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World News of December 1962

1962 News of the World

This week, Roadtrip-'62 ™ bounces all around the world, looking at news. Unfortunately, some of it looks the same as what we have 56 years later!

First Yemen, then Aden, now Yemen Again
Yemeni Prime Minister, Prince Hassan and tribesmen in Wadi Amlah, December 1962
Yemeni Prime Minister, Prince Hassan, talking to tribesmen outside his cave in Wadi Amlah, December 1962. (Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

The conflict in modern-day Yemen has been ongoing since at least 1962, when the monarchy in Yemen was overthrown. The coup came just one week after the previous ruler, Imam Ahmad died in September and his son ascended to the throne. The army rebelled, declaring a republic and sending the new imam into exile. The conflict between royalist and republican forces continued beyond the end of the year, with Saudi Arabia supporting the deposed imam and Egypt supporting the army. Following Yemen’s coup in 1962, unrest in the adjacent British Crown Colony of Aden followed in 1963. This forced the British into a hasty exit and the country fell into conflict, as some of the local sultanates did not want to join a proposed federation.

The era of the early 1960s found the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and even Belgium granting independence to their colonies for both philosophical and economic reasons. Unfortunately, most of the new countries immediately devolved into internal wars as old conflicts had never been resolved, just hidden under colonial power. Aden, which was one of 16 states joining a federation to be named South Arabia, was no exception. An additional four states refused to join South Arabia. The entire area was united with the former Yemen in 1990, though that was also short-lived. In 2011, another coup occurred, another leader fled, and today, Yemen is again in another civil war that has impoverished the country. The current war is again being funded and supported by outside forces: Saudi Arabia and Iran are now on opposite sides.

Caribbean News Roundup
Jamaican independence stamps, 1962
Jamaican independence stamps

The Caribbean region was very busy politically during 1962, with two colonies becoming independent from Great Britain. Jamaica became an independent nation on August 6th, adopting a flag in the now-familiar colors of green, gold, and black. The next month, the country was granted membership in the United Nations. Trinidad-Tobago achieved independence on August 31st. It also became a member of the United Nations in 1962, as did four countries in Africa: Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Originally, the British had encouraged a federation among ten of their Caribbean territories, known as the West Indies Federation. The colonies included, mostly of the Leeward and Windward Islands groups, were Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Anguilla, Montserrat, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands. This federation was in effect from January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, but political conflicts over how the federation would be governed and how it would function doomed it, as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago went their separate ways.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, The Bahamas held their first election in which women were allowed to vote! Voters turned out in high numbers, with over 90% of eligible voters estimated to have cast ballots. They elected legislators from four different parties to serve in their national House of Assembly.

Hatian President Duvalier took full control of the island’s economy, stating that the country would continue their development program without United States help, after the United States instituted a three month suspension of all aid and arms shipments. The United States was concerned that arms had been passed to the wrong hands and demanded that the island government provide a weapon-by-weapon status report for all arms shipped since 1960. President Duvalier refused to comply. It appears that his “development” plans were not successful, as Haiti is still the poorest country in the Americas.

Puerto Rico is unique in the Caribbean area, as the island is a commonwealth of the United States. It had scheduled a vote during 1962 on whether it should remain a commonwealth, become independent, or become a state. The vote was postponed, however, because the US Congress had not yet worked out details of committing to any change, if a change were selected. The referendum was not held until 1967, becoming the first of five such votes. Continued commonwealth status received the most votes then. In the fifth plebiscite held on June 11, 2017, statehood received the most votes. The independence option only received 1.5% of the vote in the 2017 referendum. Congress has not yet dealt with the results of this vote, just as it never dealt with any of the others.

Canada-United States Relations
International Bridge Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, in early 1960s postcard
International Bridge Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, in early 1960s (postcard from an online auction)

Three new international bridges between Canada and the United States opened in 1962. The Canadian half of a bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York was completed. A new bridge at Sault St. Marie, Michigan and Ontario was completed at the end of highway US-2. And the world’s longest steel arch bridge opened over the Niagara River between Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario. The bridge at Sault Ste. Marie handled about 7,000 vehicles a day over its 2.8 mile roadbed in 2012. The bridge crosses the shipping channel with a clearance of 128 feet, so that ocean-going ships can pass under it. If you are looking for other bridge news from 1962, please check the Roadtrip-'62 ™ Bridges, Brides, and More Bridges page.

