The 1980s were coming to a close, and 1988 was a very memorable year in the decade. Some big 1988 events include the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, becoming the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. The Soviet war with Afghanistan eventually ended after 8 long years, and the devastating Pan Am Flight 103 disaster shocked the world in December.

In this timeline, you can discover some of the most important events of the year, and see what the public were reading about in newspapers at the time. You can even read a genuine 1988 newspaper for yourself.

1988 Timeline

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January 1: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan exchange hopeful New Year’s greetings that they would reach an arms control treaty on strategic weapons within six months.

January 2: Brian Mulroney, Canadian Prime Minister, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan sign a Canada-United States free trade agreement.

January 3: Margaret Thatcher becomes the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century.

January 10: The Soviet media reported on an interview given to Chinese journalists by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who praised the state of Sino-Soviet relations and called for a summit. However, the Beijing government turned aside the summit call, declaring Soviet-backed Vietnamese forces had to withdraw from Cambodia first.

January 11: The first U.S. test tube quintuplets are born in Royal Oak, Michigan.

January 11: Vice President George W. Bush meets with representatives of independent counsel to answer questions about the Iran-Contra affair.

January 11: The Soviet Union announces it will take part in the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.

January 13: The U.S. Supreme Court rules 5 to 3 that public school officials have broad powers to censor school newspapers and other school-sponsored activities.

January 16: Czech dissident Václav Havel is arrested in Prague for taking part in demonstrations against the communist government.

January 21: The United States accepts the immigration of 30,000 U.S.-Vietnamese children.

January 23: In Tel Aviv, more than 50,000 Israelis demonstrate to protest the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

January 24: The Cerebral Palsy telethon raises $21 million.

January 25: The United States Vice President George H. W. Bush and Dan Rather clash on CBS Evening News as Dan Rather attempts to question Bush about his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.

January 26: Phantom of the Opera opens at Majestic Theatre in New York City for over 4000 performances.

January 26: Australians celebrate the 200th anniversary of the country, as a grand parade of tall ships recreates the first voyage of the first European settlers.

January 28: The Canadian Supreme Court declares anti-abortion law unconstitutional.

January 28: Public Service of New Hampshire files for bankruptcy, making it the first American utility to go bankrupt since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

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February 2: U.S. President Reagan presses his case for aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, in a speech that three major television networks declined to broadcast.

February 3: Nurses all over the United Kingdom strike over their pay and funding for the NHS.

February 3: U.S. President Ronald Reagan is defeated by the U.S. House of Representatives when they declined his request for at least $36.25 million in aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.

February 4: Panamanian General Manuel Noriega is indicted by the United States federal grand jury for drug trafficking and racketeering.

February 4: Rank-and-file seamen at major British ports refuse to return to work despite union calls to end the strike.

February 5: In the first prime time wrestling match in 30 years, Andre the Giant beats Hulk Hogan.

February 5: Arizona House of Representatives votes to impeach Republican Governor Evan Mecham.

February 5: The first BBC Red Nose Day in the UK takes place, raising £15,000,000 for charity.

February 10: A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco strikes down the army’s ban on homosexuals, declaring they should receive the same protection against discrimination as racial minorities.

February 13: The 15th Winter Olympics opens in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

February 16: The first documented combat action by U.S. military advisors in El Salvador.

February 20: Peter Kalikow purchases the New York Post from Rupert Murdoch for $37.6 million.

February 24: In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at least 275 people die following a week of tropical rainstorms.

February 25: Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love tour begins in Worcester, Massachusetts.

February 29: A Nazi document is uncovered, which implicated participation of Austrian president and former U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in World War II deportations.

February 29: Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders are arrested for kneeling near South Africa’s parliament and petitioning against government bans on anti-apartheid groups. Each leader is freed hours later.  

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March 1: Iran announces that it launched 16 missiles into Tehran.

March 1: U.S. President Ronald Reagan arrives in Brussels, Belgium for the first NATO summit in six years.

March 6: British SAS officers kill 3 IRA suspects in Gibraltar.

March 9: Actress Audrey Hepburn is appointed a UNICEF Special Ambassador.

March 10: An avalanche at the Swiss ski resort Klosters almost kills Prince Charles.

