At the height of the Cold War, for two weeks in October 1962, the world teetered on the edge of thermonuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Earlier that fall, the Soviet Union, under orders from Premier Nikita Khrushchev, began to secretly deploy a nuclear strike force in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States.
President John F. Kennedy said the missiles would not be tolerated and insisted on their removal. Khrushchev refused.
The standoff nearly caused a nuclear exchange. For 13 days — from October 16th through October 28th — the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war. The peaceful resolution of the crisis with the Soviets is considered to be one of Kennedy’s greatest achievements.
At the National Archives’ Cuban Missile Crisis Special Topics page you can find extensive related records including clandestine real-time White House recordings from JFK’s meetings during the crisis, JFK’s doodles from October 1962, satellite images of missile sites under construction, CIA-prepared Personality Studies of Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, and secret correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev.
You can learn more about the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis from these National Archives resources:
- 60th Anniversary: The Cuban Missile Crisis – The Unwritten Record
- 13 Days in October – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
- Military Resources: Bay of Pigs Invasion & Cuban Missile Crisis | National Archives
- Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited – The Text Message
- The National Archives Revisits the Cold War with Programs and Display
- Featured Document Display: Remembering the Hollywood 10: Screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. | National Archives Museum
Photos, from above: Map of Aircraft Locations in Cuba; and President Kennedy at his desk in the Oval Office upon signing the Cuba Quarantine Order courtesy National Archives.