On Friday, February 7, 1964, Beatlemania arrived in the United States, as John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down on Pan Am Flight 101 at JFK Airport in Queens. More than 3,000 screaming fans greeted the mod suit wearing Beatles on the tarmac, leading to a few injuries among the crowd.
In Anthology, Paul McCartney shared his thoughts as the plane approached New York.
There were millions of kids at the airport, which nobody had expected. We heard about it in mid-air. There were journalists on the plane, and the pilot had rang ahead and said, ‘Tell the boys there’s a big crowd waiting for them.’ We thought, ‘Wow! God, we have really made it.’Paul McCartney
At nearly 1:30 p.m., the plane taxied to the terminal and the aircraft door opened. Cheers and screams rang out from the crowd. The NY Daily News reported a 17-year-old June Clayton of Brooklyn saying “They’re so cute. And Ringo’s the cutest. Look at them comb their hair!”
In addition to the huge crowd carrying signs and placards, the press numbered 200, reporters, photographers and cameramen among them.
How did so many people arrive at JFK Airport on this Friday afternoon? It seems Seltaeb, who handled The Beatles’ merchandising in the States, offered a promotion that promised every one who showed up at the airport would receive a t-shirt and a dollar, or $8.40 in 2021 dollars. The idea was crafted by Nicky Byrne of Seltaeb, with direction from Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
Byrne made a deal with radio stations WMCA and 1010 WINS to promote the offer, but Capitol Records had a promotion of their own, arranging for posters and car stickers that read “The Beatles are Coming” being spread out across New York City. When fans called Capitol Records, receptionists would answer the phone, “Capitol Records, The Beatles are coming.” Between radio, print and offers of a free shirt and money, fans flocked to JFK to give the boys from Liverpool a proper welcome.
Murray the K, DJ at 1010 WINS, announced The Beatles’ flight number and time of arrival over the air, which was spread by larger stations WMCA and WABC, helping to build anticipation.
The band then held a press conference inside Kennedy Airport where they met Murray the K, and were asked by the press pool to say their names, as the were individually not well known to the press.
The playful press conference was nothing more than a slapstick routine for the foursome, mildly frustrating the straight-laced press. Just as the crowd was dissipating, Paul grabbed the microphone to say “We have a message.” As reporters got ready to take notes and photographers jockeyed for position, Paul would say, “Our message is: buy more Beatles records!”
The Fab Four would leave the airport in four separate limousines, with Cynthia Lennon accompanying John and the others riding solo. Epstein and others needed to hail a taxi to get into Manhattan. A play-by-play could be heard on the radio by McCartney, which culminated in a crowd of fans and reporters swarming the band at the Plaza Hotel, where the band was giving a 10-room suite on the 12th floor with a Central Park view.
In the days that followed, The Beatles would make music history in New York City and Washington, D.C. On Sunday, February 9 at 8pm, Ed Sullivan welcomed the band to his stage for five songs: “All My Loving,” Meredith Willson’s “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” 73 million tuned in to watch The Ed Sullivan Show that night, roughly two-fifths of the population in America at that time. This would be the largest television audience at the time, according to Nielsen.
On February 11 at the Washington Coliseum, The Beatles performed their first American concert, with 8,000 lucky fans in attendance. They returned to the Big Apple the next day for performances at Carnegie Hall on the 12th and 13th, each of which were attended by 2,000.
From New York, The Beatles flew to Miami, making a second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 16, broadcast from the Napoleon Ballroom at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, bringing in another huge audience of 70 million viewers. Returning to England via Heathrow Airport on February 22, the band was met by 10,000 fans, leaving the beginnings of Beatlemania in their wake back in America.