Year
1962
Month Day
October 20

President Kennedy secretly plans blockade of Cuba

On October 20, 1962, the White House press corps is told that President John F. Kennedy has a cold; in reality, he is holding secret meetings with advisors on the eve of ordering a blockade of Cuba.

Kennedy was in Seattle and scheduled to attend the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair when his press secretary announced that he had contracted an “upper respiratory infection.” The president then flew back to Washington, where he supposedly went to bed to recover from his cold.

READ MORE: The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Timeline

Four days earlier, Kennedy had seen photographic proof that the Soviets were building 40 ballistic missile sites on the island of Cuba—within striking distance of the United States. Kennedy’s supposed bed rest was actually a marathon secret session with advisors to decide upon a response to the Soviet action. The group believed that Kennedy had three choices: to negotiate with the Russians to remove the missiles; to bomb the missile sites in Cuba; or implement a naval blockade of the island. Kennedy chose to blockade Cuba, deciding to bomb the missile sites only if further action proved necessary.

The blockade began October 21 and, the next day, Kennedy delivered a public address alerting Americans to the situation and calling on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles or face retaliation by the United States. Khrushchev responded by sending more ships—possibly carrying military cargo—toward Cuba and allowing construction at the sites to continue. Over the following six days, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is now known, brought the world to the brink of global nuclear war while the two leaders engaged in tense negotiations via telegram and letter.

By October 28, Kennedy and Khrushchev had reached a settlement and people on both sides of the conflict breathed a collective but wary sigh of relief. The Cuban missile sites were dismantled and, in return, Kennedy agreed to close U.S. missile sites in Turkey.

READ MORE: The Mariel Boatlift: How Cold War Politics Drove Cubans to Florida

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Dick Fosbury flops to an Olympic high jump record

On October 20, 1968, 21-year-old Oregonian Dick Fosbury wins gold—and sets an Olympic record—when he high-jumps 7 feet 4 1/4 inches at the Mexico City Games. It was the first American victory in the event since 1956. It was also the international debut of Fosbury’s unique jumping ...read more

Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is killed

On October 20, 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi, the longest-serving leader in Africa and the Arab world, is captured and killed by rebel forces near his hometown of Sirte. The eccentric 69-year-old dictator, who came to power in a 1969 coup, headed a government that was accused of ...read more

General MacArthur returns to the Philippines

After advancing island by island across the Pacific Ocean, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte, fulfilling his promise to return to the area he was forced to flee in 1942. The son of an American Civil War hero, MacArthur served as chief ...read more

Sydney Opera House opens

After 15 years of construction, the Sydney Opera House is dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II. The $80 million structure, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and funded by the profits of the Opera House Lotteries, was built on Bennelong Point, in Sydney, Australia. Famous for its ...read more

Mao’s Long March concludes

Just over a year after the start of the Long March, Mao Zedong arrives in Shensi Province in northwest China with 4,000 survivors and sets up Chinese Communist headquarters. The epic flight from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles. Civil ...read more

Congress investigates Communists in Hollywood

On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicks into high gear in Washington, as a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood. After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up ...read more

Watergate special prosecutor dismissed, starting "Saturday Night Massacre"

On October 20, 1973, solicitor General Robert Bork dismisses Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox; Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resign in protest.  Cox had conducted a detailed investigation of the Watergate break-in that revealed that ...read more

U.S. Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase

On October 20, 1803, the U.S. Senate approves a treaty with France providing for the purchase of the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the United States. At the end of 18th century, the Spanish technically owned Louisiana, the huge region west of the ...read more

Three members of the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a Mississippi plane crash

In the summer of 1977, members of the rock band Aerosmith inspected an airplane they were considering chartering for their upcoming tour—a Convair 240 operated out of Addison, Texas. Concerns over the flight crew led Aerosmith to look elsewhere—a decision that saved one band but ...read more

French poet Arthur Rimbaud is born

On October 20, 1853, Arthur Rimbaud is born in Charleville, France. His father, an army officer, deserted the family when Rimbaud was six. Rimbaud was a brilliant student, and his first poem was published in a French review when he was 16. The following year, he rebelled and ran ...read more

Actor Burt Lancaster dies

On October 20, 1994, Burt Lancaster, a former circus performer who rose to fame as a Hollywood leading man with some 70 movies to his credit, including From Here to Eternity and Atlantic City, in a career that spanned more than four decades, dies of a heart attack at the age of ...read more

Congress creates the Continental Association

On October 20, 1774, the First Continental Congress creates the Continental Association, which calls for a complete ban on all trade between America and Great Britain of all goods, wares or merchandise. The creation of the association was in response to the Coercive Acts—or ...read more