1961 Trivia, History and Fun Facts

1961 Trivia, History, and Fun Facts

Quick Facts from 1961

  • World Changing Event: USSR’s Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, giving them the lead in the Space Race.
  • Another World-Changing Event: Alan Shepard became the first American in space, catching up to the USSR in the Space Race.
  • The Top Song was Tossin’ and Turnin’ by Bobby Lewis.
  • The Movies to Watch include 101 Dalmnations, King of Kings, Babes in Toyland, Blue Hawaii, West Side Story, and The Parent Trap.
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Audrey Hepburn.
  • Notable books include Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck.
  • Minimum Wage in 1961: $1.15 per hour
    “Chatty Cathy” talking doll: $10.98-$18.00 each
  • The Slip’N Slide water game was introduced in 1961.
  • The Funny Guy was Dick Gregory
    The Other Funny Guy was Ernie Kovacs
    The Funny Duo was Mike Nichols and Elaine May
  • The Politically incorrect Funny Guy was Lenny Bruce
  • The Tragedy: The entire US Figure skating team died in a plane crash, traveling to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
  • Take our 1961 Quiz!

Top Ten Baby Names of 1961

Mary, Lisa, Susan, Linda, Karen, Michael, David, John, James, Robert

Fashion Icons and Sex Symbols

Carroll Baker, Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale, Doris Day, Angie Dickinson, Annette Funicello, Audrey Hepburn, Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Julie Newmar, Kim Novak, Leslie Parrish, Stella Stevens, Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner, Mamie Van Doren, Natalie Wood

Sex Symbols and Hollywood Hunks

Elvis Presley, Gregory Peck

Oscars: 33rd Academy Awards (1961)

The 33rd Academy Awards took place on April 17, 1961, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, with Bob Hope serving as host. West Side Story emerged as the big winner, collecting 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Intriguingly, this ceremony marked the first time a directing award was shared between two individuals.

Grammy Awards: 1961 Grammys (3rd Annual Grammy Awards)

The 3rd Annual Grammy Awards, also referred to as the 1961 Grammys, unfolded on April 12. Henry Mancini had a night to remember, winning both Album of the Year for The Music from Peter Gunn and Song of the Year for “Moon River.” Meanwhile, Bob Newhart clinched the Best New Artist award, a category that had been introduced only a year earlier.

Emmy Awards: 13th Primetime Emmy Awards (1961)

The Emmy Awards held its 13th Primetime ceremony on May 16, 1961. Hosted by Dick Powell, The Jack Benny Show snagged the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Rod Serling, the mind behind The Twilight Zone, received an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama.

“The Quotes”

“Sorry, Charlie. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good, not tuna with good taste”
– Starkist tuna

“Yabba Dabba Do”
– Fred Flintstone

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
– President John F. Kennedy

“For those who think young”
– Pepsi

“Hertz puts you in the driver’s seat”
– Hertz

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. ”
– From Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation

“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity…

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever-present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite”
– Also from Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year

John F. Kennedy

Miss America

Nancy Fleming (Montague, MI)

Miss USA

Sharon Brown (Louisiana)

US Politics

January 20, 1961 (Friday) Inauguration of John F. Kennedy

Doctor In The House

When Rogozov developed acute appendicitis on a remote expedition in the middle of Antarctica in 1961, he was the only doctor on site. He had to perform his appendectomy. The surgery did not go as planned. As he started to move his intestines to get to his appendix, he accidentally sliced open his lower intestine, which he then had to suture. From the opening incision to the removal of the appendix and final suture, the surgery took nearly two hours. Rogozov never lost consciousness. Leonid Rogozov not only survived, but he also returned to his normal duties as a team member two weeks later.

America accidentally dropped a nuke on South Carolina in 1958 and two Hydrogen bombs on North Carolina in 1961. The traditional explosives on the nuke exploded, while only a low-voltage trigger kept one of the H-bombs from detonating.

The largest nuclear bomb ever detonated by humans was the Tsar Bomba in 1961. The Russians tested the bomb in Novaya Zemlya, an island in the Russian Arctic Sea. It had the equivalent explosive power of 3,800 Hiroshima bombs.

World News

The Antarctic Treaty of 1961, which recognizes no sovereign claim of Antarctica, prohibits mining, prohibits military activity & only allows scientific activity on the continent. Article V specifically prohibits any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal of any radioactive waste material there.

The Terra Nova Islands were seen/discovered in 1961 by an Australian research expedition, but when geologists went to map them in 1989, they found no islands because they don’t exist.

1961 Pop Culture Facts & History

Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1993, the UB40 version spent seven weeks in the #1 spot.

The first song a computer sang was Daisy Bell (1892) by an IBM 704 in 1961. Hal 9000 also sang the song in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The earliest use of the found footage genre in the film is the 1961 feature The Connection, which states on its title card that the film is an assemblage of found footage. This predates Cannibal Holocaust by nearly two decades, which is often claimed to be the first example of found footage in the movie.

The 1961 film Homicidal featured a ‘fright break’ before the climax. The break allowed the audience to leave and get a refund before it got too scary. People who left got their pictures taken and added to ‘Coward’s Corner,’ which was used to advertise how scary the film was.

Jackie Gleason once was an actual pool shark. He made all his trick shots in 1961’s The Hustler.

Washington D.C. residents were officially allowed to vote in Presidential Elections, thanks to the 23rd amendment, but they still don’t have actual representatives in Congress.

