Historical Figures: John F Kennedy

When John F Kennedy was sworn in as U.S. President in January, 1961, America and the rest of the world welcomed him as a breath of fresh air...


He and his glamorous young wife, Jackie, seemed to epitomise the optimism of the new decade. He promised a revitalised America and a safer, freer world.

His 1,037-day administration was certainly eventful. In April 1961, he authorised a CIA-inspired invasion of communist Cuba, conceived by the previous administration. It was a disaster. The force of Cuban exiles was cut to pieces as they came ashore at the Bay of Pigs.

Later the same year, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev authorised the building of the Berlin Wall. Although the Americans couldn't force the wall to be dismantled, West Berlin was reinforced and Kennedy visited the city in 1963, to underline U.S. support for Berliners.

JFK with Robert Kennedy

JFK with Robert Kennedy

In October 1962, Khrushchev again tested Kennedy, in what became known as the Cuban Missiles Crisis. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba after a stockpile of Soviet nuclear missiles was uncovered on the island. For the next 13 days, the world stood on the brink of nuclear war, as the two superpowers confronted each other. Eventually Khrushchev backed down.

It seemed Kennedy's baptism of fire was over. The following year, he orchestrated the signing of the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and worked on far-reaching economic and civil rights legislation. But he never lived to see his plans materialise.

JFK on the day of his assassination

JFK on the day of his assassination

On November 22, 1963, while driving in an open-topped car during a visit to Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was assassinated by a sniper's bullet. Few doubted that the shooter was a troubled young man named Lee Harvey Oswald. But did he act alone? Two official enquiries concluded that he did. But conspiracy theories involving the CIA, the Mafia and the communists abound.

Oswald never had the opportunity to give a full account of himself. Two days after the assassination, as Oswald was being moved by police, Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner with mob connections, shot him dead.