May 1961

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May 5, 1961: Alan Shepard becomes first American in space

The following events occurred in May 1961:

May 1, 1961 (Monday)[edit]

  • Betting shops became legal in the United Kingdom, permitting UK residents to place bets, through a bookie, on horse races without going to the track.[1]
  • For the first time since Fidel Castro took power, an American airplane was hijacked to Cuba.[2] A man who was listed on the manifest as "Cofresi Elpirata", after the 19th century Caribbean pirate Roberto Cofresí, entered the cockpit of a National Airlines flight that was en route from Miami to Key West, then forced the pilot to fly to Havana. Castro allowed the plane, its crew and all but one of its passengers, to return to the U.S. the next day.[3] Staying behind was "Cofresi", Miami electrician Antuilio Ortiz, who would live comfortably in Cuba for two years before becoming homesick for the U.S. After being incarcerated several times in Cuban prisons, Ortiz would finally be allowed to leave in 1975, and would spend four years in an American prison for the 1961 crime.[4]
  • Born: Clint Malarchuk, Canadian ice hockey player, in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Malarchuk nearly bled to death in an NHL game in 1989.

May 2, 1961 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • The training vessel Albatross was hit by a white squall about 125 miles (201 km) west of the Dry Tortugas. The schooner sank almost instantly, taking with it six people- Alice Sheldon, ship's cook George Ptacnik, and students Chris Coristine, John Goodlett, Rick Marsellus, and Robin Wetherill. Thirteen other people on the student ship survived.[5] The tragedy would later form the basis for the 1996 film White Squall.

May 3, 1961 (Wednesday)[edit]

  • The U.S. federal minimum wage was raised to $1.25 per hour by a 230-196 vote in the House of Representatives. Earlier, the U.S. Senate had approved the measure, advocated by President Kennedy, by a 64-28 vote.[6]
  • Former British diplomat George Blake was sentenced to 42 years imprisonment for spying, one year for the life of each of the 42 British agents who died after Blake had betrayed them. Blake had been the U.K.'s vice-consul in South Korea before being captured during the Korean War and spending three years in an internment camp, and was later caught passing secrets of the British Navy to the Soviet Union.[7] He escaped London's Wormwood Scrubs Prison on October 22, 1965, and eventually settled in Moscow.[8]
  • The 1961 Cannes Film Festival opened.
  • Born: Leyla Zana, Kurdish politician, in Silvan, Turkey

May 4, 1961 (Thursday)[edit]

May 5, 1961 (Friday)[edit]

  • Mercury program: At 9:34 am, Alan Shepard became the first American in space as Freedom 7 lifted off from Cape Canaveral. Shepard's rocket reached an altitude of 115 miles without achieving orbit, and was recovered 19 minutes later by the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain.[12]
  • NASA issued a proposal document to use Scout rockets to launch small satellites that would evaluate the worldwide Mercury Tracking Network in preparation for manned orbital missions.

May 6, 1961 (Saturday)[edit]

May 7, 1961 (Sunday)[edit]

  • China's Prime Minister Zhou Enlai telephoned Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong after a tour in Handan County, Hebei Province, of rural villages affected by malnutrition and famine during the "Great Leap Forward" campaign of 1958 and brought an end to the practice of feeding people through inefficiently-operated collective dining halls. Beginning in June, people were allowed to produce their own food rather than having all resources limited to the village "mess halls". [16]
  • The Soviet Union restored capital punishment for embezzlement of public property. Legal execution had been abolished for all purposes on May 26, 1947, but was gradually introduced for various crimes starting in 1950. Females were exempt from the death penalty under any circumstances, as were men who had reached the age of 60 by the time of their sentencing. [17]
  • UA Sedan-Torcy defeated Nîmes Olympique 3–1 in the Coupe de France Final before 45,000 at Colombes, France.[18]
  • Died: Mukerjee (Yebaw Phyu Win), Burmese Communist leader, in a police raid.[19]

May 8, 1961 (Monday)[edit]

