Alaska became America’s 49th state, Hawaii became the 50th state and primates Miss Able and Miss Baker were launched into space for the first time. Other memorable and historic 1959 events include Fidel Castro rising to power, Cyprus gaining independence from the United Kingdom, and the first ever hovercraft successfully manoeuvred across the English Channel. We have created a comprehensive timeline of events, to explain exactly what happened in 1959. If you would like to learn about any of these historic events in more detail, a 1959 newspaper will provide you with everything you need to know.

1959 Timeline

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January 2:  Luna 1 is successfully launched by the Soviet Union from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

January 3:  Alaska is declared as the 49th state in the USA.

January 7: The new Cuban government of Fidel Castro is recognized by the United States.

January 12: Marks discovery of the Caves of Nerja in Spain.

January 15: The first census after World War II is conducted in the Soviet Union.

January 21: The European Court of Human Rights is created.

January 29: Sleeping Beauty is released by Walt Disney and is Disney’s first 70mm film with a modern stereophonic sound.

January 30: Striking an iceberg off the coast of Greenland, Danish passenger ship MS Hans Hedtoft sinks and all 95 onboard are killed.

A Year in History: Timeline of 1959 Events

Poster for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty


February 1: A referendum in Switzerland is held and votes against female suffrage.

February 2: Later known as the Dyatlov Pass incident, nine ski hikers disappear in the Ural Mountains and are found dead weeks later.

February 6: A Titan intercontinental ballistic missile is successfully fired in a test for the first time in Florida.

February 16: Cuba announces Fidel Castro as Premier.

February 16: There is a large power outage in Newfoundland after a blizzard.

February 17: The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, is launched to measure cloud cover for the USA Navy.

February 18: Women vote for the first time in Nepal.

February 19: Cyprus are granted independence from the United Kingdom.

A Year in History: Timeline of 1959 Events

Fidel Castro


March 1: After being exiled, Archbishop Makarios returns to Cyprus.

March 3: Becoming the first American object to avoid control from Earth’s gravity, Pioneer 4 is tested.

March 8: The last television appearance from the Marx Brothers.

March 9: The Barbie doll makes its first appearance in the United States, produced by Mattel.

March 10: When Chinese officials attempt to arrest the Dalai Lama, protests known as the Tibetan uprising begin.

March 28: The government of Tibet, the Kashag, is abolished by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

March 28: Replacing the Dalai Lama in China, the Panchen Lama becomes a puppet ruler.

March 31: The Dalai Lama is granted asylum in India.

A Year in History: Timeline of 1959 Events

The Dalai Lama


April 6: The annual Academy Awards is held for the 31st time.

April 8: Marks the establishment of the Inter-American Development Bank.

April 9: Becoming the first US astronauts, NASA announces their selection of seven military pilots (the Mercury Seven).

April 10: The first commoner to marry into the Imperial House of Japan, Shoda Michiko marries Crown Prince Akihito.

April 17: Birth date of Sean Bean, British actor.

April 21: After a 20-year hiatus, the tradition of firing a cannon at noon in Rome is resumed.

April 25: Linking the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, the Saint Lawrence Seaway officially opens to shipping.

April 27: Liu Shaoqi is elected as Chairman of the People’s Republic of China by the National People’s Congress.

1959 Timeline

Liu Shaoqi and family


May 2: In English football, Nottingham Forest wins 2-1 in the FA Cup Final against Luton.

May 3: In Slough near Washington, the body of 10-year-old Susan Martin is discovered. The next day the body of 12-year-old Virginia Martin is found. 5 months earlier all five members of the Martin family had vanished. The three remaining members of the family and their car have never been found.

May 11: Without coming to an agreement, the foreign ministers of Britain, the USA, France and the Soviet Union meet in Geneva for a 17-day long conference on the reunification of Germany.

May 16: The Triton Fountain in Malta is inaugurated.

May 24: Commonwealth Day is announced in replacement of British Empire Day, an important 1959 event.

May 28: Miss Baker and Miss Able, two primates, become the first living beings to return safely to Earth after space flight in Jupiter AM-18 rocket.

