The 1950s are remembered as a decade of boom and recovery as the world adjusted to life after the Second World War. Fears of Communism were on the rise in the West as the Cold War was gathering momentum, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg became the first people in the United States to be executed for espionage. 

1951 events include the release of numerous sci-fi films, as developments in the ‘space race’ sparked the public’s interest in outer space. Sports games also began to be shown in color for the first time, showing that the year was one of technological development. You can read about other fascinating events in a 1951 newspaper.

1951 Timeline

January

January 1: In the United States, the song Tennessee Waltz by Patti Page has its first week as a number 1 single on the Billboard and Cashbox charts.

January 4: During the Korean War, Seoul is recaptured by Chinese forces for the second time after losing it during the 1950 battle. 

January 6: Hundreds of communist sympathizers from South Korea are slaughtered in the Ganghwa massacre.

January 8: It was believed that the Bermuda petrel bird had gone extinct since 1615, but it was rediscovered on this day in Bermuda. 

January 9: The former NBA club, the Washington Capitols, folds. The NBA would not return to Washington D.C. until 1973, when the Baltimore Bullets moved to the area and were renamed as the Washington Wizards. 

January 10: In Manhattan, New York City, the United Nations headquarters opens.

January 12: After a technical knockout (TKO), Ezzard Charles claims the heavyweight boxing title by defeating Lee Oma.

January 13: Christian Hansen, a German general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, is released early from prison in the Netherlands. 

January 15: The United States Supreme Court rules that “clear and present danger” of intent to riot is not called as protected speech in the country, and states that it can be a reason to arrest. 

January 15: The woman known as “The Witch of Buchenwald,” Ilse Koch, is sentenced to life imprisonment for the atrocities she committed at the Buchenwald and Majdanek concentration camps. Her husband was also the Commandant at the camp, so she helped with overseeing the camp’s operations.  

January 16: Viet Minh begins an offensive against Hanoi. 

January 17: After demands, China declines a ceases-fire in Korea.

January 18: In New Guinea, Mount Lamington erupts, killing roughly 3,000 people.

January 18: The NFL takes over the Baltimore Colts who were failing. They only joined for one season before the team folded. 

January 20: In the Alps, 240 people are killed and 45,000 are buried for a period of time when avalanches hit the area. 

January 21: American lawyer and judge, Eric Holder, is born in New York City. 

January 22: After hitting a batter, Fidel Castro is expelled from a Winter League baseball game. 

January 23: The pilot who successfully completed an emergency landing on US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, Chesley Sullenberger III, is born in Texas.

January 25: Set during World War II, Anne de Vries, Dutch author, released her novel Journey Through The Night. 

January 27: At the Nevada Test Site, a 1-kiloton bomb is dropped northwest of Las Vegas on Frenchman flat. 

January 30: Communists are not allowed to make speeches on the radio in Belgium after the country refuses them.

January 31: The San Juan Express, the last narrow gauge passenger train in the United States, ends its service.

 

united nations headquarters

United Nations Headquarters, New York City
Image: Wikimedia Commons

February 

February 1: For the first time, an X-Ray moving picture process is demonstrated. 

February 1: 28 German war criminals, including Alfried Krupp, are released. 

February 1: An atomic explosion is telecasted for the first time. 

February 1: It is condemned by the United Nations that the People’s Republic of China has acted as an aggressor in Korea in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 498. 

February 3: The US skating title is won for the 6th time by Dick Button.

February 6: A train crash in Woodbridge, New Jersey, results in the deaths of 86 people. The crash was the deadliest derailment in the US since 1918 and remains to be the worst train wreck in New Jersey. It’s one of the worst rail disasters in American history.

February 6: Paul Harvey, radio commentator, is arrested for attempting to break into the Argonne National Laboratory test site.

February 9: The St. Louis Browns baseball team sign a new pitcher, Satchel Paige. 

February 11: In the Gold Coast (Ghana), the first parliamentary election is won by Kwame Nkrumah.

February 14: In boxing, the middleweight title is taken by Sugar Ray Robinson after he defeats Jake LaMotta. 

February 15: Eventually lasting 151 days, the New Zealand waterfront dispute begins. It was the largest industrial confrontation in the history of New Zealand, with 22,000 waterside workers involved and lasting 151 days.

February 16: In New York City, a law is passed that forbids racism in city-assisted housing.

February 16:  A fire breaks out at the San Francisco City Hall dome. 

February 18: Three basketball players from the City College of New York admit they have been accepting bribes.

February 18: A constitutional monarchy is established in Nepal.

