As the world once again prepared to enter a new decade, no one really knew what the 1980s had to offer. With great political change and the first female Prime Minister in Britain, the 1980s were certainly a decade to remember.

In this 1980 timeline, you’ll find all the important events of the first year of the decade that shaped the world 40 years ago. You can even discover 1980 events for yourself in a 1980 newspaper.

1980 Timeline

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January 2: British steel workers go on a national strike. It is the first steelworks strike since 1926.

January 6: Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party wins elections in India.

January 6: U.S. President Jimmy Carter authorises legislation to bail out the Chrysler Corporation with a 1.5 billion dollar loan.

January 11: Debut of The Pretenders’ album Pretenders.

January 16: Paul McCartney is arrested at Tokyo International Airport for possession of marijuana. He is sent to jail for nine days before being deported.

January 17: A Provisional Irish Republican Army bomb detonates prematurely on a passenger train near Belfast, killing three and injuring five, including the bombers.

January 18: Pink Floyd’s album The Wall hits number 1. 

January 20: U.S. President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will boycott the Olympics in Moscow. 

January 20: The British record TV audience for a film is set when some 23,500,000 viewers tune in for the ITV showing of the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973).

January 26: 175,000 pay to hear Frank Sinatra sing in Rio de Janeiro. 

January 29: The Rubik’s Cube makes its international debut at The British Toy and Hobby Fair, Earl’s Court, London. 

January 31: The Spanish Embassy in Guatemala is invaded and set on fire, killing 36 people. 

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February 1: Blondie releases her single Call Me, which would become the Billboard Song of the Year 1980.

February 2: Members of the Congress of the United States are targeted by FBI personnel in a sting operation. 

February 4: Following his win of the presidential election on January 25, Abolhassan Banisadr is sworn in as the first President of Iran.

February 13: The 1980 Winter Olympics open in Lake Placid, New York.

February 14: West Side Story opens at Minskoff Theater NYC for 341 performances.

February 16: In North Africa and West Asia, a total solar eclipse is seen. This is the 50th solar eclipse of Solar Saros 130. 

February 19: AC/DC frontman Bon Scott passes away following a heavy night of drinking in London. 

February 22: In what became known as the “Miracle on Ice,” the U.S. hockey team beats the heavily favoured Soviet Union 4-3 at Lake Placid in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. America goes on to win the gold medal.

February 23: It is stated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that the parliament of Iran will decide the fate of the American embassy hostages. 

February 27: The Dominican Embassy Siege is begun in Columbia by M-19 guerillas, keeping 60 people as hostages, including 14 ambassadors. 

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March 1: The existence of Janus, a moon of Saturn, is confirmed by the Voyager 1 probe. 

March 1: The Commonwealth Trade Union Council is founded. 

March 3: Pierre Trudeau is sworn in as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada for the second time.

March 3: In West Germany, the Audi Quattro is launched, a four-wheel drive sporting coupe. 

March 3: In Kansas City, Missouri, the first ShowBiz Pizza Place restaurant opens. 

March 4: Robert Mugabe is elected to be the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

March 5: Earth satellites record gamma rays from remnants of supernova N-49.

March 8: The first rock music festival kicks off in the Soviet Union.

March 13: John Wayne Gacy receives the death sentence in Illinois for the murder of 12 people.

March 14: During an emergency landing near Warsaw, Poland, LOT Polish Airlines Flight 007 crashes, resulting in the death of a 14-mn American boxing team along with 73 other people. 

March 18: At the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia, a Vostok-2M rocket explodes on its launch pad in the middle of a fuelling operation, killing 50 people. 

March 19: The ship that houses pirate radio station Radio Caroline, the MV Mi Amigo, sinks off the coast of England. The radio station would return on board a new ship in 1983. 

March 21: Due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, US President Ronald Reagan declares that the United States will boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics. 

March 23: Australian cricketer Allan Border becomes the first and only batsman to reach 150 in each innings of a test, in the 3rd test vs Pakistan in Lahore.

March 24: While celebrating Mass in San Salvador, gunmen kill Archbishop Óscar Romero.

March 26: At the Van Reefs gold mine in South Africa, a mine lift cage falls 1.9km (1.3mi), resulting in the deaths of 23 people. 

March 27: Alexander L. Kielland, the Norwegian oil platform, collapses in the North Sea killing 123 people out of its 212 crew. 