March 10: Before the 50th anniversary of the Anschluss, Kurt Waldheim, Austrian president, apologises on his country’s behalf for the atrocities committed by the Austrian Nazis.

March 10: Andy Gibb, pop singer, dies in Oxford, England at the age of 30 from heart inflammation.

March 11: The British pound note ceases to be legal tender, and is replaced by the one pound coin.

March 14:  64 Vietnamese sailors are killed in clashes with Chinese troops over the Spratly Islands. 9 Vietnamese engineering soldiers are taken as prisoners.

March 14: Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli Prime Minister, arrives in Washington D.C. with what he claims to be new ideas for Middle East peace talks, despite maintaining a hard-line on Israel’s retention of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

March 15: Eugene Mario of Atlanta is appointed the first African American archbishop.

March 16: The largest ever chemical weapons attack hits Kurdish town of Halabja by Iraqi forces, killing 5000 civilians.

March 16: 3,000 U.S. soldiers are sent to Honduras.

March 16: In Northern Ireland, 3 people are killed when Michael Stone, a pro-British paramilitary member armed with guns and grenades, attacks an IRA graveside service. He was also responsible for killing 3 Catholics in the mid-1980s.

March 17: Apple files a suit against Microsoft, claiming copyright infringement in the Windows GUI.

March 19: In Northern Ireland, two British soldiers are shot to death after being dragged from a car and beaten by mourners attending an Irish Repubican Army funeral.

March 22: The U.S. Congress overrides President Ronald Reagan’s veto of sweeping the civil rights bill.

March 23: U.S. President Ronald Reagan announces he will visit the Soviet Union for the first time, from May 29 to June 2, for his fourth summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

March 29: Plans for Europe’s tallest skyscraper to be built at Canary Wharf are revealed. It is set to cost approximately £3 billion to build and is due to open in 1992.

March 31: The Pulitzer Prize is awarded to Toni Morrison for her novel Beloved.

1988 timeline

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Image: Flickr

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April 3: U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz arrives in Israel to launch a fresh U.S. peace initiative, telling the Israelis that the Palestinians must be included in negotiations.

April 4: Eddie Hill becomes the world’s first driver to cover the quarter mile in under 5 seconds.

April 5: The last broadcast of Crossroads is aired on British television.

April 9: The United States imposes economic sanctions on Panama.

April 10: Sandy Lyle, golfer, becomes the first British winner of the U.S. Masters.

April 11: The 60th Academy Awards ceremony takes place, with The Last Emperor winning Best Picture.

April 14: The USSR, United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan sign the Afghanistan Treaty.

April 14: The Japanese Red Army bombs a U.S. military recreational club in Naples, killing 5 people.

April 21: The British government announces that nurses will receive a 15% pay rise at a cost of £794 million which will be funded by the Treasury.

April 23: In the United States, a federal smoking ban is introduced during domestic airline flights of 2 hours or less.

April 24: 3 sailors are killed and 22 are injured when fire breaks out aboard the submarine USS Bonefish off the coast of Florida.

April 24: In English football, Luton Town FC beat Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup final at Wembley 3-2. Goalkeeper Andy Dibble saves a penalty in the 79th minute, and Brian Stein scores a goal in the 92nd minute, bringing the team back from being 2-1 down and winning the game for Luton.

April 25: NASA launches space vehicle S-211.

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May 1: Two IRA attacks in and near Roermond, Netherlands, result in the deaths of 3 British servicemen and wound 3 more.

May 2: Painter Jackson Pollock’s piece Search  is sold for $4,800,000.

May 2: Three British servicemen, who were off-duty, are killed by the IRA in the Netherlands.

May 6: English cricket history is made by Graeme Hick when he scores 405 runs in a county championship match.

May 8: Francois Mitterrand is elected President of France.

May 8: Mike Tyson crashes his $183,000 Bently on Varick Street in New York City.

May 9: Australia’s new parliament house is opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Canberra.

May 10: In Poland, an 8-day strike by workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk ends without an agreement.

May 14: The Carrollton bus collision occurs, with a drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 71 near Carrollton, Kentucky hitting a converted school bus carrying a church youth group. The crash and the ensuing fire kills 27 people.

May 15: In one of the major 1988 events, the USSR begins withdrawing its 115,000 troops from Afghanistan, more than 8 years after Soviet forces began entering the country.