February 19: In Australia, Jean Lee is the last woman hanged in the country, when her and her two pimps are hanged for the torture and eventual murder of a bookmaker aged 73.

February 20: Former British Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is born in Scotland. 

February 22: All About Eve wins Best Film at the 4th BAFTAs in Britain. 

February 25: In Buenos Aires, the first Pan American Games opens. 

February 27: The 22nd Amendment is ratified in the United States, which limits Presidents to just two terms in office. 

March 

March 2: In the Boston Garden, the first NBA All-Star Game is played. 

March 6: One of the most significant events in 1951 is the trial of the Soviet spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which begins on this day. The pair were American citizens who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, and were later sentenced to death in the electric chair. 

March 9: A classified paper is submitted at the Los Alamos lab by physicists Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam which lays out their new design for a practical megaton-range hydrogen bomb. 

March 9: The sci-fi film The Man from Planet X is released in the United States by United Artists. 

March 10: The post of baseball commissioner is declined by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

March 12: The first ever appearance of Dennis the Menace is made in Beano, a British comic magazine. 

March 13: 6.2 billion in Deutsche Marks is requested as compensation by Israel from Germany. 

March 14: Seoul changes sides in the Korean War for the fourth time when it’s recaptured by United Nations forces for the second time. 

March 14: West Germany becomes part of UNESCO

March 17: American actor Kurt Russell is born in Massachusetts. 

March 20: A city in Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan is founded. Called Fujiyoshida, it is located in the centre of Honshū, the main island. 

March 20: The number of US soldiers in Korea reaches 2,900,000. 

March 24: American golfer Pat Bradley is born in Massachusetts. 

March 25: Baseball legend and Hall of Fame infielder Eddie Collins passes away at the age of 63 from heart problems. 

March 25: Harold Ewen and Edward Purcell discover the 21 centimetre interstellar hydrogen line. It’s the first spectral line ever seen in radio astronomy. 

March 26: President Harry Truman officially adopts the United States Air Force flag. 

March 27: The song I’m a Fool to Want You is recorded by Frank Sinatra. 

March 29: The King and I, a play by Rodgers and Hammerstein, opens on Broadway and runs for three years. The play is the first one they’re written especially for an actress, with Getrude Lawrence playing the lead. Lawrence then won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. 

March 29: All About Eve wins the Best Picture award and five others at the 23rd Academy Awards Ceremony. 

March 31: The United States Census Bureau receives the first UNIVAC 1 computer from Remington Road. It goes into service on June 14.

 

julius and ethel rosenberg

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the first American citizens to be sentenced to death for espionage
Image: Store Norske Leksikon

April

April 10: American actor Steven Seagal is born in Michigan. 

April 11: US General Douglas McArthur is relieved of command in Korea by President Harry Truman. McArthur then ended his military career on April 19.

April 11: The Stone of Scone resurfaces on the altar of Arbroath Abbey after its removal from Westminster Abbey on December 25, 1950. 

April 16: Affray, the British submarine, is sunk in the English Channel, resulting in the deaths of 75 people. 

April 16: Sigeki Tanaka wins the 55th Boston Marathon with a time of 2:27:45.

April 18: The European Coal and Steel Community is established when the 1951 Treaty of Paris is adopted. 

April 21: The NBA Championship takes place, with the New York Knicks defeated by the Rochester Royals 79-75.

April 24: More than 100 people die after a fire breaks out on board a train in Yokohama, Japan. 

April 28: Mohammad Mosaddegh becomes the Prime Minister of Iran when he is elected by the Parliament of Iran (Majlis).

April 29: The Thing (From Another World), a sci-fi film by Howard Hawks, is released by RKO. 

May

May 1: In Germany, 600,000 people march for freedom and peace. 

May 1: In Geneva, Switzerland, the Opera House is almost destroyed by fire. 

May 1: In baseball, Mickey Mantle hits his first home run of his career, defeating the White Sox 8-3 in Chicago. He is later added to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

May 3: In London, the Royal Festival Hall is opened by King George VI.

May 3: Closed door hearings into the dismissal of General Douglas McArthur take place between the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, and the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. McArthur was dismissed earlier in the year by President Harry Truman.

May 5: American golfer and two-time PGA Champion, Leo Diegel, passes away at the age of 52 from throat and lung cancer. 

May 7: Russia is allowed to participate in the 1952 Olympics as discussed by the International Olympic committee. The Soviet Union had created its National Olympic Committee on April 21. 

May 7: Novelist Conrad Richter receives the Pulitzer Prize. 

May 7: American actor Warner Baxter passes away at the age of 62.

May 9: On Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the first thermonuclear weapon is tested in what is known as “Operation Greenhouse.”

