Whether you experienced the 1960s or are just curious, Life in the 1960s – A Trip Down Memory Lane will give you insight into some of the events, fads, and lifestyles that mark that decade.
Events of the 1960s
The decade of the 60s saw much turmoil, socially, politically, and culturally. Some might argue that the 60s saw more change and unrest than any other decade.
In 1961 there were approximately 700 American military advisors in South Vietnam. They were sent there to contain gorilla or communist activity that number grew to over 12,000 in a little over a year. By 1963 this number grew even more to 16,000. Technically The United States never declared war on Vietnam. However, in 1964 the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by the United States Congress authorized the escalation and use of military force in Vietnam. With the escalation of military force and the implementation of the military draft, by 1966, the number of troops soared to 500,000.
The United States was heatedly divided between those in favor and those opposed to the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. From the opposition, many protests took place. The United States didn’t withdraw all of its troops until the 1970s.
Bay of Pigs
In April of 1961, there was a failed attempt by the United States and its allies to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. A few years earlier, Fidel Castro had led an invasion into Havana, Cuba. The result was that he was responsible for overthrowing the American-backed president, General Fulgencio Batista.
With the American trained Cubans that had fled their homes when Castro took over, the United States launched an invasion to take power away from Castro. What happened was they were severely outnumbered by Castro’s troops and surrendered within 24 hours.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The 13 days in October 1962 when the world watched as the Soviet Union and the United States had a military standoff between the two countries. The United States found the Soviet Union had begun to install nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba (90 miles from the United States). The Soviet Union did so to protect Cuba who had become a communist country, from being overthrown by the United States.
The United States blockaded the island to prevent further deliveries of nuclear missile heads by the Soviet Union.
The Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end with the Soviet Union removing their missiles from Cuba with the agreement that the United States wouldn’t invade Cuba. It was also secretly agreed that the United States would remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. Thus nuclear war was diverted.
John F. Kennedy Assassination – November 22, 1963
John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in a convertible in Dallas, Texas. It is thought that Lee Harvey Oswald was the gunman. Though Oswald was apprehended, he was killed on November 24 by Jack Ruby. Ruby gave the reason for the killing as an outrage against Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy. A jury found Ruby guilty of murder, but Ruby died from lung cancer while awaiting a new trial in 1967.
Malcolm X -Assassinated February 21, 1965
Malcolm X was an African American nationalist and religious leader. In 1964 he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He promoted the Black identity and believed that racism, not the white race, was the greatest enemy of African Americans. Malcolm X encouraged the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” He was assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity in New York on February 21, 1965.
Martin Luther King – Assassinated April 4, 1968
Martin Luther King was a Baptist Minister who was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In contrast to Malcolm X, King’s speeches advocated equality but through peaceful protests. One of his well-known speeches was “I Have A Dream,” given on August 28, 1963. At the age of 35, he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray. In 1969 Ray pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Over the years, Ray tried to recant his confession but failed and died in prison in 1998.
Robert F. Kennedy – Assassinated June 5, 1968
Robert F. Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy, was U.S. attorney general and adviser during his brother’s presidency. During this time, Robert Kennedy fought organized crime and worked for civil rights for African Americans. One prominent action he took was sending thousands of troops to Oxford, Mississippi, to enforce the Supreme Court order of admitting James Meredith (the first black student) to the University of Mississippi.
Working alongside his older brother and later President Lyndon B. Johnson, he was instrumental in the development of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act outlawed racial discrimination in voting, employment, and public facilities.
Robert F. Kennedy became a U.S. senator from New York in 1965. During the time of his being a Senator, he was an advocate of the poor and racial minorities. He also opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War. While campaigning for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on April 4, 1968. The assassin was a Palestinian immigrant, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.
Sirhan Sirhan was convicted in 1969 of murder and sentenced to death. In 1972, The California Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment, and Sirhan Sirhan’s sentence was commuted to life in prison.
The counterculture of the 1960s was an emerging schism between the conservatism of the older generation and the emerging liberal thoughts of the younger generation. This dichotomy sparked a social revolution. Not only with the conservative values coming into question, but the invasion of Vietnam became a breeding ground for protests.
The younger generation who were part of the counterculture were known as “hippies.” The quest for a moral liberal culture included:
- A sexual revolution.
- A new questioning of authority.
- Demanding more freedoms and rights for minorities and women.
Drugs use became more prevalent, especially marijuana and psychedelic drugs such as LSD.
Two of the most well-known counterculture events were the Summer of Love that took place in San Francisco in 1967 and the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in 1969.
The Summer of Love occurred when approximately 100,000 primarily young people converged on San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood. The sentiment was one of music, hallucinogenic drugs, anti-war, and free love.
Woodstock was a music festival promoted as three days of peace and music. It was held in upstate New York on a dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. Over 400,000 people attended, with 32 bands performing. Woodstock was a reasonably peaceful event. There were two fatalities – one person died from insulin usage, and the other was run over by a tractor in a hayfield. Drug overdoses over the three days numbered 742.
The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was going full force in the 1960s.
Among other successes, the Soviet Union sent the first man to space in April of 1961. In 1965 the Soviets launched Luna 10 that orbited the moon.
The tide started to turn in the mid-1960s, with the United States becoming dominant in space exploration. However, that dominance was met with tragedy when Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives on the launch pad when a fire swept through the command module of Apollo 1. This put a temporary hold on the space program for the United States.
In 1969 the Apollo 11 was launched into space. On July 20, 1969, the United States landed the Apollo 11 on the moon. This landing made history with the first man taking steps on the moon. Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and the Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin made this historic mission. The famous words heard throughout the world, “That’s one small step for (a) man. One giant leap for mankind.” are forever etched in our minds.
Some Scientific Events of the 1960s’
- 1960 – Female birth-control contraceptive, the Pill, FDA approved and released.
- 1963 – The measles vaccine was FDA approved and released.
- 1963 – First human kidney transplant. Performed by transplant surgeon Thomas Starzl.
- 1967 – First heart transplant. Performed in South Africa by surgeon and Professor Christiaan Barnard.
With the 1960s, there came an onslaught of new-style automobiles in the United States. The big three automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, dominated the industry in the United States, making up 93% of the cars produced and 48% worldwide. From luxury cars to economy cars to muscle cars, there was one that appealed to just about everyone.
Because there are so many popular cars from the 1960s, I’m keeping the list to 3 per year.
Imperial Crown Convertible
Lincoln Continental Mark V
Pontiac Grand Prix
Plymouth Barracuda S
Volkswagen Type 2/Volkswagen Bus
Dodge Dart Swing
In the earlier years of the 1960s, conservative clothing was still being worn. The pillbox hat and skirt suits that Jacqueline Kennedy wore and brought to popularity abounded with women. But as the decade went on, nothing screams the 1960s like the mini-skirt, go-go-boots, tie-die shirts, headbands, peace sign medallions, and hippie beads.
In contrast to the 1950s, the 1960s saw women’s hair get shorter and men’s hair longer. However, the traditional styles were still donned by both. And with hippie hair, both genders coiffed long hair.
Popular Hairstyles of the 1960s
- With the civil rights movement came the popularity of Afro Hairstyle. With a renewed sense of identity, many African American men and women ported this natural hairstyle. However, Caucasians could also be seen wearing their hair this way as well. The Afro was also a political statement reflecting “Black Pride.”
- Popularized by the singing group the Rocketts, the beehive is achieved by piling the hair on top of the hair in a cone shape. The shape resembles a true beehive, hence the name.
- Flipped Bob
- At the forefront of the popularity of the Bob hairstyle, we see Jacqueline Kennedy. Diana Ross and Elizabeth Montgomery also followed suit with the bob.
- The Bouffant hairstyle was trendy by the mid-1960s. Again we see a hairstyle that Jackie Kennedy would commonly wear.
- The Pixie is a short hairstyle that was popularized by the supermodel Twiggy and movie star Mia Farrow.
We can’t leave the 1960s hairstyles without mentioning Hippie Hair. The Hippie movement of the 60s was one of nonconformity, and one way to do that was through the expression of their hair. Usually just worn straight down and one length, and many times this was paired with a headband.
- Mop Top
- One of the most popular hairstyles for men was introduced in the United States by the mega-group, The Beatles. Called the Mop Top, it lent to a longer, messier cut than the shorter, slicker, classic look of the 1950s.
- The 1960s saw many new dances crop up. Some of the more popular dances were:
- Hitch Hike
- Mashed Potato
- The Pony
- The Loco-Motion
- The Monster Mash
- The Swim
Popular Movies of the 1960s
- Psycho (1960)
- Spartacus (1960)
- Breakfast at Tiffanys (1961)
- West Side Story (1961)
- Dr. No (1962)
- To Kill a Mockingbird ( 1962)
- From Russia With Love (1963)
- The Birds (1963)
- A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
- My Fair Lady ( 1964)
- Doctor Zhivago (1965)
- The Sound of Music (1965)
- A Man for All Season (1966)
- The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
- In the Heat of the Night (1967)
- The Graduate (1967)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- Easy Rider (1969)
- Midnight Cowboy ( 1969)
Popular Artists and Groups of the 1960s
|Aretha Franklin||Bob Dylan||Chubby Checker||Creedence Clearwater Revival||Elvis Presley|
|James Brown||Janis Joplin||Jimi Hendrix||Marvin Gaye||Roy Orbison|
|Simon & Garfunkel||Smokey Robinson||Sonny & Cher||Steppenwolf||Stevie Wonder|
|The Beach Boys||The Beatles||The Doors||The Drifters||The Everly Brothers|
|The 5th Dimension||The Everly Brothers||The Jefferson Airplane||The Mamas & the Papas||The Monkees|
|The Righteous Brothers||The Rolling Stones||The Supremes||The Temptations||The Who|
Fads and Slogans
With the changing environment in the 1960s, along came some fun trends.