March 27: In the United States, the Silver Thursday market crash occurs. 

March 28: In Jerusalem, the Talpiot Tomb is found. 

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April 1: In Lusaka, Zambia, the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) forms. 

April 1: Continuing for 11 days, the Transport Works Union Local 100 in New York City goes on strike. 

April 1: On this day, the 1980 United States Census reports there are 226,545,805 United States residents.

April 2: In Bristol, the St. Pauls riot breaks out. 

April 4: Alton Towers Resort is opened by Madame Tussauds in Staffordshire.

April 6: Post It Notes are first introduced.

April 7: U.S. President Jimmy Carter breaks down relations with Iran during the hostage crisis. 

April 10: The governments of the United Kingdom and Spain agree in Lisbon, Portugal to reopen the border between Spain and Gibraltar in 1985, which had been closed since 1969. 

April 12: In Liberia, the government is overthrown by Samuel K. Doe overthrows the government of Liberia in a violent coup d’état. President William Tolbert is assassinated along with 26 others, and the event brought more than 130 years of democratic presidential succession in the country. 

April 12: The Marathon of Hope is begun by Terry Fox, who plans to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He sets off from St. Johns, Newfoundland and runs west. 

April 13: Musical Grease closes at Broadhurst Theater, New York City after 3,388 performances.

April 13: The U.S. and its allies boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. 

April 14: The self-titled album by Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden, is released in the United Kingdom. 

April 18: Zimbabwe becomes independent of the United Kingdom.

April 21: After winning the Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz is stripped of her award when she is exposed as a fraud. 

April 24: A U.S. rescue attempt to save American embassy hostages in Tehran fails.

April 24: Six men rig the Pennsylvania Lottery, including the host of the live TV drawing Nick Perry, in what becomes known as the Pennsylvania Lottery Scandal. 

April 25: Dan-Air Flight 1008 crashes in Tenerife, killing all 146 occupants and marking the worst air disaster involving a British-registered aircraft in terms of loss of life. 

April 26: Outside their flat in St. Kila, Victoria, Australia, Louise and Charmian Faulkner disappear. 

April 30: In the Netherlands, Queen Juliana abdicates and her daughter Beatrix takes the throne. 

jimmy carter

U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Image: Wikipedia

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May 1: An article written by journalist Dan Rottenberg in Chicago, “About that Urban Resistance…,” contains the first recorded use of the word “yuppie.”

May 2: In Nepal, a referendum on the system of government is held. 

May 2: Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (Part II) is banned in South Africa.

May 4: Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia, passes away. The largest state funeral in history is organised, including state delegations from 128 different countries out of 154 UNO members at the time. 

May 7: Paul Geidel, convicted of second-degree murder in 1911, is released from prison in Beacon, New York. He served 68 years and 245 days, the longest-ever time served by an inmate. 

May 8: The World Health Organisation announces that smallpox has been eradicated. 

May 9: Slasher horror film Friday the 13th is released in U.S. cinemas. 

May 9: In California, the Norco shootout takes place. 

May 9: Over New Jersey, the first Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, James Alexander George Smith “Jags” McCartney, is killed in a plane crash. 

May 10: West Ham United, of the Second Division, win the FA Cup for the third time in its history with a surprise 1-0 victory over First Division Arsenal in the final at Wembley Stadium.

May 11: Henry Hill, American mobster, is arrested for the possession of drugs. 

May 14: In Chalatenango, El Salvador, the Sumpul River massacre occurs. 

May 17: In Tampa, Florida, a court acquits four white police officers of killing black insurance executive Arthur McDuffie, which provokes three days of race riots in Miami. 

May 18: The eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington state kills 57 people and causes $3 billion (U.S.) in damage. 

May 18: Ian Curtis, the singer-songwriter of acclaimed English post-punk band Joy Division, is found hanged at the age of 23. 

May 18: Student demonstrations begin in Gwangju, South Korea, calling for democratic reforms. The incident becomes known as the Gwangju Uprising. 

May 20: In Quebec, 60% of voters reject a proposal to seek independence from Canada.

May 21: Star Wars Episode V – Empire Strikes Back produced by George Lucas opens in cinemas in the UK and North America.

May 22: The Pac-Man video game is released in Japan, later becoming the best-selling arcade game of all time.

May 23: Horror film The Shining is released based on the book by Stephen King. 

