Go Back in Time With This 1980s History Timeline

Visual timeline of most of the 1980s


A lot happened during the 1980s—too much to remember, really. Go back in time and relive the era of Reagan and Rubik's Cubes with this 1980s timeline.


Pac-Man 1980
Americans flocked to video arcades when Pac-Mac debuted in October 1980. It would become one of the most popular arcade games of the decade. Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

The first year of the decade was memorable for political drama, cable TV, and games we couldn't keep our hands off of. Arcades were jammed with people playing a new video game called Pac-Man. Some of those early gamers might also be fiddling with a colorful Rubik's Cube

Feb. 22: The U.S. Olympic hockey team defeats the Soviet Union in the semifinals at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

April 27: Media tycoon Ted Turner (born 1938) announces the creation of CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network.

April 28: The U.S. makes an abortive attempt to rescue American hostages held in Iran since November 1979.

May 18: In Washington State, Mt. St. Helens erupts, killing more than 50 people.

May 21: "The Empire Strikes Back," the second movie in what would become the decades-long Star Wars franchise, premieres in movie theaters.

May 22: The Pac-Man video game is released in Japan, followed by its U.S. release in October.

Oct. 21: The Philadelphia Phillies defeat the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series in six games.

Nov. 21: A record 350 million people worldwide watch TV's "Dallas" to find out who shot character J.R. Ewing.

Dec. 8: Singer John Lennon is assassinated by a deranged gunman in front of his New York City apartment.


Princess Diana and Prince Charles sitting together in a carriage after their wedding.
England's Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in Westminster Cathedral in London on July 29, 1981, before a live TV audience of millions. Anwar Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

By 1981, homes and offices were beginning to adapt to new technologies. If you had cable TV you probably were watching MTV after it began broadcasting in August. And at work, typewriters began making way for something called a personal computer from IBM.

Jan. 20: Iran releases the 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran for 444 days.

March 30: A deranged fan makes an unsuccessful assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, injuring Reagan, press secretary James Brady (1940–2014), and a policeman.

April 12: The Space Shuttle Columbia is launched for the first time.

May 13: In Vatican City, an assassin shoots Pope John Paul II (1920–2005), wounding him.

June 5: The Center for Disease Control publishes the first official report of men infected with what will be known later as the AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) virus.

Aug. 1: Music Television, or MTV, begins broadcasting just after midnight as an endless stream of music videos.

Aug. 12: IBM releases the IBM Model 5150, the first IBM personal computer.

Aug. 19: Sandra Day O'Connor (b. 1930) becomes the first female Justice on the Supreme Court.

July 29: Britain's Prince Charles weds Diana Spencer in a royal wedding televised live.

Oct. 6: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (1981–1981) is assassinated in Cairo.

Nov. 12: The Church of England votes to allow women to serve as priests.


Michael Jackson accepts an award from CBS and The Guinness Book Of World Records celebrating 'Thriller' as the largest-selling album of all time (25 million) February 7, 1984 at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was released on Nov. 30, 1982, and has sold 33 million copies since. Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

The big news in 1982 literally was the news when USA Today, with its colorful graphics and short articles, made headlines as the first nationwide newspaper.

Jan. 7: The Commodore 64 personal computer is unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It would become the highest-selling single computer model of all time.

April 2: Argentine forces land on the British-owned Falkland Islands, beginning the Falklands War between the two countries.

May 1: The World's Fair begins in Knoxville, Tennessee.

June 11: Director Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," opens and instantly becomes a blockbuster.

June 14: Argentina surrenders after two months battle on sea on land in the Falklands.

Sept. 15: Editor Al Neuharth (1924–2013) publishes the first edition of the nation-wide newspaper "USA Today."

Nov. 13: Architect Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial is established in Washington DC as a National Memorial.

Nov. 30: 24-year-old pop star Michael Jackson releases his best-selling album "Thriller."

Oct. 1: The Walt Disney (1901–1966) Company opens EPCOT Center (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), its second theme park in Florida after Walt Disney World.

Dec. 2: American heart surgeon William DeVries (born 1943) implants the Jarvik 7, the world's first permanent artificial heart, into the chest of Seattle dentist Barney Clark—he will survive another 112 days. .


Sally Ride
Sally Ride became the first American woman in outer space when the space shuttle Challenger was launched on June 19, 1983. Smith Collection/Gado/Contributor/Getty Images

The year that saw the birth of the Internet also saw volcanic eruptions and aircraft tragedies; the first woman in space and that holiday season craze of the Cabbage Patch Kids.

Jan. 1: The Internet is born when ARPAnet adopts TCP/IP protocols which would allow data exchange among a network of different models of computers.

