A Year in History: 1979 Timeline

Many incredible 1979 events made it a truly groundbreaking year. Highlights include the introduction of China’s ‘One Child’ policy in an attempt to stem it’s exploding population, and the first election of a female Prime Minister in the United Kingdom.

It was also a year for outstanding new music. Michael Jackson released his breakthrough album Off the Wall which became a eight times platinum seller, and Pink Floyd released their rock opera and concept album The Wall.

To learn more about the details of this year in history, we have created this comprehensive timeline of events. If you would like to read about what happened in 1979 in more depth an original newspaper is a fantastic place to start. With access to the news as it was unfolding, a 1979 newspaper allows you to soak up the views and opinions of the public at the time.


1979 Timeline


This timeline of the year 1979 will break down notable and interesting events that occured over the year in a chronological order.



January: 1979 marks the introduction of the ‘One Child’ policy in China.

January 1: International Year of the Child is heralded by United Nations secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim.

January 1: The People’s Republic of China and the United States establish full diplomatic relations.

January 7: The fall of Phnom Penh and the Pol Pot regime is announced by the People’s Army of Vietnam, ending the fighting in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War.

January 8: 50 people are killed when a French tanker explodes at the Gulf Oil terminal in Ireland.

January 9: The Music For UNICEF Concert is held to raise money for the charity and to promote the Year of the Child. It is broadcast around the world the next day. There were performances from the Bee Gees, ABBA, Earth, Wind & Fire and Rod Stewart.

January 21: The Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 35-31.

January 29: Brenda Ann Spencer opens fire at Cleveland Elementary School in California. Killing two members of staff, she attempted to justify her actions by saying, ‘I don’t like Mondays’.



February 2: Sid Vicious, the notorious former Sex Pistols bassist, is found dead aged 21 at the Chelsea Hotel in New York after a heroin overdose.

February 7: For the first time since either planet was known to science, Pluto moves into Neptune's orbit.

February 13: An unarmed organisation of crime fighters called the Guardian Angels are formed in New York City.

February 17: The Sino-Vietnamese War is started when the People’s Republic of China invades northern Vietnam.

February 18: Snow is seen in the Sahara Desert for 30 minutes, the only known recording of the phenomenon in this part of the world.

February 22: Saint Lucia gains independence from the United Kingdom

February 26: Visible to almost all of North America and half of the United Kingdom, a total solar eclipse occurs that won’t be seen again until 2017.

February 27: Teamsters Union members of the New Orleans Police Department go on strike demanding a change in wages. Instead of accepting the demands, Mayor Dutch Morial, New Orleans City Council and most of the Carnival captains decide to cancel the annual Mardi Gras celebration.

sex pistols 79


March 4: Jupiter’s rings are revealed through the US Voyager 1 spaceprobe photos.

March 5: At 277,000km, Voyager 1 then makes its closest approach to Jupiter.

March 7: A record breaking 1979 event, the largest ever Magnetar is recorded: a soft gamma repeater.

March 8: A compact disc is publicly demonstrated for the first time by Philips.

March 16: Major hostilities are ended in the Sino-Vietnamese War.

March 18: There is a methane gas explosion in Wigan, Greater Manchester which kills ten miners.

March 25: Columbia, the first fully functional space shuttle is delivered to the Kennedy Space Centre as it is prepared to launch for the first time.

March 28: On Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, America’s most serious nuclear power plant accident occurs.

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April 1: Andreas Mihavecz is locked by police into a holding cell in Austria and forgotten about. He holds the record for the longest surviving person without food or drink, lasting 18 days in his cell before he is found.

April 4: Heath Ledger, Australian actor who played the Joker in Batman trilogy The Dark Knight is born.

April 10: In Texas, a tornado hits killing 42 people (this is the most notable of the 26 tornadoes that hit on this day).

April 11: Tanzanian troops take the capital of Uganda: Kampala.

April 13: In St Vincent and the Grenadines the La Soufriere volcano erupts.

April 15: Hitting Montenegro and Albania, taking 136 lives and damaging coastal areas, the Montenegro earthquake strikes.

April 22: The National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. unveil an Albert Einstein Memorial.

April 12: Birthdate of actress Claire Danes who famously played the role of Juliet in the 1996 release of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet.

heath ledger 1979


May 1: Limited autonomy is granted to Greenland from Denmark.