  • At the Savoy Hilton Hotel in New York City, the name of New York's new expansion team in the National League was made official. Joan Payson, the majority owner of the team, christened it as the New York Mets "by breaking a champagne bottle with a baseball bat."[20] The name, short for Metropolitans, was chosen by the public, although Mrs. Payson's personal preference was the "Meadowlarks", and out of 9,613 suggestions, 644 names were selected and then reduced to ten, the other nine choices being Avengers, Bees, Burros, Continentals, Jets, NYBs, Rebels, Skyliners and Skyscrapers.[21]
  • The comic strip Apartment 3-G, about three career women sharing an apartment in Manhattan, made its first appearance.[22]

May 9, 1961 (Tuesday)[edit]

Minow in 2006
  • Describing American television as "a vast wasteland", Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton N. Minow addressed the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, and implied that the FCC might not renew licenses of those entities that failed to upgrade their product. "I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland," said Minow. "You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it."[23]
  • The second launch of the sounding rocket RM-89 Blue Scout I took place at Cape Canaveral, but the 72 foot tall missile wobbled and veered off course. Ground control destroyed the errant vehicle.[24]
  • The B-52 Stratofortress entered service in the United States Air Force.

May 10, 1961 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 11, 1961 (Thursday)[edit]

May 12, 1961 (Friday)[edit]

  • Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "quite unexpectedly" accepted a suggestion from U.S. President John F. Kennedy that the two leaders meet at a conference in Vienna to discuss the future of Berlin. Three weeks later, Kennedy and Khrushchev would shake hands in Austria on June 3. [30]
  • A brush fire in Hollywood, California, destroyed 24 houses, including the home of author Aldous Huxley, who lost almost all of his unpublished manuscripts and works in progress. [31]
  • Born: Zeny & Zory (Zenaida Beveraggi and Zoralda Beveraggi), Las gemelas Beveraggi, Puerto Rican twin sister singing duo, in Santurce.
  • Died: Tony Bettenhausen, 44, American racecar driver and USAC driving champion for 1958, was killed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while testing the car to be driven by his friend Paul Russo in advance of the 1961 Indianapolis 500. "Failure of a 10-cent bolt led to the death of the full time farmer and part time race driver," a UPI report would note the next day. As Bettenhausen entered a turn, the bolt fell off of the car's front rod support and "permitted the front axle to twist, thereby misaligning the front wheels", according to the U.S. Auto Club's report. The vehicle veered into the outside retaining wall at 145 m.p.h., "climbed over it, upside down, and tore through an 8 foot high wire fence", bursting into flames on impact. [32]

May 13, 1961 (Saturday)[edit]

  • Gordon Reid founded the Canadian discount store Giant Tiger. The first store opened at 98 George Street in Ottawa.[33]
  • Died: Gary Cooper, 60, American film star, died of colon cancer at his home in Bel Air in California. Cooper had won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice, for Sergeant York in 1942, and for High Noon in 1952.

May 14, 1961 (Sunday)[edit]

  • American civil rights movement: A Freedom Riders bus was fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the civil rights protestors were beaten by an angry mob. Sixteen members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had divided their group at Atlanta, with nine riding on a Greyhound bus and seven others on a Trailways bus. Six miles beyond Anniston, a tire on the Greyhound bus was flattened. Unbeknownst to either the riders or the mob, Alabama special agent Eli M. Cowling had boarded that bus in Atlanta, and prevented the crowd from exacting further violence on the Riders, but the bus itself was burned by the firebomb. The Trailways bus riders arrived in Birmingham, where two of them were beaten up at the station.[34]
  • The Monaco Grand Prix was won by Stirling Moss, beginning the 12th FIA Formula One World Championship season.[35]

May 15, 1961 (Monday)[edit]

May 16, 1961 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • A military coup in South Korea overthrew the government of Prime Minister Chang Myon (John M. Chang) and President Yung Po Sun. At 3:30 in the morning local time, Republic of Korea forces led by Lt.Gen. Chang Do Yung seized control of police barracks and government offices in Seoul and other cities, then announced the takeover at 6:00 a.m. General Park Chung Hee, Deputy Commander of the ROK Second Army, soon took over as the new President. General Carter B. Magruder, Commander of the U.S. 8th Army and highest ranking American officer in Korea, declared American support for the Chang regime, but U.S. forces did not intervene during the tumult.[37]
  • On the first day of an official visit to Canada, U.S. President John F. Kennedy re-injured his back while participating in a tree planting ceremony at Ottawa. Kennedy, who had nearly died during back surgery in 1954, had been using a shovel to lift dirt, and was on crutches after returning home.[38]

