The Tao of 1963


State Mutual Life Insurance used the Smiley Face created by graphic designer Harvey Ball in 1963 to raise morale among the employees after a series of difficult mergers and acquisitions (Smithsonian)

As it turns out, the year of my birth was an auspicious one. By the time the 60s were done, most of the world was underway with social and cultural revolutionary shifts that would define the late 60s as divisive, the 70s swingin’, the 80s roaring, and the 9os as none of the above.

It’s interesting to me that I have not known a world that is defined by what happened in the 60s, much in the same way my parents could only understand a world defined by the Great Depression, World War II and the 50s. The same goes for the generation after mine that cannot wrap their minds around what it must have been like to live in a world before credit card sliders and personal computers.

In homage to the 50th anniversary of 1963, I pulled together the following lists that highlight many of the iconic and benchmark events of 1963 that bore significant influence on future generations.

Politics, Law and Society

  • The two standout events are, of course, JFK’s assassination and MLK delivering his famous dream speech. Our family was living out of the country at the time, but when my parents heard the news of JFK’s death, my mother said, “We suddenly felt we had to go home…that it was time to bring to an end the adventure we’d been on. I can’t explain it, but just like that, we had to get back.”
  • George C. Wallace is sworn in as governor of Alabama. In his inaugural speech, he defiantly proclaims, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” He continues to aggressively defend his stance at several other events throughout the year, giving groups such as the Ku Klux Klan unspoken permission to do horrible things, like dynamite a Baptist Church in Birmingham. Other events that year in Alabama include thousands of African Americans, many of them children, arrested while protesting segregation in Birmingham, and the state’s Public Safety Commissioner unleashing fire hoses and police dogs on the demonstrators.
  • Activist Medgar Evers is murdered.
  • Malcolm X makes an historic speech: Message to the Grass Roots.
  • JFK makes a public declaration that segregation is morally wrong and that it is “time to act.”
  • Nelson Mandela begins his 27-year imprisonment.
  • The Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright rules that a fair trial “cannot be realized if the poor man charged with [the] crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.” The court also rules in 1963 that no locality may require recitation of Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools.
  • Travel, financial and commercial transactions by US citizens to Cuba are made illegal.
  • Equal Pay Act is enacted.
  • The CIA’s Domestic Operations Division is created.
  • JFK gives his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Berlin.
  • US, UK, and USSR sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty.
  • The Washington-Moscow “hot line” established.
  • Coup leader General Dương Văn Minh takes over as leader of South Vietnam. The Kennedy administration orders the United States Embassy in Saigon to explore alternative leadership in that country in the wake of upheavals that year.
  • A violent coup in Honduras begins two decades of military rule.
  • Several African nations gain sovereignty from the United Kingdom and others who have previously established independence ratify their very 1st constitutions. An alliance of African nations is formed.