May 16: The United States Supreme Court rules that trash may be searched without a warrant.

May 16: U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop releases a report declaring nicotine to be addictive in ways similar to heroin and cocaine.

May 17: In the U.K., Hello! magazine is launched.

May 24: In the United Kingdom, Section 28 is passed as law by Parliament, prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality. This was later repealed in the early 2000s.

May 24: In Liverpool, England, Albert Dock is reopened by Prince Charles as a leisure and business centre. 

1988 timeline

Soviet troops returning home from Afghanistan, 1986
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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June 2: U.S. President Ronald Reagan visits the U.K.

June 3: The film Big directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks premieres in the United States.

June 5: The first Children’s Miracle Network Telethon raises $590,000.

June 6: George H. W. Bush makes a campaign promise to support reparations for World War II to Japanese-Americans internees. This promise was later broken in May 1989.

June 10: The greatest number of participants, 31,678, is recorded on a bicycle tour in London.

June 11: A concert is held at Wembley Stadium, London, to honour South African anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela. He had been imprisoned since 1964 and around 80,000 people attended.

June 15: Five British soldiers are killed in Lisburn, Northern Ireland by the IRA.

June 16: In West Germany, over 100 English football fans are arrested for committing incidents of football hooliganism during the European Championships.

June 19: Leaders of the world’s seven wealthiest industrial democracies open a three-day economic summit in Toronto.

June 19: Michael Jackson leads a rock concert in West Berlin.

June 20: The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upholds a New York City law making it illegal for private clubs to generally exclude women and minorities.

June 22: Leonard Matlovich, gay rights activist, dies at the age of 44. Matlovich was discharged from the U.S. Air Force because of his homosexuality. His tombstone reads “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

June 23: James Hansen, NASA climatologist, makes awareness of the greenhouse effect to the American public when he told Congress that worldwide temperature increases were most likely a sign of human alteration of the atmosphere.

June 23: The Yellowstone Fire begins, and by September 11 would burn some 1.6 million acres of land in Idaho and Montana.

June 23: Gay rights activists invade the BBC television studios during the 6pm BBC News bulletin.

June 25: In American Major League Baseball, Cal Ripken Jr. plays his 1000th consecutive game.

June 25: The cartoon Roger Rabbit debuts in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

June 27: Mike Tyson holds onto the heavyweight crown as he knocks out Michael Spinks just 91 seconds into the first round of a championship fight in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

June 27: 57 people are killed in a train collision in Paris. 

1988 timeline

Nelson Mandela
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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July 1: A 4-day national conference of Soviet Communist Party members ended in Moscow, with Mikhail Gorbachev winning approval for important changes.

July 4: An Iranian civilian jetliner is shot down over the Gulf by the U.S. Navy, killing 290 people.

July 5: The Church of England announces it will allow female priests to be ordained from 1992 onwards.

July 6: A series of explosions and fires destroys the Piper Alpha North Sea oil drilling platform, killing 167 North Sea oil workers.

July 7: Russia launches its PHOBOS 1 Mars Orbiter and lander. Contact was lost on September 2.

July 7: After being detained for up to two years under the Internal Security Act, five prominent anti-apartheid activists are released in Cape Town, South Africa.

July 8: Stevie Wonder announces he will run for mayor of Detroit in 1992.

July 11: Three Abu Nidal terrorists attack hundreds of tourists aboard a Greek cruise ship, killing nine people. The cruise ship, the City of Poros, was steaming towards a marina in suburban Athens.

July 13: Singer and actor Sting performs at his first Rainforest Benefit concert.

July 14: The American radio station WYHY offers $1 million to anyone who can prove Elvis Presley is still alive.

July 15: The film Die Hard, with Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, is released in the United States.

July 18: Shooting begins on the James Bond film License to Kill.

July 18: In English football, 21 year old midfield player Paul Gascoigne becomes the first £2 million footballer signed by a British club when he joins Tottenham Hotspur and leaves Newcastle United.

July 28: Israeli diplomats arrive in Moscow for their first visit in 21 years.

July 29: The anti-apartheid film Cry Freedom is banned in South Africa by the government.

July 31: A bridge at the Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal collapses in Butterworth, Malaysia, killing 32 people and injuring 1,674. 