Jan. 2: Mount Kilauea, Hawaii's youngest volcano, begins the Pu'u 'Ō'ō eruption which will not stop spewing lava fountains and flows until 2018, the longest and most voluminous outpouring of lava from the volcano's rift zone.

Feb. 28: After 11 years and 256 episodes, "MASH," the U.S. television series set during the Korean War, ends, watched by more than 106 million people.

May 25: Spielberg's third entry in the Star Wars trilogy, "Return of the Jedi" opens in theaters.

June 18: Sally Ride (1951–2012) becomes the first American woman in space when she and four others are on board the second flight of the space shuttle Challenger.

Oct. 23: The U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, is bombed by terrorist, killing 241 military personnel.

Oct. 25: U.S. troops invade the Caribbean island of Grenada, ordered by Ronald Reagan to counter the Marxist government threats to residential Americans. The conflict lasts one week.

Sept. 1: A Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul (KAL-007) that had deviated into Soviet airspace, is shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor, killing all aboard, 246 passengers and 23 crew.

Nov. 2: President Ronald Reagan signs legislation making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday, effective Jan. 20, 1986.


Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, visiting Austria. Hotel Imperial in Vienna. (1983)
Indira Gandhi, India's first female prime minister, was assassinated on Oct. 31, 1984. Nora Schuster/Imagno/Getty Images

The Olympics in Sarajevo, the murder of the prime minister in India, and Michael Jackson moonwalking are among the events marked in 1984.

Jan. 1: AT&T, known as the Bell System, is broken up into a series of regional telephone companies, ending its monopoly.

Feb. 8: The XIV Olympic Winter Games open in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, the only Olympics so far to be hosted by a Non-Aligned Movement member and a Muslim-majority city.

March 25: Pop singer Michael Jackson moonwalks for the first time at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, a performance broadcast at the MTV Awards in May.

June 4: Singer Bruce Springsteen releases his album "Born in the U.S.A."

July 28: The Summer Olympics open in Los Angeles, California, where Carl Lewis wins four gold medals in track and field.

July 1: The "PG-13" rating for movies is added to existing rating classes used by the Motion Picture Association of America, and first applied to John Milius's "Red Dawn."

Sept. 26: Great Britain agrees to hand over control of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Oct. 31: India's prime minister Indira Gandhi (1917–1984) is shot and killed by two of her bodyguards, an assassination followed by the four-day long Anti-Sikh Riots in which thousands of Indians are killed.

Nov. 6: President Ronald Reagan is elected to a second term, defeating Democrat Walter Mondale.

Dec. 2–3: A storage tank at the Union Carbide pesticide plant at Bhopal, India springs a leak and spills methyl isocyanate into the surrounding community, killing between 3,000–6,000 people.


Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of an official visit to London. (April 7, 1989)
Mikhail Gorbachev, shown here with British Prime Minister Maragret Thatcher, became leader of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985. He was the last. Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

Jan. 28: The R&B single written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie called "We Are The World" is recorded by more than 45 American singers; it will go on to raise $75 million to feed people in Africa.

March 4: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first blood test to detect the virus that causes AIDS.

March 11: Mikhail Gorbachev (born 1931) becomes the new leader of the U.S.S.R., and leads the country in a series of new policies including a more consultative government style of glasnost and the economic and political restructuring of perestroika.

April 23: The Coca-Cola Company introduces "New Coke," a sweeter replacement of the original 99-year-old soda, and it proves a popular failure.

June 14: TWA Flight 847, a flight from Cairo to San Diego, was hijacked by terrorists, who killed one passenger and held others hostage until June 30th.

June 23: Air India Flight 182 is destroyed by a terrorist bomb off the Irish coast. All 329 aboard are killed.

July 3: "Back to the Future," the first of a sci-fi trilogy about teenager Marty McFly and a time-traveling DeLorean, premieres, and will become the highest grossing film of the year.

Sept. 1: While on a Cold War mission to find two wrecked nuclear submarines, U.S. oceanographer Robert Ballard and colleagues find the wreckage of the "Titanic," a luxury liner which sank in 1912.

Oct. 18: The Nintendo Entertainment System debuts in the U.S.


Hurtling out of the conflagration at 78 seconds are the Challenger's left wing, main engines (still burning residual propellant) and the forward fuselage (crew cabin). (Jan. 28, 1986)
Tragedy struck on Jan. 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff, killing the seven crew members. Picture courtesy of the NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC).

Jan. 28: On the way for its 9th mission to space, the shuttle Challenger explodes over Cape Canaveral, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including the civilian social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe.

Feb. 9: Halley's Comet makes its closest approach to the sun on its 76 year periodic visit to our solar system.

Feb. 20: The Soviet Union launches the Mir space station, the first modular space station that will be assembled in orbit for the next decade.

Feb. 25: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos is forced into exile after 20 years in office.

