Year
1961

United States severs diplomatic relations with Cuba

In the climax of deteriorating relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba, President Dwight D. Eisenhower closes the American embassy in Havana and severs diplomatic relations.

The action signaled that the United States was prepared to take extreme measures to oppose Castro’s regime, which U.S. officials worried was a beachhead of communism in the western hemisphere. The immediate reason cited for the break was Castro’s demand that the U.S. embassy staff be reduced, which followed heated accusations from the Cuban government that America was using the embassy as a base for spies.

Relations between the United States and Cuba had been steadily declining since Castro seized power in early 1959. U.S. officials were soon convinced that Castro’s government was too anti-American to be trusted, and they feared that he might lead Cuba into the communist bloc. Early in 1960, following Castro’s decision to sign a trade treaty with the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban leader. Castro responded by increasing his program of nationalizing foreign property and companies. In return, the United States began to implement cutbacks in trade with Cuba. The diplomatic break on January 3, 1961 was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation.

Severing relations marked the end of America’s policy of trying to resolve its differences with Castro’s government through diplomacy. Just over two months later, President John F. Kennedy unleashed the Cuban exile force established during the Eisenhower years. This led to the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which Castro’s military killed or captured the exile troops. After the Bay of Pigs, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was one of the chilliest of the Cold War.

It wasn’t until July 2015, more than 50 years later, that the two nations formally and fully normalized relations, with the easing of travel restrictions and the opening of embassies and diplomatic missions in both countries.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen. When Carter ...read more

Meiji Restoration in Japan

In an event that heralds the birth of modern Japan, patriotic samurai from Japan’s outlying domains join with anti-shogunate nobles in restoring the emperor to power after 700 years. The impetus for the coup was a fear by many Japanese that the nation’s feudal leaders were ill ...read more

Martin Luther excommunicated

On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issues the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicates Martin Luther from the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany ...read more

Jack Ruby dies before second trial

On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, dies of cancer in a Dallas hospital. The Texas Court of Appeals had recently overturned his death sentence for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and was scheduled ...read more

Alaska admitted into Union

On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signs a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state. The European discovery of Alaska came in 1741, when a Russian expedition led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering sighted the Alaskan ...read more

Noriega surrenders to U.S.

On this day in 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the ...read more

Franklin Roosevelt founds March of Dimes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an adult victim of polio, founds the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which he later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, on this day in 1938. A predominantly childhood disease in the early 20th century, polio wreaked havoc among American ...read more

Stephen Austin imprisoned by Mexicans

Escalating the tensions that would lead to rebellion and war, the Mexican government imprisons the Texas colonizer Stephen Austin in Mexico City. Stephen Fuller Austin was a reluctant revolutionary. His father, Moses Austin, won permission from the Mexican government in 1821 to ...read more

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts first woman

In 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its first group of inductees: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers. Since then, the Hall has added a new class of ...read more

Herman Melville sails for the South Seas

On this day in 1841, Herman Melville ships out on the whaler Acushnet to the South Seas. Melville was born in New York City in 1819. A childhood bout of scarlet fever permanently weakened his eyesight. He went to sea at age 19, as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool. Two ...read more

Dragnet TV show debuts

“Just the facts, ma’am.” On this day in 1952, Sergeant Joe Friday’s famous catchphrase enters American homes via a new entertainment device: the television. A popular radio series since 1949, the police drama Dragnet became one of the first TV series filmed in Hollywood, instead ...read more

The husband did it: The controversial Stuart case

Matthew Stuart meets with Boston prosecutors and tells them that his brother, Charles, was actually the person responsible for murdering Charles’s wife, Carol. The killing of Carol Stuart, who was pregnant at the time, on October 23, 1989, had touched off a national outrage when ...read more

Delaware rejects secession

On this day in 1861, just two weeks after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, the state of Delaware rejects a similar proposal. There had been little doubt that Delaware would remain with the North. Delaware was technically a slave state, but the ...read more

All-time Formula One champ born

Michael Schumacher, who won a record seven Formula One (F1) world championships, is born on January 3, 1969, near Cologne, Germany. In a 16-year Formula One career that began in the early 1990s, Schumacher’s numerous F1 accomplishments also included records for most Grand Prix ...read more