May 24: The International Court of Justice calls for U.S. Embassy hostages to be released in Tehran. 

May 24: For the first time, the New York Islanders win the Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers. 

May 26: In Vanuatu, John Frum supporters storm government offices on the island of Tanna. Government troops of Vanuatu arrive the following day and drive them away. 

May 26: Pro-democracy protesters and military government forces in South Korea clash, resulting in the deaths of 2,000 protesters. 

May 28: Near the small village of Webb, Saskatchewan, a bus crash results in the deaths of 22 people. 

May 29: In the first major news story for CNN, Vernon Jordan is shot and badly injured in an assassination attempt by Joseph Paul Franklin which took place in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

mount st helens

Mount St. Helens
Image: Pixabay

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June 1: The first transmission of CNN, the Cable News Network, takes place. CNN becomes the first 24-hour news channel. 

June 3: U.S. President Jimmy Carter wins enough delegates for renomination. 

June 3: In Grand Island, Nebraska, multiple deadly tornadoes strike the area, killing 5 people and causing over $300m in damage, with more than 250 people injured. 

June 10: In South Africa, the African National Congress publishes a statement written by their imprisoned leader, Nelson Mandela. 

June 10: United Airlines president Percy Wood is injured by an Unabomber bomb in Lake Forest, Illinois. 

June 11: The UEFA Euro 1980 begins, hosted by Italy. West Germany would go on to win. 

June 13: UN Security Council calls for South Africa to free Nelson Mandela from prison. 

June 23: Heat waves begin in the United States, claiming the lives of 1,700 people by September 6. 

June 23: The politically influential son of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, dies in a plane crash. 

June 23: Work is begun on ENQUIRE by Tim Berners-Lee. The system would eventually lead to the establishment of the World Wide Web in the autumn of 1990. 

June 25: Against Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, a Muslim Brotherhood assassination fails. The president responds by sending the army against the Brotherhood. 

June 27: In the sea near Ustica Island, Italy, Itavia Flight 870 crashes, resulting in the deaths of all 81 people on board. 

June 27: Proclamation 4771 is signed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, which requires men aged between 18 and 25 to register for a peacetime military draft. This is in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

June 29: In Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir becomes the first woman democratically elected as head of state when she is elected President.

June 30: Queen releases their eighth studio album The Game. 

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July 8: In Lublin, Poland, a wave of strikes begin. 

July 9: When Pope John Paul II visits Brazil, 7 people are crushed to death at the stadium in Fortaleza while waiting in a crowd to see him at afternoon Mass. 

July 10: Alexandra Palace burns down for a second time. 

July 15: In western Wisconsin, 4 counties are hit by a destructive thunderstorm that causes more than $250 million in damage and kills one person. 

July 17:  At the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, Ronald Reagan formally accepts Republican nomination for U.S. President. Moderate republicans are also dismayed when the convention drops its long-standing support for the Equal Rights Amendment after being influenced by the Religious Right. 

July 18: India becomes the 7th nation to launch satellites using its own rocket when the Rohini RS-1 satellite is launched by India’s SLV rocket. 

July 19: Nihat Erim, the former Turkish Prime Minister, is killed by two gunmen in Istanbul, Turkey. 

July 19-August 3: Great Britain and Northern Ireland compete at the Olympics in Moscow and win 5 gold, 7 silver and 9 bronze medals. 82 countries boycotted the Games, and athletes from 16 participate under a neutral flag.

July 22: Unemployment in the UK has hit a 44-year high of nearly 1.9 million.

July 25: Australian band AC/DC release their album Back in Black. 

July 30: American swimmers Mary T Meagher and Craig Beardsley both set 200m butterfly world records at the U.S. National Swimming Championship in Irvine, California.

July 31: China’s population hits one billion people. 

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August 1: In Ireland, the Buttevant Rail Disaster kills 18 and injures dozens of train passengers.

August 2: In Italy, a terrorist bombing at the Bologna Centrale railway station results in the deaths of 85 people and injures over 200. 

August 4: In Haiti, Hurricane Allen hits the area, killing 220 people. 

August 7: Strikes begin at the Gdańsk Shipyard in the Polish People’s Republic, led by Lech Wałęsa.

August 10: In the Pacific Ocean, an annular solar eclipse was visible and it’s the 37th solar eclipse of Solar Saros 135. 