May 30: In Britain, the first trial for a hovercraft takes place.

May 31: The accidental death toll during the Memorial Day Weekend breaks the record with 460 deaths.


June 1: Miss Able dies during the surgery to remove electrodes four days after her flight to space.

June 3: With Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister, Singapore becomes a self-governing crown colony of Great Britain.

June 9: The first submarine to carry ballistic missiles, USS George Washington is launched.

June 12: Construction begins on the first British nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought.

June 23: The third Taoiseach of Ireland is announced, Sean Lemass.

June 25: Charles Starkweather is executed for his 11 murders.

June 26: Queen Elizabeth II opens the Saint Lawrence Seaway with Dwight Eisenhower, President of the US.

June 30: North American F-100 Super Sabre jet crashes into Miamori Elementary School, Okinawa, killing 21 students and injuring 100 more.


Astronaut monkey, Miss Able


July 7: Determining the diameter of Venus and the structure of Venus’ atmosphere, Venus is seen to occult Regulus – an event that won’t occur again until 2044.

July 9: Setting a record of 11 hours and 27 minutes, Michael Beethan flies a Royal Air Force Vickers Valiant non-stop from London-Cape Town.

July 17: Louis Leakey and wife Mary discover the first skull of Australopithecus in Tanzania.

July 17:  Marks the death of Billie Holiday. Her funeral and wake is filled with thousands of mourners.

July 22: A medical research group at Kumamoto University concludes that Minimata disease is caused by mercury.

July 24: Becoming the first Asian woman to win the competition, Akiko Kojima is crowned Miss Universe.

July 25: In just over 2 hours the SR.N1 hovercraft crosses the English Channel from Calais to Dover.

July 29: Giving equal rights to children born out of wedlock, the Legitimacy Act is passed, receiving royal assent in Britain.

A Year in History: Timeline of 1959 Events

Billie Holiday


August 7: Killing 14 and leaving a 50-foot-wide crater, a dynamite truck explodes in Roseburg, Oregon.

August 8: Flooding in Taiwan kills over 2,000 people.

August 14: The first picture of Earth from orbit is taken by Explorer 6.

August 15: Cyprus officially gained independence.

August 19: During the Esala Perahera ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, an elephant charges into the crowd and kills 20 people.

August 21: One of the most famous events that happened in 1959, Hawaii is announced as the USA’s 50th state.

August 24: Newly independent Cyprus officially joins the United Nations.

August 29: On one afternoon in Northeastern United States, 9 people are killed by lightning.


September 3: After 140 years of the British flag, Singapore raises their new flag whilst their new anthem is played.

September 8: President Eisenhower signs a law to protect wild American mustang horses, making it a violation of federal law to hunt the horses on public land.

September 14: The Soviet Union’s Luna 2 is the first ever man-made object to crash on the Moon.

September 14: A radar signal is sent to Venus for the first time, and an echo is received back.

September 18: The first jet bridge, the ‘jetway’ opens in Atlanta airport.

September 23: Australia’s first passenger ferry, MS Princess of Tasmania, makes its first voyage across the Bass Strait.

September 26: Typhoon Vera hits Japan – a category 5 storm – killing over 5,000 and injuring over 30,000.

September 26: Large unit action takes place for the first time in the Vietnam War.


October 1: Marks the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

October 2: A total eclipse of the sun is seen over the northeast parts of the US and West Africa.

October 6: The World Court ruled in favor of Cambodia when they filed suit against Thailand, claiming violation of its territory.

October 7: The first photos of the far side of the Moon are obtained by the USSR’s Luna 3.

October 7: Birth date of Simon Cowell, British television producer and judge.

October 10: James Earl Ray is given a 20 year sentence for robbing a supermarket in St Louis. 8 years later he would escape and assassinate Dr Martin Luther King.

October 20: Elevating its five affiliated women’s colleges to equal status with its men’s colleges, the University of Oxford revises its original rules.

October 27: More than 1,000 people are killed by a hurricane in Mexico.


November 1: After being hit in the face during a game, NHL goalie Jacques Plante becomes the first goalie to wear a mask for protection.

