, Wisconsin. Dylan is likely on his way to visit his idol Woody Guthrie. He later finds fame in the Greenwich Village protest folk music scene.
- January 25 – In Washington, DC John F. Kennedy delivers the first live presidential news conference. In it, he announces that the Soviet Union has freed the 2 surviving crewmen of a USAF RB-47 reconnaissance plane shot down by Soviet flyers over the Barents Sea July 1, 1960 (see RB-47H shot down).
- January 26 – John F. Kennedy appoints Janet G. Travell to be his physician, the first woman to hold this appointment.
- January 30 – President John F. Kennedy delivers his first State of the Union Address.
- January 31 – 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.
- February 1 – The United States launches its first test of the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile.
- February 14 – Discovery of the chemical elements: Element 103, Lawrencium, is first synthesized in Berkeley, California.
- February 15 – President Kennedy warns the Soviet Union to avoid interfering with the United Nations pacification of the Congo.
- February 15 – A Sabena Boeing 707 crashes near Brussels, Belgium, killing 73, including the entire United States figure skating team and several coaches.
- March 1 – President of the United States John F. Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps.
- March 8 – The first U.S. Polaris submarines arrive at Holy Loch.
- March 13 – United States delegate to the United Nations Security Council Adlai Stevenson votes against Portuguese policies in Africa.
- March 13 – President of the United States John F. Kennedy proposes a long-term "Alliance for Progress" between the United States and Latin America.
- March 29 – The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, allowing residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections.
- March 30 – The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is signed at New York.
President Kennedy delivers his proposal to put a man on the Moon before a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
- October 1 – 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, beating the 34-year-old record held by Babe Ruth.
- October 27 – A standoff between Soviet and American tanks in Berlin, Germany heightens Cold War tensions.
- November – The Fantastic Four #1 comic debuts, launching the Marvel Universe and revolutionizing the American comic book industry.
- November 2 – Kean opens at Broadway Theater in New York City for 92 performances.
- November 6 – The U.S. government issues a stamp honoring the 100th birthday of James Naismith.
- November 9 – Neil Armstrong records a world record speed in a rocket plane of 6,587 km/h flying a X-15.
- November 17 – Michael Rockefeller, son of New York Governor, and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, disappears in the jungles of New Guinea.
- November 18 – U.S. President John F. Kennedy sends 18,000 military advisors to South Vietnam.
- November 20 – The funeral of longtime House Speaker Sam Rayburn is held in Washington, DC. Two former Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower) and one future one (Lyndon B. Johnson) join President Kennedy in paying their respects.
- December 5 – U.S. President John F. Kennedy gives support to the Volta Dam project in Ghana.
- December 11 – The Vietnam War officially begins, as the first American helicopters arrive in Saigon along with 400 U.S. personnel.
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- January 7 – John Thune, United States Senator from South Dakota since 2005.
- April 3 – Eddie Murphy, actor
- May 3 – David Vitter, United States Senator from Louisiana since 2005.
- May 31 – Lea Thompson, actress and director
- May 6 – George Clooney, actor, film director, producer, and screenwriter
- July 14 – Jackie Earle Haley, actor
- August 4 – Barack Obama, 44th and first African American President of the United States and United States Senator from Illinois from 2005 till 2008.
- August 9 – Amy Stiller, actress, daughter of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara and sister of Ben Stiller
- November 17 – Pat Toomey, United States Senator from Pennsylvania since 2011.
- November 22 – Mariel Hemingway, actress and sister of Margaux Hemingway
- December 8 – Ann Coulter, political commentator
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