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August 1: In its 8-year-old war with Iraq, Iran says it would honour an immediate ceasefire.

August 2: Everton FC quickly break the transfer record set by Paul Gascoigne’s transfer when they pay £2.3 million for 22 year old West Ham United striker Tony Cottee.

August 4: In a consumer fraud case, Hertz rental car company agrees to pay out $23 million.

August 6: Around 400 people drown in India when a ferry capsizes in the Ganges River.

August 6: The president of Iraq says his country will agree to a cease-fire with Iran if direct talks were promised to be held immediately after the truce takes effect.

August 7: The Writers Guild of America ends their 6-month strike.

August 8: The Duke and Duchess of York’s first child, a girl,  is born at Portland Hospital, London. Before the birth of Prince George of Cambridge on July 22 2013, she was fifth-in-line to the throne, but she is now seventh in-line.

August 10: U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act, a measure providing $20,000 payments to Japanese-Americans interned by the U.S. government during the Second World War.

August 11: At a meeting between Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri and Dr. Fadl in Peshawar, Pakistan, Al-Qaeda is formed.

August 12: Nelson Mandela is treated for tuberculosis in hospital.

August 18: British choreographer Frederick Ashton dies at the age of 83. 

August 18: Ian Rush is the most expensive player to join a British football club when, for £2.7 million, he returns to Liverpool FC after spending a year at Juventus, Italy. Relive some of his most famous Anfield moments in our personalised Liverpool book.

August 20: A cease-fire takes place between Iraq and Iran, ending their 8 years of war.

August 21: In an earthquake on the Nepal-India border, more than 1,000 people are killed.

August 22: New licensing laws are introduced in England and Wales that allow pubs to stay open all day.

August 27: On the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech, tens of thousands of civil rights marchers gather in Washington D.C. 

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September 8: Two nuclear-missile rockets are destroyed in Karnack, Texas at an army ammunition plant. These two rockets were the first U.S. weapons to be eliminated under an arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union.

September 9: The Financial Corporation of America files for bankruptcy with assets of $33.8 billion.

September 11: 300,000 people in Soviet-occupied Estonia demonstrate for independence as part of what became known as the Singing Revolution.

September 12: In Jamaica, Hurricane Gilbert devastates the country. 2 days later, it impacts Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, creating around $5 billion in damage.

September 22: In the North Sea, the Ocean Odyssey drilling rig experiences a blowout and a fire.

September 26: The Rockefeller Center in New York City is declared to be a national landmark of the United States.

September 29: Marking America’s return to manned space flight following the Challenger disaster of 1986, the space shuttle Discovery takes off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

1988 timeline

The Rockefeller Center, New York City
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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October 8: Pope John Paul II travels to eastern France to address the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

October 13: Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian novelist, is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is the first Arabic writer to do so.

October 19: Broadcast interviews with members of the IRA are banned in Britain.

October 20: English aviator Sheila Scott dies at the age of 61. She was the first woman to complete an around-the-world solo flight.

October 22: In America, the 100th Congress adjourns in an early morning meeting that constructed sweeping legislation to combat drug abuse.

October 22: For a record 26th time, Elton John sells out Madison Square Garden in New York City.

October 26: Donald Trump bills Mike Tyson $2,000,000 for 4 months advisory service.

October 27: The film ET is released to home video, with 14 million copies presold.

October 28: Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, gives $10 million to the University of Washington library.

October 29: 2,000 U.S. anti-abortion protesters are arrested for blocking abortion clinics. 

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November 1: People of Israel vote in parliamentary elections, with a narrow victory achieved by the right-wing Likud bloc, requiring the set up of a coalition government.

November 3: Hebrew is allowed to be taught in the Soviet Union.

November 4: U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs a measure providing for U.S. participation in an anti-genocide treaty, in a ceremony at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

November 4: On her visit to Gdańsk, Margaret Thatcher presses for freedom for the Polish people.

November 8: An earthquake hits China, killing 900 people.

November 11: The oldest known insect fossils, dating back 390 million years, are reported.

November 16: U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the First Lady participate in the official state arrival ceremony, meetings and dinner with Margaret Thatcher.