November 2: The first section of the M1 Motorway is opened by the Minister of Transport in the United Kingdom.

November 4: More than 6,700 people are paralyzed in Morocco by cooking oil poisoned with jet aircraft engine rinse. Over 10,000 people suffer with injuries and manufacturers of the oil are sentenced to the death penalty.

November 6: Dr. Bernard Lown uses 400volts of electricity to restore the rhythm of a patient’s heart in Boston, leading to the creation of the heart defibrillator.

November 8: Clearing the way for construction projects, a treaty is signed by Egypt and Sudan to govern the use of the Nile River.

November 14: The volcano Kilauea in Hawaii erupts and continued to erupt until December 20.

November 17: The Daily Herald publishes a false and ‘made up’ story about 11-year old Prince Charles, suggesting that a Northern Ireland nationalist group Fianna Uladh planned to kidnap him and hold him hostage. Scotland Yard denies this.

November 20: The United Nations adopts the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.


December 1: A major event in our 1959 timeline: The Antarctic Treaty is signed by 12 countries, including the USA and the Soviet Union. The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, banning military activity on the continent.

December 10: The last American military personnel are withdrawn from Iceland.

December 12: The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, otherwise known as UNCOPUOS, is established.

December 14: The first president of Cyprus is selected: Makarios III.

December 14: Joe Jordan becomes the first human to reach 103,395 feet, flying an F-104 Starfighter.

December 19: The USS Scorpion, a nuclear submarine is launched. This submarine is one of four mysterious submarine disappearances in 1968.

December 26: The Heritage Mountain Range in Antarctica is visited for the first time, 12 days after it is first seen by humans.

December 28: Matthew Jaksch is robbed by two men and had two relics from the Crucifixion taken: the Crown of thorns and a splinter from the Cross. The relics had been gifted to ancestors by Pope Benedict XIV.

A Year in History: Timeline of 1959 Events

USS Scorpion

Miss Baker and Miss Able Travel to Space

In another milestone in 20th century space travel, primates Miss Baker and Miss Able were the first US animals to successfully fly to and return from space alive. Miss Baker was chosen during a training program among 25 other animals at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine.  

While she flew into space in her own space flight capsule, Miss Baker was monitored by electrodes to keep an eye on her physiological state. The primates made their journey into space on May 28, in a Huntsville-built Jupiter rocket. In total, the monkeys traveled to an altitude of more than 300 miles, and more than 1,700 ground miles. They also traveled at speeds of more than 10,000 mph. 

When the monkeys returned to Earth, they were unharmed and seemed in good spirits. However, Miss Able unfortunately passed away on an operating table just four days after her return to Earth, during an operation to remove one of her electrodes. Miss Baker went to live at the Naval Aerospace Medical Center in Pensacola, Florida. She was even given a companion, Big George, to keep her company. Both monkeys remained at the Center until 1971, when they were moved to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Miss Baker lived for 27 years, which is the oldest age a squirrel monkey has reportedly lived for. She died on November 29, 1984 after a very busy post-space travel life of TV appearances and public visits. 

Billie Holiday

1959 saw the loss of musical icon Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz singers in history. She is remembered for having one of the most outstanding jazz voices in the music industry, managing to have a fascinating and busy career before sadly facing addiction struggles. 

After a troubling childhood, Billie Holiday found peace in music, frequently listening to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Her career took off when she began singing in local clubs during the 1930s. A performance in a Harlem jazz club led her to be recognized by a producer, and she soon began to record. Her life became filled with popular songs and tours, including a film appearance in Symphony in Black. 

In 1945, Holiday’s addiction struggles began to surface when she started using drugs with her current boyfriend and faced conviction charges for the possession of narcotics. Her final performance was on May 25, 1959, soon before she was admitted to hospital for heart and liver problems. From alcohol and drug-related problems, Holiday passed away on July 17, 1959. 

Her funeral was attended by more than 3,000 people who wished to say their goodbyes, revealing the true impact her music and performances had on the public. Many well-known jazz faces also made an appearance at the funeral, including Gene Krupa and Buddy Rogers. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and she also received career achievement awards at the 29th annual Grammy Awards.