The Cuban Missile Crisis

Dear Educators,

The Education and Public Programs Team at the Nixon Library is pleased to remind you that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) continues to be an excellent source for entertaining and historical content! Simply follow the links below for additional information.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

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Map of the United States Showing the Range of Missiles; 10/26/1962; Administration Records, 1961 - 1964; Collection JFK-222: Theodore Sorensen Papers; John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, MA. NAID 7065390

While on a high-altitude reconnaissance flight over Cuba in early autumn of 1962, a United States Air Force U-2 surveillance aircraft made a remarkable discovery. Reconnaissance photos showed what appeared to be nuclear-capable Soviet MRBMs (medium-range ballistic missiles) in addition to Soviet military support personnel, based on the island nation - just 90 miles south of the continental United States. Further analysis confirmed their presence, and with an approximate range of 1000 miles, most of the eastern half of the U.S. was effectively vulnerable to Soviet missile attack.

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Photograph PXDOD-CMCPHOTOS-PX66(20)(27); Aerial Photograph of Medium Range Ballistic Missile Launch Site Two at San Cristobal; 11/1/1962; Briefing Board #27, MRBM Launch Site 2, San Cristobal, 1 November 1962; Briefing Materials, 1962 - 1963; Collection JFK-5047: Department of Defense Cuban Missile Crisis Briefing Materials; John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, MA. NAID 193933

Faced with this grave and immediate threat, President John F. Kennedy called for the Soviet Union to dismantle and withdraw its missiles from Cuba. Soviet Premier Khrushchev refused. The U.S. enacted a naval “quarantine” around Cuba, intercepting all Cuban-bound Soviet ships and turning away those thought to be or confirmed to be carrying weaponry. In a televised broadcast on October 22, 1962, President Kennedy addressed the nation, stating, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” 

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Civil Defense Poster; 1953; Civil Defense - General 1954; Personal Files of James M. Lambie Jr., 1952 - 1961; Collection DDE-1019: James M. Lambie Jr. Records; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, KS. NAID 594366

Calling the American quarantine on Cuba an “act of aggression,” Khrushchev ordered Soviet ships to proceed and the build-up to continue, thus exponentially raising the chance for potential armed conflict between the two superpowers. War now seemed imminent as diplomatic negotiations deteriorated.


How to build a fallout shelter; ca. 1957; Records of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Record Group 311. NAID 542105

Just as the situation was spiraling out of control and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war, President Kennedy received word on October 27th that Khrushchev wanted to talk. Kennedy and Khrushchev struck a deal that ended the crisis the next day. The Soviets yielded to President Kennedy’s demands, and in return, the U.S. didn’t invade Cuba and removed all the NATO/U.S. medium-range Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

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Photograph of the Soviet Ship Ansov Departing from Cuba During the Cuban Missile Crisis; 11/6/1962; Records of the U.S. Information Agency, Record Group 306. NAID 595365

Using DocsTeach, the National Archives’ online tool for teaching activities, we invite you and your students to better understand the Cuban Missile Crisis and other Cold War conflicts through primary resources and historical comprehension exercises. Also, visit the National Endowment for the Humanities for additional student and teaching activities regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: The Missiles of October.

Please feel free to contact us at if you have any questions.

Stayed tuned for regular updates from the Nixon Library Education and Public Programs Team.


The Nixon Library Education and Public Programs Team