May 4: One of the most memorable things that happened in 1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first ever female prime minister, ending James Callaghan’s Labour government.

May 9: Beginning of the Salvadoran Civil War.

May 21: Gay men in San Francisco riot after Dan White is given a light sentence for voluntary manslaughter after murdering both George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

May 21: Winning their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens defeat the New York Rangers.

May 25: The deadliest aviation accident in US history, American Airlines Flight 191 crashes during take-off killing all 271 onboard and 2 people on the ground.

May 25: John Spenkelink becomes the first person to be legally executed by the electric chair in America after the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976.

May 25: The ‘Boy on the Milk Carton’ Etan Patz is kidnapped in New York. One of the most prolific child abduction cases ever, it runs cold until 2010 when it is reopened. Sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and murder, Pedro Hernandez is found guilty in 2017.

thatcher 1979 may


June 1: The McDonald’s Happy Meal is introduced.

June 2: Los Angeles’ first homosexual rights bill is passed by the city council and signed by Mayor Thomas Bradley.

June 3: Italy holds general elections.

June 4: Canada elect their 16th and youngest Prime Minister: Joe Clark

June 7: The first international election in history takes place to form the European Parliament.

June 12: Man-powered Gossamer Albatross is flown by Bryan Allen across the English Channel.

June 19: The State of South Africa announces its President Marais Viljoen.

June 22: The Muppet Movie is released.

June 79 muppets


July 1: Corporal punishment in the home is outlawed by Sweden.

July 1: The Sony Walkman is released for sale in Japan.

July 8: The gay and lesbian rights bill is passed in Los Angeles.

July 11: Skylab - NASA’s first orbiting space station - returns to earth after 6 years and 2 months.

July 12: The head of the Bonanno crime family, Carmine Galante is assassinated in Brooklyn.

July 21: Portugal announces new Prime Minister Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo

July 21: Peaking on the Billboard Hot 100, Disco music dominates the 1979 charts.

July 22: President of Iraq Saddam Hussein holds Ba’ath Party Purge, arresting and executing almost seventy members of his party.

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August 4: The first ever league game of American football in Germany is played.

August 8: Leading to important safety changes in the diving industry, two American commercial divers die of hypothermia when their diving bell becomes stranded at 160 metres.

August 9: The co-founder of one of the largest and most notorious American gangs, the Crips, is killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. The killers were never identified.

August 10: Selling 20 million copies worldwide and becoming a 8 time platinum album in America, Michael Jackson releases his breakthrough album: Off the Wall.

August 14: An unexpected storm results in the death of 15 sailors during the Fastnet Race.

August 17: Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a controversial, religious, satirical film premieres in the US.

August 29: After a national referendum, Somali voters approve a new liberal constitution to placate the United States.

August 27: Birthdate of Aaron Paul, American actor who has a leading role in award winning drama series Breaking Bad.

Jackson 1979


September 1: US spacecraft Pioneer 11 visits Saturn - passing the planet at a distance of 21,000km.

September 1: Women’s Corps in Sri Lanka’s Army is formed.

September 7: ESPN - the Entertainment Sports Programming Network is launched: the first cable sports channel.

September 12: Alabama’s Gulf Coast is hit by Hurricane Frederic.

September 13: ‘Homeland’ Venda is granted independence by South Africa.

September 16: Two families successfully flee East Germany by hot air balloon.

September 22: Near Prince Edward Islands the South Atlantic Flash is observed and thought to be a nuclear weapons test by South Africa and Israel.

September 29: The dictator of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macias is shot by Western Sahara soldiers.



October 1: The Second Nigerian Republic is formed.

October 1: Pope John Paul II travels around the United States, starting with Boston.

October 7: Pope John Paul II ends his trip to the US in Washington D.C. with his first ever visit to the White House.

October 9: By a record of 6 laps, Peter Brock wins the Bathurst 1000.

October 14: Involving tens of thousands of people, a national march for gay rights takes place in Washington D.C.

October 16: A tsunami killing 23 people occurs in Nice, France

October 26: The President of South Korea, Park Chung-Hee is assassinated by Kim Jae-Gyu.

October 27: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines becomes independent from the UK.

october 79 pope


November 1: A military coup occurs in Bolivia.

November 2: Gangster Jacques Mesrine is shot by French police in Paris.