November 22: On this 25th anniversary of his death, around 2,500 turn out in Dallas, Texas to honour former President John Kennedy. Many also visit his gravesite at Arlington National Ceremony.

November 25: An eastern-Canada earthquake is felt widely across Canada and in the northeastern United States, measuring 5.7 on the Richter scale.

November 28: Acrobat & Harlequin, a piece by Picasso, sells for $37.6 million at an English auction. 

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December 1: The first World Aids Day is held, to remember those who have suffered from the illness.

December 1: A cyclone hits Bangladesh, killing 1,300 people and leaving half a million homeless.

December 1: Benazir Bhutto becomes the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim country.

December 6: Roy Orbison, rock and roll pioneer, dies at the age of 52 near Nashville, Tennessee.

December 7: In Northern Armenia, a magnitude 6.9-8.0 earthquake devastates Spitak, killing an estimated 25,000-55,000 people and causing $14 billion in losses.

December 9: Following the Armenian earthquake, countries across the globe begin to send emergency supplies and offer pledges of relief funds to help Armenia.

December 12: The Clapham rail disaster takes place, killing 35 people in a triple train collision during rush hour in South London.

December 20: The first African American network television anchor, Max Robinson, dies of AIDS at the age of 49.

December 21: One of the most shocking events on this 1988 timeline – Pan Am Flight 103 is downed over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland by a terrorist bomb, killing 270 people. Christmas services were later held to mourn the loss of the 270 people.

December 30: Mercedes-Benz pays a $20.2 million fine for failing to meet the 1986 government fuel standard. 

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Soviet Troops Withdraw From Afghanistan 

Soviet troops first entered Afghanistan in December 1979, in the midst of the Cold War. As the Cold War was a period of conflict and tension between the capitalist and communist regimes, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in order to support the newly-established pro-Soviet, and pro-communist, regime in the capital of Kabul. Almost 100,000 Soviet soldiers took control of major cities, causing unrest and dealing harshly with rebels. This frustrating conflict would last for over 8 years, until Soviet troops finally began withdrawing on May 15, 1988.

The Soviet Union entering Afghanistan was extremely costly, with around 15,000 troops dying and the Soviet’s economy plummeted even further into struggling times. The intervention also saw a further rise in tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, who were already facing deteriorating relations from previous Cold War events and actions. President Jimmy Carter was exceedingly critical of the Soviet Union’s invasion, issuing economic sanctions and pushing arms limitations talks back. He also ordered a boycott of the 1988 Olympics held in Moscow. Eventually, the Soviet Union could not cope with the economic impact, and decided to remove troops after a long and bloody conflict.

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Concert for Nelson Mandela – Anti-Apartheid

As Nelson Mandela approached his 70th birthday, a concert was held at Wembley Stadium in London, with around 80,000 people attending. The concert was broadcast to 67 countries and an audience of 600 million across the world. While marking the milestone birthday of the anti-apartheid campaigner and revolutionary, the event also intended to raise consciousness of Mandela’s imprisonment, grow support for his release, and raise awareness of the inhumanity of Apartheid in South Africa.

The concert ended up becoming the largest anti-apartheid protest of the time, with a very mixed racial crowd attending in solidarity. It was also considered a strong example of anti-apartheid music. The concert has been called “a more political version of Live Aid,” since it aimed to make awareness around the globe of the situation in South Africa and of Nelson Mandela, rather than just raise money (Robin Denselow, BBC music critic and presenter). Performers included George Michael, UB40, Whitney Houston and the Bee Gees. 

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Pan Am Flight 103 Disaster

The Pam Am Flight 103 was a transatlantic flight travelling to Detroit from Frankfurt, via London and New York on the way. While the flight was flying over the town of Lockerbie in Scotland, the flight was destroyed when a bomb exploded, killing every one of the 243 passengers on board and 16 crew members. The disaster became known as the Lockerbie bombing and devastated so many families just before Christmas. 11 people were killed on the ground when the plane crashed onto a residential street, and with a total of 270 people killed, it is to this day the deadliest terror attack to take place in the United Kingdom.

The disaster was heavily investigated soon after, eventually arresting and charging a Libyan intelligence officer for the bombing and consequential killing after a three-year joint investigation. In 2003, Gaddafi paid compensation to the families of the victims, accepting responsibility for the attack. 

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