March 14: Microsoft goes public with an initial public offering of shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

April 26: The deadliest nuclear power plant accident to date occurred outside the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl, scattering radioactive material across Europe.

May 25: Hands Across America attempts to form a human chain from New York to California to raise money to fight hunger and homelessness.

Sept. 8: The syndicated talk Oprah Winfrey Show airs nationally.

Oct. 28: Following extensive renovations, the Statue of Liberty celebrates its centennial.

Nov. 3: A transport ship carrying 50,000 assault rifles is shot down over Nicaragua, the first alert to the American public of the Iran-Contra arms deal. The ensuing scandal will continue for next two years.


Klaus Barbie on Trial
Nikolaus "Klaus" Barbie, a former Nazi official, was found guilty of crimes against humanity by a French court on July 4, 1987. Peter Turnley/Contributor/Getty Images

Jan. 8: The Dow Jones industrial average closes over 2,000 for the first time in its history., and it will continued to set new records for the next 10 months.

Jan. 20: Terry Waite, a special envoy for the Anglican Church, is kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon. He will be held until 1991.

Feb. 16: The Dow Jones, the second largest U.S. market index, hits 200 on

March 9: U2 releases its "Joshua Tree" album.

May 11: The jury trial of Nikolaus "Klaus" Barbie (1913–1991), the Nazi "Butcher of Lyon," begins in Lyon, France.

May 12: "Dirty Dancing," director Emele Ardolino's nostalgic return to the 1960s Catskill resorts, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and is released in the U.S. on August 21.

May 28: Teen-aged German aviator Mathias Rust (b. 1968) makes headlines for making an illegal landing in Red Square, Moscow.

June 12: President Ronald Reagan visits West Berlin and challenges leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," the Berlin Wall which had divided the city since 1961.

July 15: Taiwan ends 38 years of martial law.

Aug. 17: Former Nazi Rudolf Hess commits suicide in his prison cell in Berlin.

Oct.12: British pop singer George Michael releases "Faith," his debut solo studio album.

Oct.19: On what will come to be called "Black Monday," the Dow Jones experiences a sudden and largely unexpected drop of 22.6%.

Sept. 28: the first episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the second sequel to the original series, airs on independent stations throughout the U.S.


Pan Am Flight 103
A terrorist bomb destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. All 259 passengers and crew were killed. Bryn Colton/Contributor/Getty Images

Feb. 18: Anthony Kennedy (born 1937 and a Reagan nominee) is sworn in as Associated Justice to the Supreme Court.

May 15: Soviet Troops begin pulling out of Afghanistan after nine years of armed conflict.

July 3: The USS Vincennes shoots down the passenger plane Iran Airlines Flight 655, mistaking it for a F-14 Tomcat and killing all 290 aboard.

Aug. 11: Osama bin Laden (1957–2011) forms Al Qaeda.

Aug. 22: After 8 years and more than 1 million dead, the Iran-Iraq War ends when Iran accepts a U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

Oct. 9: Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" opens on Broadway, with Michael Crawford in the title role

Nov. 8: George H. W. Bush (1924–2018) bests the Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis (born 1933) to become the 41st president, the third straight victory for the Republican party.

Dec. 1: The first annual World AIDS Day is held.

Dec. 21: Pan Am flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie, Scotland killing all 259 on-board and 11 people on the ground, the result of a terrorist bombing attributed to Libyans.


West Berliner at the foot of the wall talks to East Berliner, November 1962.
On Nov 9, 1989, the East German government opened its borders, signaling the end of the Berlin Wall, hated symbol of the Cold War. NATO Handout/Getty Images

Jan. 7: Japanese Emperor Hirohito dies, ending a 62-year reign.

Jan. 20: George H. W. Bush is inaugurated as president.

March 24: The Exxon Valdez oil taker runs aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, tainting hundreds of miles of Alaskan coastline.

April 18: Students march through Beijing to Tienanmen Square calling for a more democratic government.

June 4: After months of peaceful but increasing protests, Chinese troops fire on civilians and students in Tienanmen Square, killing an unknown number of people and ending the demonstrations.

Aug. 10: General Colin Powell is nominated to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, becoming the first African-American to hold that position.

Aug. 14: The Sega Genesis is released in the U.S.

Nov. 9: The Berlin Wall falls, after an announcement by the East German government that the border checkpoints were open. The impromptu celebration was televised around the world.

Dec. 20: U.S. troops invade Panama in an attempt to oust leader Gen. Manuel Noriega.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Go Back in Time With This 1980s History Timeline." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/1980s-timeline-1779955. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, September 9). Go Back in Time With This 1980s History Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/1980s-timeline-1779955 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Go Back in Time With This 1980s History Timeline." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/1980s-timeline-1779955 (accessed April 1, 2023).

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