One of the most famous slogans of the 1960s, Flower Power, symbolized nonviolence and harmony, especially in regards to the opposition of the Vietnam War. Flowers abounded and were worn in the hair, painted in graffiti, found in fashion, and used elsewhere.
Found in homes across America, Lava Lamps were created in the 1960s as a tabletop decorative. Not a lamp in the generic term that gives off light but consists of a wax mixture set in liquid. As the wax warms, it rises to the top and then loses its buoyancy as it cools and returns to the bottom of the lamp.
Two peace symbols were prominent in the 1960s. The first represented disarmament of the late 1950s. It consists of a circle with a line from top to bottom and two shorter diagonal lines. The second peace sign was made with the hand. The index and middle fingers while the other two fingers and thumb are clenched. Though both can take on different meanings in the 1960s, they were displayed as a symbol of nonviolence and peaceful harmony.
A prevalent fashion trend of the 1960s. Tie-dying is a process in which fabric is folded or twisted and bound with rubber bands and then followed by applying dye(s).
|Alright – Enthusiastic Yes||Ape – Out Of Control||Beats Me – |
|Bitchin – Really Good||Blow Your Mind|
– Be Amazed
|Book – Leave||Boss – Great||Bread – Money||Bug – Annoy||Bummer – Disappointing Situation|
|Chick – Female||Cool – Good||Crash – Sleep||Cruising – Driving Up And Down A Street||Cruisin’ For A Brusin – Looking For Trouble|
|Dead Head – Fan Of Grateful Dead||Dig It – Understand Or Like||Do Your Own Thing – Do What Makes You Happy||Establishment – Parents/Older Generation||Far Out/Out Of Sight – Cool|
|Flip Out – Get Angry||Flower Child – Hippie||Flower Power – Peaceful, Natural, And Free Lifestyle||Foxy – Sex Appeal||Freaked Out – Scared|
|Fuzz – Police||Generation Gap –||Gimme Some Skin – Shake Hands||Grass – Weed, Marijuana||Groovy – Cool|
|Hang Loose – Relaxing||Head Shop – Store That Sold Drug Paraphernalia||Heavy – Emotional Weight||Hip – Be Cool||Hippie – Members Of Counter Culture / Anti-War Activism|
|Hassle – To Bother||Hit – Drag Off A Cigarette||Later – Goodbye||Lay It On Me – Tell Me||Love In – A Gathering Of People To Be Close (Sexual Or Not)|
|Maryjane – Marijuana||Mellow – Laid-Back||Old Lady/Old Man – Term Of Endearment – Girlfriend/Boyfriend Wife/Husband||Psychedelic – Anything That Expands The Mind In New And Bizarre Ways||Right On – Good, Ok, Terrific|
|Rip Off – Steal||Sit-In – Nonviolent Protest||Slug Bug – Vw Beetle; A Game||Spaced Out – Not Thinking Straight Because Of Alcohol/Drugs||Split – Leave|
|Stoner – Frequent Drug User||Square – A Person Who Is Uncool||It’s A Gas – Fun||What’s Your Bag –|
The 1960s had kids playing board games that lasted through the decades and can still be found today. Most toys were still gender divided – boys playing with GI Joes and girls hoping to receive a Chatty Cathy or Easy-Bake Oven for the holidays.
Popular Board Games of the 1960s
- Hi Ho! Cherry-O
- Game of Life
- Mouse Trap
Popular Toys of the 1960s
- Chatty Cathy
- Easy Bake Oven
- GI Joe
- Suzy Homemaker
- Wham-O SuperBall
If you enjoyed looking back at life in the 1960s, other articles you might enjoy are:
In looking back at Life In The 1960s – A Trip Down Memory Lane, I hope you were able to revisit some fond life events. If you didn’t live during that time, my hope is you were able to learn something new about the decade.
If you have any memories of the 1960s you would like to share, I would love to read them; please comment below.