August 11: The Tyne and Wear metro system opens. 

August 14: At the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City, Senator Edward Kennedy is defeated by President Jimmy Carter to win Carter his renomination.

August 14: The 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Dorothy Stratten, is killed by her husband Paul Leslie Snider, who goes on to commit suicide. 

August 16: 37 people die as a result of the Denmark Place fire, arson at adjacent London nightclubs.

August 17: Azaria Chamberlain, a baby in Australia, disappears from a campsite at Ayers Rock (now Uluru). Chamberlain was reportedly taken by a dingo. The incident resulted in one of the biggest media and legal events in Australia in the 1980s.

August 19: Saudia Flight 163 catches fire in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing 301 people. The event is regarded as one of aviation’s worst disasters. 

August 31: Following the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard in the Polish People’s Republic, the Gdańsk Agreement is signed, which opens a way to start the first free (not state-controlled) trade union in the communist bloc called Solidarity. 

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September 1: The Marathon of Hope, ran by Terry Fox, is forced to come to an end when Fox discovers his cancer had spread to his lungs. 

September 2: The Escort MK3 is launched by Ford Europe, a new front-wheel drive hatchback car. 

September 3: Zimbabwe breaks diplomatic and consular relations with South Africa, even though it upholds a commercial mission in Johannesburg.

September 5: In Switzerland, the Gotthard Road Tunnel opens as the world’s longest highway tunnel at 16.3 kilometers (10.1 miles), which stretches from stretching from Göschenen to Airolo beneath the Gotthard Pass.

September 11: The Marlborough diamond is stolen in London. 

September 11: In Chile, a referendum on a new constitution takes place. The constitution is confirmed by 67% of the ballots, and the vote is held without electoral registers, opposition campaign and with electoral fraud. 

September 12: A military coup is staged in Turkey by Kenan Evren, which stops political gang violence, but ends up beginning stronger state violence causing the execution of many young activists. 

September 17: Following weeks of striking in Gdańsk, Poland, Solidarity is established as a nationwide independent trade union. 

September 22: With the command council of Iraq ordering its army to “deliver its fatal blow on Iranian military targets,” the Iran-Iraq War is initiated. 

September 22: Riots by youth in Tallinn, Soviet-occupied Estonia, are put down quickly, but similar riots are later organised on October 1. 

September 23: Bob Marley’s last concert takes place at Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh.

September 26: In Munich, West Germany, a right-wing terror attack kills 13 people and injures 211.

September 28: Janet Cooke’s story about eight-year-old heroin addict Jimmy is published in The Washington Post, but it’s later proven to be fabricated. 

bob marley

Bob Marley
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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October 1: It is announced by Associated Newspapers in London that The Evening Standard will close and subsequently merge with the Evening Standard

October 3: Zenyattà Mondatta, the third studio album by English rock band The Police, is released. 

October 3: The 1980 Housing Act comes into effect, giving council house tenants of three years’ standing in England and Wales the right to buy their home from their local council at a discount.

October 5: In the Black Country of England, the Elisabeth blast furnace is demolished at Bilston Steelworks, which marks the end of iron and steel production in the area. 

October 5: The new Metro is launched by British Leyland, which is designed as the eventual replacement for the Mini as a three-door entry-level hatchback. 

October 9: Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s The Phantom of the Opera premieres on London’s West End.

October 10: Northern Algeria is hit by an extreme earthquake that results in the deaths of between 2,633 and 5,000 people, with between 8,369 and 9,000 people injured. 

October 10: Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, gives her famous ‘The lady’s not for turning’ speech. 

October 14: In the United States, the Staggers Rail Act is formulated, which deregulates American railroads. 

October 15: As leader of the British Labour Party, James Callaghan announces his resignation. 

October 17: Queen Elizabeth II makes history by becoming the first British monarch to make a state visit to the Vatican.

October 20: Greece joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). 

October 21: In Major League Baseball, National League team Philadelphia Phillies beat the American League team Kansas City Royals 4-1 in Game 6 of the World Series, winning the Phillies the championship. 

October 21: Mikhail Gorbachev is elected member of the Politburo. 

October 22: It is announced by the Thomson Corporation in London that The Times and all associated supplements will close by March 1981 if a buyer can’t be found.

October 24: The Polish government legalises independent labour union solidarity. 

October 27: In Maze prison, Northern Ireland, six Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners refuse food and demand status as political prisoners. They continue their hunger strike until December. 

October 30: Before the International Court of Justice, a peace treaty is signed between El Salvador and Honduras to settle the border dispute fought over in the Football War of 1969. 

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November 4: The 1980 U.S. presidential election takes place, which sees Republican candidate Ronald Reagan being elected President and defeating Democrat President Jimmy Carter by a landslide.

November 10: Voyager I, the NASA space probe, makes its closest approach to Saturn when it flies within 77,000 miles (124,000 km) of the planet’s cloud-tops and sends the first high resolution images back to scientists on Earth. 

November 20: In China, the Gang of Four trial begins. 

November 21: On the Las Vegas Strip, a fire at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino results in the deaths of 85 people. 

November 21: For an entertainment program, a record number of viewers by this date turn on to watch the U.S. television show Dallas to discover who shot the lead character, J. R. Ewing. The event “Who shot J.R.?” was an international obsession. 

November 21: Southern Italy is hit by the Irpinia earthquake with a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). The official records showed that 2,483 people were killed and 8,934 were injured, but the number of deaths is thought to be as high as 4,900. 

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December 2: Jean Donovan, a missionary, and three Roman Catholic nuns named Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel are all killed by a military death squad in El Salvador. The women were all American and were doing charity work during El Salvador’s civil war. 

December 4: Two months after the death of their drummer John Bonham, Led Zeppelin announces they will disband. 

December 8: Photographer Annie Leibovitz has a photoshoot with John Lennon. She is the last person to professionally photograph him before he is murdered on the same day. He is shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City.

December 12: Apple makes its first initial public offering on the U.S. stock market. 28 years later, it would become the first U.S. company valued at over $1 trillion. 

December 14: Thousands of music fans hold a 10-minute vigil in Liverpool for John Lennon.

December 14: On La Cienga Boulevard in Los Angeles, four people are killed and four others are injured at Bob’s Big Boy by two armed robbers. The incident was one of the city’s most brutal crimes in its history. 

December 15: The Academia de la Llingua Asturiana (Academy of the Asturian language) is established. 

December 24: The last head of state of Nazi Germany and former German naval admiral Karl Dönitz passes away in his home in Aumühle, West Germany. Dönitz had suffered from a heart attack at the age of 89. 

john lennon

John Lennon’s last television interview
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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The Death of John Lennon

On December 8, 1980, former Beatles member John Lennon was fatally shot in the archway of the Dakota, his apartment building in New York City. He was rushed in a police cruiser to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Having left with his wife Yoko Ono for a recording session at Record Plant Studio, the couple returned that night and Lennon was shot as they headed into the apartment building. 

Mark David Chapman was the perpetrator, a recently unemployed resident of Hawaii. After firing five hollow-point bullets from a .38 special revolver, four hit Lennon in the back and Chapman remained at the scene until he was arrested. Chapman has been planning the murder over several months and made sure he was ready and waiting on December 8. He stated that he was motivated by Lennon’s lifestyle and public statements, particularly when Lennon remarked that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” Chapman was also incensed by the lyrics to Lennon’s later songs, God and Imagine

The death of John Lennon sparked a worldwide outpouring of grief on an unprecedented scale with crowds gathering at the hospital and in front of the Dakota and at least three Beatles fans committed suicide. Lennon was cremated 4 days later and his ashes were given to his wife, who requested a 10 minute worldwide silence instead of a funeral. Once Chapman had pleaded guilty to the murder, he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in prison. He became eligible for parole in 2000, but has been denied 11 times. 

john lennon yoko ono

John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their Bed-Ins for Peace, 1969
Image: Wikipedia

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The Release of Pac-Man 

The release of Pac-Man led the yellow, pie-shaped character to quickly become an icon of the 1980s. Even today, it remains to be one of the most popular video games in history. The company that made the game, Namco, were hoping to create a game that would be enjoyed by girls and boys alike. The game reached unquestionable success, with its nonviolent theme, cute ghosts and humour appealing to both genders. 

Despite gaining initial popularity in the 1980s, the game has been remade on nearly every video game platform since then, making it accessible to modern gamers. It’s simple yet addictive aims have kept gamers entertained for hours, particular 33-year-old Billy Mitchell who finished the entire game perfectly on July 3, 1999. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the game in 2010, Google released a playable version of the game to appear on its homepage. 

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