Politics

The first televised debate

Updated 12:09 PM ET, Wed February 24, 2016
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The first televised presidential debate took place on September 26, 1960, when U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy, left, faced off against Vice President Richard Nixon, right. The debate was one of the most-watched broadcasts in U.S. history. AP
The candidates shake hands as moderator Howard K. Smith looks on. The one-hour debate took place in Chicago at the studios of CBS affiliate WBBM. CBS/Getty Images
CBS President Frank Stanton fixes the debate stage. CBS/Getty Images
Stanton, right, and producer Don Hewitt check a television monitor before the debate. CBS/Getty Images
Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, watches the debate from the wings of the studio. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Much has been made about the two men's appearance and how that affected the perception of those who watched the debate on television. Nixon declined CBS' offer of makeup, instead choosing to wear a product called LazyShave to hide his five o'clock shadow. He was also still recovering from the flu and a knee injury. The telegenic Kennedy, meanwhile, did wear makeup, and he appeared rested and relaxed. CBS/Getty Images
A CBS camera flashes a 30-second warning to those on stage. CBS/Getty Images
Kennedy, 43, was a Democratic senator from Massachusetts. He would become the youngest president elected to office. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Nixon, 47, was vice president under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower had reached his two-term limit. AP
The debate started with eight-minute opening statements and then moved on to alternating questions from panelists, seen here in the foreground. Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A family gathers around a television to watch the debate. More than 66 million people watched out of a population of about 180 million. "I don't think it's overstating the fact that, on that date, politics and television changed forever," said Bruce DuMont, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications. "After that debate, it was not just what you said in a campaign that was important, but how you looked saying it." The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Nixon wipes his face with a handkerchief during the debate. AP
Kennedy slaps his hands together as he makes a point. AP
The debate was the first of four held within a month. AP
Kennedy would go on, of course, to win the election in November. After a few years out of the spotlight, Nixon ran for President again in 1968, defeating Hubert Humphrey in the general election. Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty