America's 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, embodied many contradictions. Born to great privilege and exuding personal vigor in public, he privately suffered relentless physical pain. A champion of progress and science, he navigated the nation through one of the most frightening incidents in world history—one in which science might have enabled destruction and death on an unprecedented scale. Admired for his youthful energy and fresh vision, he was robbed of the chance to fulfill his presidential potential, felled by an assassin's bullet at the age of only 46.
The videos below include vintage newsreels and footage that reveal Kennedy as the first president perfectly suited to the TV age. They showcase not only his camera-friendly looks, intelligence and charisma, but the vision and hope he inspired in Americans—and the immense national grief they shared upon his death.
Watch the three-episode documentary event, Kennedy. Available to stream now.
JFK's 'New Frontier'
When the junior senator from Massachusetts narrowly won the nation's top job in 1960, he appeared to be ushering in a new era—of ambition, optimism and change. Twenty-seven years younger than his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower (who had suffered both a heart attack and stroke while in office), Kennedy with his young family brought a spark of glamour and verve into the White House. "The torch has been passed to a new generation of optimism," he declared in his inaugural address. It delivered hope to Americans in a time of high Cold War anxiety.
JFK's Peppy 1960 Campaign Jingle
Kennedy's presidential campaign had a challenging line to walk: Its messaging needed to capitalize on the appeal of his youth, while not having him appear too inexperienced to run the free world. This frothy TV ad works hard to strike a balance.
JFK's Historic Campaign: Running as a Catholic
At the time Kennedy ran for president, in 1960, Catholic politicians still inspired deep skepticism among the American electorate. The only other Catholic to make a bid for the White House—Al Smith, some three decades earlier—had been soundly defeated. America's dominant Protestant and Evangelical voters, especially, viewed Catholics with suspicion, suggesting that they would "rule from the Vatican," translating religious tenets into public policy. Watch how JFK tackles the issue head on.
JFK's Inaugural Speech: Carrying the Torch for a New Generation
Kennedy took the oath of office on January 20, 1961, a bitterly cold, 22-degree day. As glare reflected off a fresh blanket of deep snow, the new president expressed his priority for America—to defend freedom at any cost: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." Watch excerpts from his eloquent inaugural address here, including his most-quoted line.
JFK Aims For the Moon
As president during both the Cold War and space age, it's no wonder Kennedy had his eyes to the sky. Just months into his presidency, America's superpower rival, the Soviet Union, scored a space race win when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth. Kennedy soon announced his goal of having an American on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Kennedy Governs Through Pain
JFK projected the image of a young, fit president: an accomplished golfer and weekend sailor who always seemed to have time for a quick game of touch football. In reality, his lifelong health problems were so acute that he had last rites administered three separate times before his presidential run. Yet despite a long list of conditions—and medications—he successfully hid his health woes and steered the nation through some of its most harrowing Cold War challenges.
Cold War Camraderie—or a Translation Blooper?
When JFK traveled to Berlin in 1963 to claim solidarity with Germany's freedom-loving citizens—and send a message to the Soviets—he stood in front of the imposing Berlin Wall separating the city into democratic and communist zones. Little did he know that when he declared to the crowd, “Ich bin ein Berliner”—or “I am also a citizen of Berlin”—that some people translated it as "I am a jelly doughnut."
The World Mourns the Slain Leader
This vintage newsreel documents a shocked nation saying farewell to its fallen leader. Jackie Kennedy had specifically directed that her husband's funeral arrangements mimic the protocol and details of Abraham Lincoln's. The camera follows the solemn procession as a horse-drawn caisson conveys Kennedy's flag-draped coffin to the U.S. Capitol, where it lay in state under the Rotunda. Waiting in lines that sometimes backed up for miles, a quarter-million mourners filed through to pay their final respects.