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1959: Sex, Jazz, and Datsuns

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Fidel’s Visit

On April 15, Fidel Castro, the new leader of Cuba, launched a whirlwind U.S. tour, enthralling millions with a spectacle unseen in their lifetimes: a revolutionary, claiming to be neither communist nor capitalist, who rose to power without the aid of Moscow or Washington and who therefore seemed like he might be the one to carve a new path, a breakout from the Cold War’s grinding duel. In New York, he lunched with bankers on Wall Street, fed a Bengal tiger at the Bronx Zoo, and spoke to 30,000 people in Central Park. A New York Times editorial exclaimed, “The young man is larger than life.” By the time of Castro’s next trip, for a meeting at the U.N. General Assembly a year and a half later—after he nationalized U.S. companies, executed even more opponents, and purchased arms from the Soviet Union—the euphoria had died down.


The Japanese Car

Also in April, the New York Coliseum hosted the International Auto Show, which took up one-third more floor space than the previous year’s edition and featured cars made by 65 companies in nine foreign countries, many of them sporting, as the Times reported, “sleeker styling and more powerful engines.” For the first time, cars from Japan were on display, including Datsuns and Toyotas. Coinciding with the tanking of the Edsel—Ford Motor would halt its production seven months later—it was the first sign that Detroit could no more dominate its market than Washington could dictate to the world.


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