Entertainment & Pop Culture

  • I didn’t find any one of authority making note of it when I did my bit of research for this, but the whole concept of “pop culture” seems to have really taken mainstream root by 1963. For example…Artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns gain national notoriety that year.
  • UK Prime Minister Profumo sex scandal broke. I classify this under pop culture/entertainment because, in my opinion, while satirizing political figures has always and ever been entertaining throughout the ages, this scandal might mark the beginning of our modern notion that public figures are fodder for entertainment rags as much as movie/TV /sports celebrities.
  • The term “Beatlemania” is coined by some clever reporter in the British press. The Beatles release “Please Please Me,” “Ask Me Why,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” all of which become instant hits, sending the pop quartet into the studio to tape 10 tracks for their first album.
  • Not far behind are The Rolling Stones, who release their first single, “Come on,” marking a hard line in the sand between the more jazz-inspired be-bop and blues/gospel inspired rock-n-roll.
  • Peter, Paul & Mary win their first Grammy for “If I Had a Hammer.”
  • Kingsmen release “Louie, Louie,” and some radio stations label it as obscene.
  • Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir played music together for the first time at a New Year’s Eve party (just squeaking in on 1963, assuming they were jamming before the stroke of midnight, of course).
  • The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is Dylan’s second studio album, and most influential, opening with the song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” That year he appears on the Ed Sullivan show and infamously walks off stage during the broadcast.
  • Jazz starts in earnest to move away its “popular” classification during its first 50 years. Thelonious Monk releases “Monk In Tokyo,” which was called “rough, raw, and punchy” by critics.
  • MOVIES RELEASED: The Birds and Dr. No (in US), Cleopatra, The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird, 8 1/2 , The Great Escape, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Lilies of the Field, The Nutty Professor,The Pink Panther, Tom Jones.
  • Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy), Japan’s first serialized animated series is broadcast.
  • TELEVISION DEBUTS: Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, General Hospital, My Favorite Martian, 77 Sunset Strip, McHale’s Navy, The Fugitive, Petticoat Junction, Let’s Make A Deal,  Julia Child’s The French Chef. The first episode of the BBC television series Doctor Who is broadcast and American Bandstand moves to California and starts airing once a week. CBS & NBC expand network news from 15 to 30 minutes. WCTI TV (ABC) begins broadcasting.
  • BOOKS PUBLISHED: In the Clearing by Robert Frost, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré; The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (who also commits suicide 1963), Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles M. Schulz, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, and most notably, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.
  • Lava Lamp or “The Astro Lamp” introduced to the public.
  • State Mutual Life Insurance used the Smiley Face for the first time.
  • It is said that Timothy Leary takes LSD for the first time in 1963.
  • Whiskey-a-go-go “discotheque” opens in LA.
  • Coca-Cola introduces Tab, its first diet cola (of which I drank vats of as a teen).
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame opens with 17 charter members, and Jack Nicklaus wins his first Masters golf tournament (I’m not much of a sports nut, so I’m sure there were other standouts on this subject, but I didn’t bother to look them up).
  • Car manufacturing firm Lamborghini is founded in Italy.

Form, Function and Innovations

  • Zip codes are implemented in the US.
  • Oral Polio Vaccine, administered with a lump of sugar, is given nationwide in US and UK.
  • AT&T introduces touch tone phones.
  • Flymo Sells first Hover Mower.
  • The first prototype of the Learjet takes off.
  • The tape cassette is introduced.
  • NASA launches the world’s first geostationary (synchronous) satellite.
  • The first demonstration of a home video recorder is held at BBC Studios.
  • Kodak introduces the Instamatic camera.
  • The aluminum can with pull tab are manufactured by the Alcoa Company (many sympathies to the thousands of people in the years ahead who sliced open bare feet on improperly discarded tabs).
  • The first commercial nuclear reactor goes online at the Jersey Central Power Company.

Science and Discovery

  • A volcanic eruption under the sea near Iceland creates a new island, later named Surtsey.
  • Dr. Michael DeBakey pioneers use of artificial heart.
  • First successful liver transplant is performed.
  • Quasars are discovered.

End of an Era

  • 100+ yr-old Studebaker car manufacturer goes out of business and ends production.
  • Alcatraz federal penitentiary, that housed many infamous criminals, closes.
  • The Roman Catholic Church accepts cremation as a funeral practice.
  • LA ends streetcar service after 90 years (I list this because my father grew up in the LA area and said he could ride a street car from one end of the county to the other on tracks that went in all directions and stopped at a myriad of places. He used to like to say the loss of the streetcars, and LA subsequently selling off the track right-of-ways, was the single most stupid thing that could have happened for such a sprawling city).


  • Mona Lisa is exhibited for the first time in the US at the National Gallery of Art D.C.
  • First American mountain climber to reach the peak of Mount Everest (James Whittaker).
  • First US State Lottery was established in New Hampshire.
  • Great Train Robbery in England nets criminals £2.6 million ($7.3 million at the time).
  • Elizabeth Taylor was the first actress to earn $1million for a single film, (Cleopatra).
  • CVS Pharmacy opens in Lowell, Massachusetts.
  • Winston Churchill becomes America’s first honorary US citizen.
  • The sedative Valium is made available for prescription.

My sources:
thepeoplehistory; wikipedia; babyboomers; historyorb: spiritus-temporis; artandpopularculture; things my parents said from time to time.