November 9: The North American Aerospace Defense Command computers in Maryland detect a ‘massive soviet nuclear strike’. This is then labelled a false alarm after reviewing the data, and the alert is cancelled.

November 13: The Times published their first newspaper after an 11 month long strike due to an industrial dispute.

November 15: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reveals the ‘fourth man’ of the Cambridge Five double agents for the Soviet NKVD during the Second World War.

November 25: Marks the last shipment of Phosphate from Banaba Island.

November 28: Crashing into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, Air New Zealand Flight 901 kills all 257 people on board.

November 30: Pink Floyd releases The Wall, a rock opera and concept album.



December 3: Eleven fans are killed during The Who concert in Cincinnati when a crowd rushes for unreserved seats.

December 6: In Washington D.C. the world premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is held.

December 9: The smallpox virus is driven into extinction, becoming the first of only two human diseases that have been eradicated.

December 13: After a non-confidence motion, the government of Canada falls.

December 21: Shortly after Southern Rhodesia returns to British control, a ceasefire is signed for Rhodesia in London.

December 23: Klein Matterhorn opens, becoming the highest aerial tramway in Europe.

December 24: Marks the launch of the first European Ariane rocket.

December: Mother Teresa wins the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Key Events in 1979


Thatcher Elected

Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between May 1979 and November 1990, making her the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century as well as the first ever female Prime Minister and the first elected female head of government in Europe. Thatcher succeeded James Callaghan of the Labour Party and brought the Conservatives into government. Her election was one of the key events in the 1979 timeline.

In the ‘Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-1979 there were a series of industrial disputes that led to strikes across the United Kingdom. This hampered the Labour party’s existing position in the stands and the party focused its campaign on the National Health Service and employment. When the Scottish National Party withdrew their support for the Scotland Act 1978, hampering Labour further, Margaret Thatcher tabled a motion of no confidence in Labour’s government. This was only passed by one vote, but allowed enough movement for a general election to be held 5 months before the end of the Labour Party’s terms.

For the first time since 1959, the three main political parties were championed with new leaders. All three promoted the cutting of income tax as one of their party’s main priorities. Callaghan was known to be a master at undermining Thatcher’s statements and manifestoes because she was a woman, without ever mentioning her gender.

The results showed the largest swing since 1945 of 5.2%, giving the Conservative Party a majority of 43 for Margaret Thatcher. This Conservative victory would be sustained for a further 18 years, until the Labour victory in 1997.

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Michael Jackson Releases Breakthrough Album

Michael Jackson, otherwise known as the King of Pop, was a global figure in popular culture for over four decades. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century. Jackson’s breakthrough album Off The Wall was released in August 1979 and featured lyrical themes such as escapism, hedonism, liberation and romance.

Off the Wall is described by music critics as being ‘crafted’ from funk, soft rock, pop, broadway and disco. As a result of the album, Jackson won his first ever Grammy award. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200, it is certified eight times Multi-Platinum in the US and sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The album features Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Rock with You and She’s Out of My Life.

Incredibly, despite its commercial success, Jackson was reportedly disappointed with the album’s reception, hoping for a much bigger impact. Jackson was also quoted saying that “It was totally unfair that it didn’t get Record of the Year” at the 1980 Grammy awards.

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Times Newspaper Goes on Strike

The Times is Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper publication. Founded in 1785 by John Walter I, it was created for the service of the public ‘to record the principal occurences of the times’. Just before Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1981, The Times closed down for 11 months between December 1st 1978 and November 12th 1979.

The Times’ brief period of closure was due to an industrial dispute between the organisation’s management and unions. The dispute occurred due to differing opinions regarding the introduction of new technology to the production line, and the expected change in manning levels.

This industrial dispute that led to the suspension of the paper is said to have cost the organisation around £30 million. When the paper was reintroduced on the 13th November 1979, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher welcomed its reappearance by describing the suspension of the paper as ‘tragic’ and ‘over-long’.

To compensate for the eleven months that the publication lost during their strike, 500,000 copies were printed on the 13th November - an additional 200,000 compared to its usual print run. The personal columns of the paper were filled with welcome-back messages, as well as births and deaths that occurred within the 11 month period. The Times made news reviews and special obituary supplements to cover the months that the publication was suspended.

The many memorable 1979 events made it a truly groundbreaking year. To learn more about this remarkable year in history, we have made a timeline of events.