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John F. Kennedy Biography

35th President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1961-1963

Vice President: Lyndon B. Johnson

Party: Democrat

JFK White House portrait

Age at Inauguration: 43

Home State: Massachusetts

Date of Birth: May 29, 1917

Died: November 22, 1963

Married: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier  

Children: Caroline, John, Patrick

Nickname: JFK, Jack

state-seal-massachusetts

What is John F. Kennedy known for?

John F. Kennedy was one of the youngest U.S. presidents and the first Roman Catholic elected to the office. He is best known for being assassinated early in his presidency.

Kennedy is also known for the Bay of the Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Early Life

John F. Kennedy was born to a wealthy, politically connected Boston family in 1917. His father, Joseph, had made a fortune in entertainment, business, and the stock market.

pay and money

Joseph dreamed that one of his sons would one day become president. He believed that it would be his oldest, Joe Jr.

Along with his eight siblings, John attended the best schools, vacationed in summer homes, and was waited on by servants.

Growing up, however, he was often sick and experienced many health problems.

Franklin D Roosevelt painting
Franklin D Roosevelt

In 1938, John’s father was appointed the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain by Franklin D. Roosevelt. John traveled with his father as his secretary.

That same year, he inherited $1 million from his family.

Still, John stayed motivated and attended Harvard University. He wrote a best-selling book while still in college.

Harvard College
Harvard College

Military Career

When World War II began, Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy. He served in the South Pacific, where he commanded a small motor-torpedo boat.

In August 1943, Kennedy’s boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. He led the survivors on a three-mile swim to a nearby island, pulling an injured crewmate by a life-jacket strap held in his teeth.

They hid from the enemy on the island for days until Kennedy was able to summon help. He received a Medal for Valor and a Purple Heart for his heroic actions.

Purple Heart case

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s brother, Joe Jr., was killed on a mission in Europe. Joseph Kennedy now set his sights on John becoming president one day.

Political Career

After leaving the Navy, Kennedy briefly worked as a reporter before being elected to Congress in 1946. He served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1952, he was elected to the Senate.

House of Representatives
House of Representatives

Family Life

The same year he became a Senator, Kennedy met Jacqueline Lee Bouvier at a dinner party. The couple married a year later.

They eventually had three children: Caroline, John, and Patrick. Patrick died in infancy.

Kennedy continued to struggle with poor health. One condition which Addison’s disease, which many doctors believed was terminal (deadly).

sickness emoticon

He also had such terrible back pain that he could not lift his children.

Presidential Campaign

Despite his health problems and resulting poor attendance in Congress, Kennedy set his political sights higher.

He tried to get the vice-presidential nomination in 1956, but narrowly lost. In 1960, he got the presidential nomination and ran against then vice president Richard M. Nixon.

Kennedy ended up winning one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history.

vice president

Presidency

In his inaugural speech, the newly elected president famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

He spoke about the need for Americans to work together to make the country better, and to win the ongoing Cold War against communism throughout the world.

ask now what your country can do for you

Cold War

Early in his presidency, Kennedy approved the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was an attempt to overthrow the Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro.

During the mission, 1,400 Cuban rebels trained by the CIA invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. Nearly all of the rebels were captured or killed. The invasion was a disaster.

In 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviet Union was secretly building missile bases in Cuba. With these missiles, the Soviet Union would be able to strike the U.S. with nuclear bombs.

Bay of Pigs

As a result, the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to nuclear warfare. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba, which cut off their access to supplies.

The Soviet Union agreed to get rid of the missile sites if the U.S. would promise not to invade Cuba and would remove their missiles from Turkey.

Soon after, the Soviet Union joined the U.S. and Great Britain in signing a nuclear test ban treaty.

nuclear symbol

Domestic Policy

At home, Kennedy’s biggest priorities were civil rights and income tax cuts. Much of his legislation did not pass, but he remained an enormously popular president in the United States and around the world.

Kennedy also started the Peace Corps, an organization that continues to send young volunteers to work in underdeveloped countries all over the world.

JFK’s Assassination

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was riding in the presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.

Kennedys Riding in Dallas Motorcade
22 Nov 1963, Dallas, Texas, USA — President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy smile at the crowds lining their motorcade route in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

He was shot twice in the neck and the head by Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24-year-old rumored to be a communist. Kennedy was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a local hospital.

When Oswald was arrested two days later, he was shot and fatally injured on his way to jail. Since then, many other theories have come out about JFK’s murder.

prison

These theories include Kennedy being assassinated by Russian agents, the Mafia, the American government, the CIA, or even vice president Lyndon B. Johnson.

Additional investigations have concluded that Oswald acted alone, but polls show the American public remains unconvinced.

Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald

Kennedy was buried in a state funeral at Arlington Cemetery. One million people lined the streets of Washington, DC to watch the funeral procession and pay their respects to the beloved president.

Fun Facts About John F. Kennedy

Kennedy was the nation’s first president born in the 20th century.

At the time, he was the youngest president ever elected to office. (Theodore Roosevelt was younger, but he was not elected. He became president when William McKinley died.)

Theodore Roosevelt laughing
Theodore Roosevelt

JFK participated in the first televised presidential debate. Many believe that being young and handsome helped seal his victory.

His brother Bobby served as his attorney general, and his youngest brother Edward (“Ted”) was elected to Senate in 1962.

People compared the Kennedy family to King Arthur’s court at Camelot.

The Kennedy brothers
The Kennedy brothers

JFK’s brother Bobby later also ran for president, but he was assassinated before the election.

Kennedy’s wife, nicknamed Jackie, became a famous style icon. The entire family was seen as beautiful and glamorous.

JFK and Jackie Kennedy

He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage, written while recovering from back surgery.

US Presidents