May 14: On Talyllyn Railway, Wales, the first volunteer-run passenger train runs.

May 15: A young car salesman, Brady Denton, buys 7 shares worth $1,078 in AT&T, making the company the first corporation to have a million stockholders.

May 15: In Bolivia, a military coup occurs.

May 16: For the first time, regular flights are scheduled transatlantically between London Heathrow and New York International Airport, being run by El Al Israel Airlines. 

May 18: The use of the atomic bomb in Korea is predicted by US General Collins.

May 19: The 9th Street Art Exhibition occurs, also known as the Ninth Street Show. The show consisted of notable artists from the time as well as the post-war New York avant-garde, known together as the New York School.

May 23: The signing of the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet takes place in Beijing. This agreement officially established Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. 

May 24: It is ruled illegal in Washington D.C. to racially segregate restaurants. 

May 26: The first American woman to go to space, Sally Ride, is born in Los Angeles. 

May 27: The Dalai Lama is forced to surrender his army to Beijing, after pressure is put on by Chinese communists. 

May 28: On BBC, The Goon Show premiers, a radio programme created by Spike Milligan. The first series is called “Crazy People.”

June

June 4: In the United States Supreme Court, the Foley Square Trial concludes review as Dennis vs. United States. The case related to Eugene Dennis, who was the General Secretary of the US Communist Party. A ruling against the defendants occurs, which is then overturned in 1957 by Yates vs. United States. It is ruled that Dennis could not have the right to free speech as stated in the First Amendment of the Constitution if he had intent to overthrow the government in a plot. 

June 11: Mozambique is made an overseas province of Portugal. 

June 11: It is reported by the New York Times that things found in the Subway in New York City will be auctioned off. 

June 13: United Nations forces reach Pyongyang in Korea.

June 15: In boxing, the last knockout victory of his career is scored by Joe Louis.

June 15: Starting on this day and continuing until July 1, thousands of acres of forest are demolished in fires that break out in New Mexico, California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

June 18: The French parliamentary election is won by Charles de Gaulle. 

June 18: The Suppression of Communism Act begins in South Africa. 

July

July 1: In cricket, Worcestershire wicket-keeper Hugo Yarnold breaks a record with 6 stumpings in an innings in Dundee. He was competing in a first-class match against Scotland. 

July 1: The Colombo Plan begins operations, which was an intergovernmental effort focused on strengthening the social and economic development of countries in the Asia-Pacific area. 

July 1: The first of 14 concerts are opened by Judy Garland in Dublin at the Theatre Royal.

July 2: A radio signal out of the Milky Way solar system is discovered by Leidse astronomers. 

July 5: The junction transistor is announced by Dr William Shockley.

July 8: A feud takes place between baseball player Joe Di Maggio and Yankees manager Casey Stengel. 

July 9: Congress is asked to officially end the United States’ state of war with Germany by President Harry Truman. It comes to an official end on October 19.

July 10: Discussions of an armistice to end the Korean War begin in Kaesong.

July 10: A formal peace agreement is signed between Germany and Canada. 

July 12: In Cicero, Illinois, a white mob tries to prevent a black family moving to the all-white area. 

July 13: In Kansas, the Great Flood of 1951 reaches its highest point, creating the greatest flood damage in the Midwestern United States to date.

July 14: For the first time, a sporting event is telecast in color when a horse race on CBS takes place. 

July 14: A monument for agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver is unveiled. It’s the first United States National Monument to honor an African American and is established in Diamond, Missouri. 

July 16: The king of Belgium, Leopold III, abdicates. 

July 16:  The famous novel by J. D. Salinger, The Catcher In The Rye, is published by Little Brown and Company. 

July 18: In boxing, Jersey Joe Walcott is the oldest boxer to become a heavyweight champion at the age of 37.

July 20: A Palestinian assassinates the King of Jordan, Abdullah I, in Jerusalem during Friday prayers. 

July 21: American actor and comedian Robin Williams is born in Chicago. 

July 28: Alice in Wonderland, the animated musical film by Walt Disney, is released as the animators 13th film.

July 29: Hugo Koblet, from Switzerland, wins the 38th Tour de France. 

July 30: After being released in 1948, David Lean’s film version of Oliver Twist is shown in the United States after 10 minutes of alleged anti-semetic references and closeups of Alec Guiness as Fagin are cut out. It would be 1970 before the uncut version would be shown.

 

george washington carver monument

George Washington Carver National Monument
Image: Wikimedia Commons

August 

August 6: In Manchuria, 4,800 people are killed when a typhoon floods the area. 