Canada also completed another transportation marvel, the Trans-Canada Highway. This twelve-year long project unites the east and west coasts of Canada with a paved, 4,860-mile road ready for roadtrips across the country. It includes ferry connections between the island provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. A future bridge link was also announced between the mainland and Prince Edward Island, to replace one ferry on the Trans-Canada route by 1970. Canada immediately turned from roads to railroads, beginning construction of a new 430-mile line to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.

Canada devalued their dollar in May, officially pegging it at 92.5 cents to a US Dollar. The purpose was to encourage exports by reducing their prices. The effort was not enough to significantly reduce the Canadian trade deficit, and the government set new higher tariffs on imported goods later in 1962. Meanwhile, tariff reductions with the United States on certain goods were negotiated under the newly-passed US Trade Expansion Act of 1962. This law has recently come back into focus, as President Trump used it in 2017 to begin investigations into dumping of steel and aluminum into the United States at below market prices, primarily by China.

The year saw little progress on ratification of the 1962 Columbia River power treaty, which was intended to allow construction of more dams across the Canadian portion of that bi-national river in exchange for permitting long-term sales of electric power back to the United States.

Train Wreck Disasters

Newsreel of Steelton, Pennsylvania 1962 baseball excursion train wreck from British Pathé.


As more travel occurs by road and air, do train wrecks seem to become rarer? Unfortunately not, as recent years have continued to see many train crashes resulting in many deaths, just like in 1962. The worst wreck of that year was on May 3, 1962 in Tokyo, Japan, where 163 people were killed when two separate commuter trains were involved in a crash with a freight train. This wreck, referred to as the Mikawashima train crash, is considered the 25th worst train crash in history. Next worst was a crash in The Netherlands, where 91 people were killed in January 1962 in a commuter train accident. Fortunately, the numbers of deaths goes down from there, with the next most hazardous crashes killing 69 people in India and another in Italy killing 63 people. Other crashes occurred in Columbia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, killing between 40 and 24 persons each. All but two of these also involved a crash between a freight train and a passenger train.

Of the nine worst train wrecks in 1962, only one was in the United States. It was a special baseball excursion train running to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was derailed near Steelton, Pennsylvania. The derailment caused five cars to run off the track, with three rolling down an embankment into the Susquehanna River. A total of 119 people were hurt and 19 died. Some bodies were so mangled they had to be identified from fingerprints.

President Kennedy’s Foreign Visits
’Yes, Mac, there is a Santa Claus.’  Political cartoon by Charles Bissell from The Tennessean, December, 1962.
"Yes, Mac, there is a Santa Claus." Political cartoon by Charles Bissell from The Tennessean, December, 1962. (From the Charles Bissell Collection, Vanderbilt University Special Collections.)

President Kennedy made the least visits to foreign countries of any year of his short presidency, visiting only two countries. He visited Mexico in June, meeting with President Lopez Mateos. One point of contention with Mexico was the destruction of farmland in the Mexicali valley due to an irrigation project in Arizona. The taking of water by the United States for this project left the remaining river water too salty, ruining about 50,000 acres of rich Mexican farmland. During his visit, President Kennedy pledged to immediately improve the situation. Mexico celebrated paying off a debt owed to British and US oil companies that was incurred back in 1938, when Mexico nationalized all foreign oil development into their state-run Pemex company. President Kennedy’s other foreign trip was to The Bahamas, where he concluded the “Nassau Agreement” on nuclear defense systems with Prime Minister Macmillan of Great Britain in December. As part of this agreement, the United States agreed to supply Great Britain with its Polaris missiles. These gave Great Britain the capability to launch nuclear weapons from submarines. In return, The US was granted rights to store its nuclear weapons on British territories.


All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2017 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on December 5, 1962 for Sault Ste. Marie, MI, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 32°F
  • High = 45°F
  • Precipitation = no data
  • Mean Wind Speed = 10.6mph

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