The first Six Flags amusement park opened near Dallas, Texas. Named “Six Flags Over Dallas,” it was named after the six different flags Texas has over the past few hundred years.

Human rights organization Amnesty International was founded in London.

Le Bateau (“The Boat”) by Henri Matisse caused a minor stir when the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which housed it, hung the work upside-down for 47 days in 1961 until Genevieve Habert, a stockbroker, noticed the mistake and notified a guard. 

Black Friday was coined in 1952, made famous in 1961, and became the busiest shopping day in 2005.

Black and Decker introduced the first cordless power drill powered by nickel-cadmium.

Pampers disposable diapers were available for the first time.

Ibuprofen was introduced to the public, and it became available as an over-the-counter drug in 1984.

Denny’s was previously named Danny’s Donuts. Following separation in ownership and to avoid confusion with another LA restaurant, owner Harold Butler changed the name to Denny’s Coffee Shop in 1959; Then and most recognizably shortened to just Denny’s in 1961.

Chase’s octagon-shaped logo, designed in 1961, is a stylized representation of the water pipes laid by its predecessor, the Manhattan Company, which Aaron Burr had formed as a water company in 1799.

In the ’40s and ’50s, Coca-Cola ads gave Santa Claus a sidekick named Sprite Boy – named such because he was a sprite, not because of the drink Sprite, which would not be introduced under that name until 1961.

The NFL doesn’t play on Friday and Saturday because the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act prohibits them from doing so to protect fans of college and high school football.

The Habit

Reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Nobel Prizes

Physics – Robert Hofstadter, Rudolf Mössbauer
Chemistry – Melvin Calvin
Physiology or Medicine – Georg von Békésy
Literature – Ivo Andrić
Peace – Dag Hammarskjöld (posthumously)

C.S. Lewis nominated J.R.R. Tolkien for the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was rejected because his writing “has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.”

The Scandal

Writer Death by Suicide: Ernest Hemingway

1st Appearances & 1961’s Most Popular Christmas Gifts, Toys and Presents

LEGO Building Sets, Stratego, Ken Carson (Barbie’s boyfriend), Slip ‘n Slide water slide, Trolls

Best Film Oscar Winner

The Apartment (presented in 1961)

Broadway Show

Mary, Mary (Play) Opened on March 8, 1961, and Closed on December 12, 1964
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Musical) Opened on October 14, 1961, and closed on March 6, 1965

Popular and Best-selling Books From 1961

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Daughter of Silence by Morris West
The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
For the New Intellectual by Ayn Rand
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman
The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart
Mila 18 by Leon Uris
Eloise Wilkin’s Mother Goose by Eloise Wilkin
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Ten Apples Up On Top! by Theo. LeSieg and Roy McKie
Thunderball by Ian Fleming
The Touch Me Book by Pat and Eve Witte
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Winnie Ille Pu by Alexander Lenard (translation of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne)
The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

1961 Most Popular TV Shows

1. Wagon Train (NBC)
2. Bonanza (NBC)
3. Gunsmoke (CBS)
4. Hazel (NBC)
5. Perry Mason (CBS)
6. The Red Skelton Show (CBS)
7. The Andy Griffith Show (CBS)
8. The Danny Thomas Show (CBS)
9. Dr. Kildare (NBC)
10. Candid Camera (CBS)

1961 Billboard Number One Songs

November 28, 1960January 8, 1961:
Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley

January 9 – January 29:
Wonderland By Night – Bert Kaempfert

January 30February 12:
Will You Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles

February 13February 26:
Calcutta – Lawrence Welk

February 27March 19:
Pony Time – Chubby Checker

March 20April 2:
Surrender – Elvis Presley

April 3April 23:
Blue Moon – The Marcels

April 24May 21:
Runaway – Del Shannon

May 22May 28:
Mother-In-Law – Ernie K-Doe

May 29June 4:
Travelin’ Man – Ricky Nelson

June 5June 18:
Running Scared – Roy Orbison

June 19June 25:
Moody River – Pat Boone

June 26July 9:
Quarter To Three – Gary U.S. Bonds

July 10August 27:
August Tossin’ And Turnin’ – Bobby Lewis

August 28September 3:
Wooden Heart – Joe Dowell

September 4September 17:
Michael – The Highwaymen

September 18October 8:
Take Good Care Of My Baby – Bobby Vee

October 9October 22:
Hit The Road Jack – Ray Charles

October 23November 5:
Runaround – Sue Dion

November 6December 10:
Big Bad John – Jimmy Dean

December 11December 17:
Please Mr. Postman – The Marvelettes

December 18, 1961 – January 12, 1962:
The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens


World Series Champions: New York Yankees
NFL Champions: Green Bay Packers
AFL Champions: Houston Oilers
NBA Champions: Boston Celtics
Stanley Cup Champs: Chicago Blackhawks
U.S. Open Golf Gene Littler
U.S. Tennis: (Men/Ladies) Roy Emerson/Darlene R. Hard
Wimbledon (Men/Women): Rod Laver/Angela Mortimer
NCAA Football Champions: Alabama & Ohio State
NCAA Basketball Champions: Cincinnati
Kentucky Derby: Carry Back

More 1961 Facts & History Resources:

BabyBoomers.com (1961)
Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1961X
1961 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Fact Monster
1960s, Infoplease.com World History
1961 in Movies (according to IMDB)
JFK 1961-1963 PBS
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
1961 Television
1960s Slang
1960s Timeline: History.com
Wikipedia 1961