May 17, 1961 (Wednesday)[edit]

  • The first fatality in the history of Little League Baseball occurred during an evening game in Temple City, California. Nine-year-old Barry Babcock was struck in the chest by a pitched ball, with impact above his heart, and collapsed and died from a cardiac dysrhythmia .[39] One week later, the second fatality in Little League baseball took place when ten-year-old George McCormick, of Park Ridge, Illinois, was struck in the head by a batted ball during practice.[40]
  • On the day that visiting U.S. President Kennedy was delivering a speech to a joint session of Canada's Parliament, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker found "a crumpled piece of paper in the wastebasket" of the room where the two leaders had met, and found it was a secret memorandum that had been left behind by the President, entitled "What We Want From the Ottawa Trip". According to one biographer of Diefenbaker, the first three points of what the U.S. wanted, on the memo, were "To push the Canadians towards an increased commitment to the Alliance for Progress", "To push them towards a decision to join the OAS" (Organization of American States), and "To push them towards a larger contribution for the India consortium".[41] Another author would say later that Kennedy's handwritten notes in the margins of the memo included the letters "OAS", that Diefenbaker believed that Kennedy had written "SOB" in reference to the Prime Minister.[42] According to both accounts, Diefenbaker would angrily confront the U.S. Ambassador in May 1962 and threaten to reveal the contents of the discarded secret memo.[43]
  • Calls for help from an unnamed, unrecognized Soviet spaceship were (supposedly) received at the Torre Bert listening station by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers.[44]
  • Born: Enya, Irish singer and composer, (as Eithne Patricia Ní Bhraonáin) in Gweedore, County Donegal

May 18, 1961 (Thursday)[edit]

  • Belgian musician Bobbejaan Schoepen married opera singer and photo model Josephina (Josée) Jongen.

May 19, 1961 (Friday)[edit]

  • Venera program: Venera 1 became the first man-made object to make a "fly-by" of another planet by passing Venus. The Soviet launched probe had lost contact with Earth a month earlier, however, and did not send back any data.[45]

May 20, 1961 (Saturday)[edit]

May 21, 1961 (Sunday)[edit]

May 22, 1961 (Monday)[edit]

  • The next phase of the Nirenberg and Matthaei experiment began at 3:30 pm as Heinrich Matthaei began the process of adding a synthesized RNA molecule sample, "consisting of the simple repetition of one type of nucleotide", to a centrifuged sample of 20 amino acid proteins. The results were realized less than five days later on Saturday, May 27. At 6:00 in the morning, with the isolation of the amino acid of phenylalanine. "In less than a week," it would later be observed, "Matthaei had identified the first 'word' of the genetic code".[47]
  • The London Trophy was won at Crystal Palace by Roy Salvadori in a Cooper T53.

May 23, 1961 (Tuesday)[edit]

May 24, 1961 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 25, 1961 (Thursday)[edit]

  • Apollo program: Addressing a joint session of the Congress, American President John F. Kennedy declared "I believe 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."[48] Congress responded with increased funding for the program, and Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, with 164 days left in the 1960s, on July 20, 1969.
  • King Hussein of Jordan, 25, married an English commoner, 20-year-old Toni Gardiner (later renamed Muna al-Hussein), making her his second wife. Gardiner was not present at the "all male" Muslim ceremony, which took place at the Zahran Palace near Amman and saw the king sign a wedding pledge. Initially, she was "neither a queen nor a princess", but took on the title and name "Sahibat al Sown Wa al Isma Muna al-Hussein".[49]

May 26, 1961 (Friday)[edit]

May 27, 1961 (Saturday)[edit]

May 28, 1961 (Sunday)[edit]

May 29, 1961 (Monday)[edit]

  • Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, totalitarian despot of the Dominican Republic since 1930, was killed in an ambush, putting an end to the second longest-running dictatorship in Latin American history. Trujillo was being driven in his car from his residence in San Cristobal to Ciudad Trujillo. Shortly after 10:00 pm local time, a sedan pulled into the path of his car, and assassins with machine guns killed both Trujillo and the chauffeur. The news was not announced to the Dominican public until 5:00 pm the next day.[51]
  • A West Virginia couple, Mr. and Mrs. Alderson Muncy of Paynesville, West Virginia, became the first American food stamp recipients under a pilot program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, being tested in eight communities. For the month of June, the Muncys received $95 worth of food coupons for their household of fifteen people, and made the first purchase at Henderson's Supermarket.[52]
  • President John F. Kennedy formally petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to adopt "stringent regulations" prohibiting segregation in interstate bus travel. The proposed order, issued on September 22 and effective on November 1, removed Jim Crow signs in stations and ended segregation of waiting rooms, water fountains, and restrooms in interstate bus terminals later that same year, giving the Freedom Riders an unequivocal victory in their campaign.

May 30, 1961 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • The 1961 Indianapolis 500 – the first not to be included in the Formula One championship – was won by A. J. Foyt.
  • KLM Flight 897 crashed at 1:19 in the morning, shortly after taking off from Lisbon, ultimately bound for Caracas. High winds and driving rains brought the DC-8 jet down into the ocean off of the coast of Portugal, with wreckage and bodies washing onto the beach. All 61 persons on board were killed.[53]

May 31, 1961 (Wednesday)[edit]

Charles R. Swart, first President, last Governor-General
Republic of South Africa


