The Kennedy-Nixon Debates: Final Round

On October 21, 1960, American viewers were riveted to their television sets for the broadcast of the fourth and final debate between Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy.

The first-ever televised debate between presidential candidates was held on September 26, 1960. An estimated total of sixty to seventy million viewers watched the first and the successive debates, which came to be known as “the Great Debates.”

Here We Go Again. Edmund S. Valtman, artist; published in: Hartford Times, Sept. 12, 1960. Cartoon Drawings. Prints & Photographs Division

The first debate, broadcast by CBS, focused on domestic issues. Each candidate was allowed eight minutes for an opening statement, followed by thirty minutes of questions and answers and a combined total of ten minutes for closing statements. The first and last debates allowed two and a half minutes for answers and one and a half minutes for comments on questions directed to the opponent. The fourth debate, broadcast by ABC, focused on foreign policy issues, particularly U.S. relations with Cuba.

The second and third one-hour debates, televised from New York by NBC and ABC, respectively, followed a looser format with a news panel questioning the candidates on a variety of subjects. The second debate had neither opening nor closing statements by the candidates. The third debate was the first genuine “electronic debate,” with the two candidates facing off from opposite coasts; Kennedy spoke from a television studio in New York and Nixon from Los Angeles.

The 1960 debates have been compared to the famous 1858 debates in the senatorial campaign between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. However, the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates were held outdoors in the towns of several voting districts. Each debate lasted three hours — first one candidate spoke for one hour, then the second candidate spoke for an hour and a half, and then the first candidate spoke again for another thirty minutes. The debates were attended by crowds ranging from 1,500 to as many as 20,000 people.

President John F. Kennedy, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. US Navy photograph, 1961. Prints & Photographs Division
Richard M. Nixon, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Official White House photograph, between 1969-1974. Prints & Photographs Division

In the twentieth century, radio became the new political medium. During the presidential campaign of 1924, radio stations broadcast the speeches of incumbent President Calvin Coolidge, the Republican candidate, and John W. Davis, the Democratic candidate. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt held the attention of the American public through his use of this medium in his radio-broadcast “fireside chats.”

An increase in the use of radio by politicians sparked arguments about freedom versus responsibility of the broadcasting industry in providing coverage of political events. Criticism by political parties, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission led to legislation in the areas of equal airtime and freedom of speech.

Lincoln Douglas Debate Du Page County Centennial, August 27th, West Chicago//Kreger. Illinois: Federal Art Proj., WPA, [between 1936-1939]. Posters: WPA Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1952, national political conventions and the presidential campaign were televised nationwide for the first time. The public avidly followed television coverage of the campaign and rated television as the most informative medium. Televised broadcasts of the debates in the 1960 presidential campaign were a response to the public’s enthusiasm for this type of coverage.

Pollsters estimated that approximately 3.4 million voters determined their choice of party solely on the basis of the Great Debates. The milestone events thrust broadcast media into a central role in American political life. The trend continues despite critics blaming the media for the “merchandising” of candidates, the rising costs of political campaigns, and the use of advertising agencies in the “image manipulation” of candidates.

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The Guggenheim Museum

The Solomon R. Guggenheim MuseumExternal of modern and contemporary art opened in New York City on October 21, 1959. Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the modern structure marked a bold departure from traditional museum design. Its exhibition space features a spiraling six-story ramp that encircles an open center space lit by a glass dome.

Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949), son of Swiss immigrant and mining tycoon Meyer Guggenheim, began to compile a significant collection of modern art in the late 1920s, with the assistance of his art advisor Hilla Rebay, herself an artist, and an enthusiastic proponent of abstract painting.

Guggenheim Museum, 88th St. & 5th Ave., New York City. Under Construction I. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, Nov. 12, 1957. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1937, Guggenheim established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to promote art and art education, and began to explore the idea of creating a museum. He commissioned Wright to design a building, but Wright died before construction was completed in 1959.

The Guggenheim Museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art includes works by artists such as Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Paul Klee (1879-1940), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

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  • The Gottscho-Schleisner Collection is the work of two architectural photographers, Samuel H. Gottscho (1875-1971) and William H. Schleisner (1912-62). It includes detailed photographs of public and private buildings throughout the nation with an emphasis on New York and the Northeast. The collection includes several images of the Guggenheim under construction. Search the collection using terms such as galleries and museums, art exhibition, or art gallery, or browse the subject index, to find more photographs of the interiors and exteriors of particular museums and galleries.
  • To find additional art-related images, search across the Library’s pictorial collections more generally, using terms such as Frank Lloyd Wright and galleries and museums, art exhibitions, artist studio or on terms for various artistic media such as drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.
  • To learn more about the architect of the Guggenheim, Frank Lloyd Wright, visit the Library of Congress online exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Designs for an American Landscape, 1922-1932 and then consult the Prints and Photographs Division’s guide: Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey. Also read the June 8th Today in History commemorating Wright’s birthday.