In the year AD 1961...
- The Bay of Pigs invasion, a botched attempt by the CIA to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba using an army of Cuban exiles, is an abject failure and a major source of embarrassment for the brand new Kennedy administration.
- Mao Zedong's disastrous Great Leap Forward is finally brought to an end, but millions more die of famine and violence before the year is out.
- The Space Race continues between the United States and the Soviet Union. On April 12, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first person to travel to outer space, orbiting the Earth for 48 minutes. Not far behind, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space a few weeks later on May 5. Later that month, before a special joint session of Congress, US President John F. Kennedy confidently declares that the United States will put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
- The East German government begins constructing the Berlin Wall.
- Park Chung Hee seizes power in South Korea via a military coup.
- President Kennedy first begins to escalate the US military presence in Vietnam, sending 18,000 US military "advisors" to aid the South Vietnam regime in its struggle with the North.
- Kuwait gains independence from Great Britain. Iraq promptly attempts to annex it, but is prevented from doing so by the intervention of British troops.
- India occupies Goa, ending 400 years of Portuguese rule.
- The 23rd Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified, allowing residents of Washington DC to vote in US presidential elections for the first time.
- President Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps.
- Human rights organization Amnesty International is founded in London.
- Conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund (later renamed the World Wide Fund for Nature), is established in Switzerland.
- McDonalds corporation establishes Hamburger University in Illinois, the first example of a corporate university.
- American author Joseph Heller publishes his satyrical novel Catch-22.
- After a thrilling and harrowing season-long home run chase with teammate Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris hits his 61st home run on the last day of the baseball season, breaking Babe Ruth's hallowed record of 60 home runs in a single season and establishing a new benchmark that would endure for 37 years.
- Stan Lee's Fantastic Four superhero team debuts with Fantastic Four #1, establishing the "Marvel Universe" of superheroes and revolutionizing the world of American comic books with a new level of realism.
- The Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, named for the six flags that have flown over Texas in history, opens in Arlington, Texas, as the first park in what will eventually become the Six Flags amusement park empire.
- Barbie gets a boyfriend as the Ken doll is first introduced.
- Toy company Wham-O first introduces the Slip 'n Slide.
These people were born in 1961:
These people died in 1961:
Several memorable films appeared in 1961, including:
These television shows began airing in 1961:
1960 - 1961 - 1962