  1. ^ Wray Vamplew and Joyce Kay, Encyclopedia of British Horseracing (Routledge, 2005) p360
  2. ^ "Hijacking of U.S. Planes Began with Seizure at Marathon May 1", St. Petersburg (FL) Times, August 4, 1961, p16-A
  3. ^ "Hijacked U.S. Plane Returns From Cuba", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 2, 1961, p1
  4. ^ Joseph T. McCann, Terrorism on American Soil: A Concise History of Plots and Perpetrators from the Famous to the Forgotten (Sentient Publications, 2006) p99
  5. ^ "SEA SURVIVORS TELL OF STORM HORROR", Miami News, May 4, 1961, p1
  6. ^ "$1.25 MINIMUM WAGE PASSED", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 4, 1961, p1
  7. ^ "Admits Guilt as Russ Spy: Briton Gets 42 Years", Milwaukee Journal, May 3, 1961, p7
  8. ^ "George Blake, Convicted Spy, Escapes Prison", The News and Courier (Charleston, SC) October 22, 1966, p7-A; "Jane Andrews recaptured - top ten notorious prison breaks", The Telegraph, November 25, 2009
  9. ^ Ross, Malcolm; Edwards, Walter (November 1961). "Balloon Ride to the Edge of Space". National Geographic Magazine. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society. 120 (5): 671–685. 
  10. ^ "Sit-In Backers Start Test Bus Trip to South", New York Times, May 5, 1961
  11. ^ Thomas P. Grazulis, The Tornado: Nature's Ultimate Windstorm (University of Oklahoma Press, 2003) pp33-34
  12. ^ SPACE FLIGHT SUCCESS", Sarasota (FL) Journal, May 5, 1961, p1
  13. ^ "Tottenham Completes Rare Double Triumph", Calgary Herald, May 8, 1961, p9
  14. ^ "Inexpensive Carry Back Wins Derby", Montreal Gazette, May 8, 1961, p21
  15. ^ "Carry Back 7th as 65-1 Shot Wins", Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1961
  16. ^ Edward Friedman, Paul Pickowicz and Mark Selden, Revolution, Resistance, and Reform in Village China (Yale University Press, 2005) p14
  17. ^ Chris Cook and John Paxton, European Political Facts of the Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000) p393
  18. ^ "Cops Soccer Title", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 8, 1961, p2-6
  19. ^ Fleischmann, Klaus. Die Kommunistische Partei Birmas – Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Hamburg: Institut für Asienkunde, 1989. p. 414.
  20. ^ "New York Mets new club's name", Regina Leader-Post, May 9, 1961, p20
  21. ^ Matthew Silverman, New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History (MVP Books, 2011) p12
  22. ^ "Don Markstein's Toonopedia"; Maurice Horn, The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Volume 1 (Chelsea House, 1999) p97
  23. ^ "Minow Warns TV Must Improve", Milwaukee Sentinel, May 10, 1961, p1-6; Text of speech,
  24. ^ "Wobbling Rocket Destroyed", Miami News, May 9, 1961, p1
  25. ^ "South Africa Elects Swart As President", Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 10, 1961, p1
  26. ^ "79 Perish In Air Crash, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 11, 1961, p1
  27. ^ National Park Service
  28. ^ Greater Jackson County (AL) Chamber of Commerce
  29. ^ Vuelta a España website
  30. ^ John T. Burridge, Kennedy and Khrushchev: The New Frontier in Berlin (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011) pp47-48
  31. ^ "A Preliminatry Catalogue of Aldous Huxley's Manuscripts, Typescripts and Proofs at Laura Huxley's Residence", by Bernfried Nugel, in Aldous Huxley Annual: A Journal of Twentieth-Century Thought and Beyond, Volume 6 (LIT Verlag Münster, 2006) p177
  32. ^ "Bettenhausen Dies in Speedway Crash", Chicago Daily Tribune, May 13, 1961, p5-1
  33. ^ Giant Tiger history
  34. ^ "Racial Crusaders Continue Bus Tour Despite Beatings", Tuscaloosa News, May 16, 1961, p1
  35. ^ "Moss Wins Monaco Grand Prix", Glasgow Herald, May 15, 1961, p1
  36. ^ Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, "Experimentalsysteme – Eine Geschichte der Proteinsynthese im Reagenzglas" Wallstein ISBN 3-89244-454-4
  37. ^ "SOUTH KOREA UNDER MARTIAL LAW AFTER ARMY COUP", Sydney Morning Herald, May 17, 1961, p1; "COUP OUSTS S. KOREAN REGIME", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 16, 1961, p1; List of Prime Ministers, with photos
  38. ^ "Kennedy Hurt Planting Tree", Calgary Herald, June 9, 1961, p7
  39. ^ "Little 'Tiger' First Fatality In Little League", Miami News, May 19, 1961, pC-1
  40. ^ "Second Little Leaguer Struck By Ball Dies", Modesto (CA) Bee, May 24, 1961, pA-8
  41. ^ Arthur Slade, John Diefenbaker (Dundurn Press, 2001) pp108-109
  42. ^ Edelgard Mahant and Graeme S. Mount, Invisible and Inaudible in Washington: American Policies Toward Canada (University of British Columbia Press, 1999) p48
  43. ^ Jamie Glazov, Canadian Policy toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2003) p147
  44. ^ "Lost in Space", by Kris Hollington, Fortean Times (July 2008)
  45. ^ National Space Science Data Center
  46. ^ "RACE RIOT MARTIAL LAW RULED" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 22, 1961, p1
  47. ^ Michel Morange and Matthew Cobb, "A History of Molecular Biology" (Harvard University Press, 2000) p135
  48. ^ “Kennedy Shoots For Moon In Message To Congress- Hopest To Get Man There- And Back- Prior To 1970”, Sarasota Journal, May 25, 1961, p1
  49. ^ "Hussein Weds English Commoner", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 26, 1961, p11
  50. ^ "Prima Ballerina Dies In Leap From Gallery", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 29, 1961, p1
  51. ^ “TRUJILLO DIES AS HE LIVED - BY GUNFIRE FROM AMBUSH”, Miami News, June 1, 1961, p1
  52. ^ "A Short History of SNAP",; "Family of 15 First To Get Stamps Under Kennedy Plan In West Virginia", Toledo Blade, May 30, 1961, p2
  53. ^ "61 Dead In Lisbon Jet Crash", Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 30, 1961, p1
  54. ^ “It’s a New Jackie; The Loveliest Girl in Paris”, Miami News, June 1, 1961, p6A
  55. ^ Yuri Feofanov and Donald D. Barry, Politics and Justice in Russia: Major Trials of the Post-Stalin Era (M. E. Sharpe, 1996) pp. 22–31