August 6: In New York City, the National Museum of Racing opens in Congress Park at Saratoga Springs.

August 11: The Mississippi river floods 100,000 acres of land across Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois. 

August 11: On WCBS in New York City, the Boston Braves play the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first televised baseball game in color. 

August 11: In France, René Pleven becomes Prime Minister. 

August 14: The film A Place in the Sun is released, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters and directed by George Stevens. The film goes on to win Stevens the Academy Award for Best Director in 1952. 

August 14: American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hurst of the San Francisco Examiner and Seattle P-I, passes away at the age of 88. 

August 17: 6 ships are driven ashore in Kingston, Jamaica when hurricane winds hit the area. 

August 26: In Paris, Professor Jongbloed demonstrates an artificial heart. 

August 28: In baseball, pitcher Johnny Sain is sold from the Atlanta Braves to the New York Yankees for $500,000. 

August 30: A mutual defense pact is signed between the US and the Philippines.

August 31: In South Africa, the first Volkswagen Type 1 comes off the production line. 

September 

September 1: The ANZUS mutual defense treaty is signed by the US, Australia and New Zealand. 

September 2: S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike establishes the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. 

September 4: The first ever transcontinental television broadcast takes place by President Harry Truman. 

September 4: The television station NBC extends to become a coast-to-coast network with 61 different stations. 

September 4: The opening of the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference is addressed by President Harry Truman. 

September 5: American actor Michael Keaton is born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

September 8: In San Francisco, a peace treaty is signed by Japan with 48 countries, officially bringing the Pacific War to an end. The Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia do not sign as they desire separate treaties.  

September 8: Japan and the United States sign the Japan-US Security Treaty, which, following the occupation of Japan, allows the United States Armed Forces to be stationed in the country. 

September 10: The economic boycott of Iran is begun by Britain. 

September 11: The first woman to swim the English Channel from England to France is Florence Chadwick, who completes her swim in 16 hours and 19 minutes. 

September 18: The film based on the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is released, starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. 

September 19: A strike for pay increase takes place with Italian civil servants. 

September 20: In the North Pole, the first jet crossing occurs. 

September 20: Male citizens of Switzerland vote against women’s votes. 

September 20: Greece and Turkey become members of NATO. 

September 24: The musical Show Boat is released by MGM. 

September 28: Robert Wise’s sci-fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still is released in the United States. 

September 29: An American football game is first shown on television in color on CBS. The game was played between University of Pennsylvania and University of California. 

September 29: The 12th satellite of Jupiter is discovered by S B Nicholson. 

September 30: In Canada, Charlotte Whitton becomes the first female mayor of a major city when she becomes mayor of Ottawa. 

October

October 1: For the first time, a female ambassador signs a treaty. The treaty was signed by Eugenie Anderson, who was the US ambassador to Denmark. 

October 1: The last all-black US military unit, 24th Infantry Regiment, is deactivated. 

October 2: British songwriter, singer and actor, Sting, is born in Northumberland, England. 

October 3: This 1951 timeline wouldn’t be complete without one of the greatest moments in the history of Major League Baseball. Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hits a game-winning home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The team went on to win the National League pennant after being 14 games down. 

October 3: The First Battle of Maryang-san begins, with United Nations forces, primarily Australian, drive back Chinese forces. 

October 4: The film An American in Paris is released, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron and with music by George Gershwin, has its premiere in New York. The film would go on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, as well as 5 other awards.

October 4: One of the first shopping malls in the United States, Shoppers World, opens in Framingham, Massachusetts. 

October 5: Irish singer and activist Bob Geldof is born in Ireland. 

October 6: Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin announces that the Soviet Union has the atomic bomb. 

October 6: In the Malayan Emergency, British commander Sir Henry Gurney is killed by Communist insurgents. 

October 7: The third Israeli government is formed by David Ben-Gurion.

October 10: Joe DiMaggio takes part in his final World Series, in which the Yankees beat the Giants 4 games to 2. 

October 14: The Organization of Central American States is formed. 

October 15: Luis E. Miramontes creates the first synthesis of an oral contraceptive under the direction of chemist Carl Djerassi. 

October 15: American tennis player Roscoe Tanner is born in South Carolina. 

October 16: Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, is assassinated in Rawalpindi by Said Akbar. 

October 20: In Stillwater, Oklahoma, the “Johnny Bright Incident” occurs. The incident was an aggressive assault on-field at a college American football game, in which Johnny Bright was attacked by an opposing white player. 

October 21: In southern Italy, a storm kills over 100 people. 

October 24: The first postage stamps are published by the United Nations. 

October 25: Peace talks are resumed in Panmunjom, aimed at bringing the Korean War to an end. 

October 26: At the age of 76, Winston Churchill is re-elected as British Prime Minister, defeating Clement Attlee’s Labour government.

October 27: Alleged Soviet spy and CIA Case Officer is born in New Mexico. He would later defect to the Soviet Union in 1985. 

October 27: With no support, Farouk of Egypt declares himself as the king of Sudan.

 

winston churchill

Winston Churchill
Image: Wikimedia Commons 

November

November 1: John H Johnson establishes Jet magazine. 

November 1: With infantry troops included, the first military exercises for nuclear war are carried out in the Nevada desert. 

November 2: To calm unrest in the Suez Canal area, 6,000 British troops are flown into Egypt. 

November 10: For the first time without operator assistance, a long distance telephone call occurs and direct-line telephone services begin coast-to-coast.

November 11: Flight to Mars, the sci-film film by Monogram Pictures, is released in the United States.

November 12: For the first time in Eaton Auditorium, Toronto, the National Ballet of Canada performs. 

November 17: The development of the world’s first nuclear-powered heating system is reported by Britain. 

November 20: In Britain, Snowdonia becomes an official National Park. 

November 24: Auto manufacturers in Britain, Austin and Morris Motors, merge.

November 24: On Broadway, the play Gigi opens, with Audrey Hepburn playing the lead character. 

November 25: A train crash in Woodstock, Alabama kills 17 people. 

November 25: The Cleveland Browns are penalised a record 209 yards in their game against the Chicago Bears.

November 27: American director, writer and producer, Kathyrn Bigelow, is born in California.

 

snowdonia national park

Snowdonia National Park
Image: Wikimedia Commons

December

December 1: In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge closes due to high winds. 

December 4: In the Philippines, 500 people die when superheated gasses roll down Mount Catarman.

December 6: Due to increasing riots, a state of emergency is declared in Egypt. 

December 11: Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio announces that he’s retiring from baseball. 

December 17: In the Dutch communist party, it is forbidden for members to become civil servants. 

December 17: A petition describing genocide against African Americans, We Charge Genocide, is presented to the United Nations.

December 20: The first experimental nuclear power plant in the world, Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1), is opened in Idaho, US. 

December 23: The remaining communities in Belgium get access to electricity.

December 24: Opera is televised for the first time with Amahl & Night Visitor shown. 

December 24: Through the United Nations, Libya gains its independence from Italy and Idris I is announced as King.

December 26: The film The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn is released in California after premiering in Los Angeles on December 23. 

December 31: The very first battery that converts radioactive energy to electricity is announced. 

December 31: After distributing more than 13.3 billion US dollars in aid to Europe to help it rebuild after the war, the Marshall Plan expires.

 

joe dimaggio

Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, 1951
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The 1950s were a period of heightened tension as the Cold War began to gather momentum. The threat of Communism became more highly regarded as the Second World War came to an end, and security was becoming tighter on those suspected to be communist spies. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the first civilians to be executed for conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States, after being found guilty on April 5. 

Ethel and Julius married in 1939, when the pair were both members of the Communist Party of the United States. The year after, Julius started working as a civilian engineer with the US Army Signal Corps, and began working with Ethel closely to reveal military secrets to the USSR. Throughout the Second World War, the pair had been sharing atomic knowledge with the Soviet Union, and they refused to trade their knowledge for their lives. The information was revealed when a Russian cipher clerk in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa fled in 1945 with spy documents shoved inside his shirt. 

Following their trial and their sentencing, the case was appealed through the courts, with seven different appeals being denied after reaching the United States Supreme Court. A worldwide campaign to save them had also begun, but it was unsuccessful. Citizens in London were appealing to Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss the matter with President Eisenhower, but Churchill simply replied stating it was not in his duty or power to be involved in the situation. The pair were executed in the electric chair two years later on June 19, 1953.

Joe DiMaggio Retires From Baseball 

On December 11, 1951, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio announced that he was retiring from the sport. He played his last ever World Series on October 10 and spent his entire career playing for the New York Yankees as a center fielder. DiMaggio is widely regarded as one of the best baseball players in history, especially after he hit a still-standing record with a 56-game hitting streak. 

When he announced his retirement, he was fifth in terms of career home runs, totalling 361, and sixth in slugging percentage at .579. Four years after his retirement, he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

As well as reaching fame in baseball, DiMaggio was also the husband of Marilyn Monroe for nine months, he was written into Mrs. Robinson by Paul Simon and was the face of the brand Mister Coffee. He had become a true American icon and is still remembered as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.