Many people alive in the 1980s remember where they were on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded as it was leaving the earth’s atmosphere. Reagan said in remarks to the country, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
In early 1986, Ferdinand Marcos led to the “people power” movement in opposition to the Philippine dictator. It garnered international attention and involved civilians protesting nonviolently in the streets. The movement became so strong that the dictator fled the country on February 25, 1986. Of all the revolutions of the time, the one in the Philippines was possibly the most peaceful.
On April 13, 1986, Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters. He was just 46 years young a the time, but still, the second-oldest to ever win a major golf tournament. Many people consider Jack Nicklaus to be the greatest golfer of all time. He has dozens of championship golf courses around the globe, and would Tiger a run for this money.
The nuclear plant at Chernobyl melted down on April 26, 1986, after a series of explosions. Thirty-two people died in the immediate blast, and upwards of two million experienced high radiation levels. In fact, the radiation from Chernobyl was 400 times more potent than that of the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima.
The summer of 1986 marked the centennial of when France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The gift celebrated the centenary of American independence from France’s age-old rival, Britain, and Lady Liberty was a central figure in welcoming immigrants to the shores of New York City.
Fourteen people perished when a part-time postal worker in Oklahoma opened fire on August 20, 1986. The rampage was the first in a series of massacres by postal workers that led to the term “going postal” to describe a sudden rage that leads to homicidal actions.
That’s the phrase they shouted when the Boston Red Sox were up to three games to two during the 1986 World Series and the Red Sox’s first baseman missed the ball. The ball hit went right to Bill Buckner, but he misplayed the moment and allowed the New York Mets to win that game, which was game six. Basically, Buckner became the scapegoat for Boston losing the World Series, which last happened in 1918 at the time.
Halley’s Comet appears only once a generation, and the last time it passed by the earth was in October 1986. Comets are masses of gas, dust, and ice that shoot through outer space and burn off their contents through a glowing tail. Some appear regularly, including Halley’s Comet.
Throughout the 1980s, Iran and Iraq were locked in a bloody war. Desperate for weapons, Iran reached an agreement to buy some. It was part of a clandestine deal with some members of the Reagan administration and against the sanctions that the US had imposed on Iran due to the 1979 revolution. The money from the weapons sales would fuel Contras fighting in Nicaragua. The massive scandal nearly toppled the presidency of Reagan.
In October 1987, an 18-month-old girl, known to the world as Baby Jessica, fell down a hole in her aunt’s backyard and became trapped for three days, 22 feet underground. The incident changed the future of cable news, as millions of people remained glued to their televisions waiting for updates on the little girl. She was rescued after three days and made a full recovery.
October 19, 1987, became known as Black Monday because the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 500 points in one day. Stocks began falling at the beginning of the day, and panic-selling caused them to drop precipitously as the day went on. The drop was the worst since 1914.
It’s true that Americans didn’t know much about the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s. However, by 1988, Iraq attacked a Kurdish minority with chemicals. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called for the atrocities to stop the effort of the separatist Kurds. The grisly results came after Hussein deployed thousands of military men to the Kurdish regions. Eventually, the first Gulf War would begin.
In 1988, the Olympics where in Seoul, South Korea, and American diver Greg Louganis had the thud heard around the world. He was a star diver four years before at the Olympics in Los Angeles. However, this time, Louganis hit his head on the diving board in the middle of his complex routine. Although he still won the gold that year, everyone was a bit shocked by the bump.
Democratic presidential-hopeful Dukakis made a few wrong moves during his 1988 campaign. In this shot, you can see him in an armored tank as he visits a manufacturer for military equipment. CNN contributor Julian Zelizer said: “When the Republicans saw one of the images of the diminutive Dukakis popping out of an M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with a helmet on, they almost popped the corks on the champagne.” The Bush’s featured this video in a negative TV ad questioning his ability and commitment to defend.
Speaking of Dukakis and Bush, just days after beating Dukakis, the US President-elect took a break to fish in the Gulf Stream in Florida. The year was 1988 and George HW Bush’s victory was quite overwhelming with 426 electoral votes to just 111 for Dukakis.
Remember how we said there was a famine in Ethiopia? Bob Geldof organized a massive music event to raise funds. Among the famous acts were Queen, Madonna, George Michael, David Bowie, and more. Live Aid was on July 13, 1985, and was dubbed the global jukebox as concerts in London and Philadelphia were held simultaneously. They reached over 1.9 billion people globally, which is amazing for that time.
During the last year of the decade, Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in the Arctic waters. It happened on March 24, 1989. The slick oil spread 500 miles from the original crash site, and affected over 1,300 miles of coastline. Considered the second-worst oil spill in America, Prince William Sound in Alaska is still feeling the effects today.
12. The Technology of the 80s Introduced the Game Boy
Nintendo launched Game Boy on April 21, 1989. This hand-held device revolutionized the gaming industry in an instant. Users could play anywhere; that is, if they have a working pair of batteries. The initial 300,000 units sold out for a retail price of $89.99 immediately, and over 118 million were sold throughout the years. That’s a lot of Tetris!
Here is another iconic photo from the 80s, which takes place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The man, who is unidentified, stands on Cangan Boulevard in an effort to block the military advancement. It was June 5, 1989, and thousands of people died the day before when Chinese soldiers fired on innocent civilians participating in a peaceful protest against the government. Students initiated the demonstrations as part of a democratic reform to end government corruption but only led to thousands of arrests and dozens of executions.
Sally K. Ride (May 26, 1951-July 23, 2012) became the first American woman in space in 1983. She was one of six women selected to enter the astronaut corps in 1978. While all six women flew on space shuttle missions, Ride was the first selected to go into space. With the advent of the space shuttle, NASA expanded astronaut selection from only pilots to scientists and engineers, and women became eligible for selection.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake rumbled San Fran just as game three of the World Series started between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics on October 17, 1989. Known as Loma Prieta, the earthquake was the worst one since in the Bay Area since 1906. There was over $10 billion worth of damage and 67 people’s lives lost.
Who could forget the thrill ride that was the final dance scene in Dirty Dancing?. The intense chemistry between Johnny and Baby backed by the classic “Time of My Life” recorded by Billy Medley and Jennifer Warnes, inspired us to get out and dance. Oh, and that lift was pretty radical too.
Mother Teresa is known for being a champion of the poor as she worked tirelessly to help disenfranchised people in Kolkata, India. Her devotion to this cause lasted for nearly 50 years, and Mother Teresa earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. This Catholic nun had a major heart attack and received a pacemaker in 1989. She passed away in 1997, and was canonized as a saint in 2016.
Romanian citizens, like many other Eastern Europeans at the time, staged an anti-government protest. Gathering in Bucharest’s republican square on December 21, 1989, you can see this is an authentic picture with the date stamped from the snapshot. It was one day before the communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, would be overthrown during a violent revolution after 24 years as the country’s communist leader. His execution took place three days later and was televised.
Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate finally reopened on December 22, 1989, after nearly 30 years of division between West and East Germany. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walked through a tunnel army engineers made through a crossing point in the gate. He shook the hand of East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, who made a speech about Brandenburg being a gate of peace.
So, someone thought it was a good idea to host the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, the capital of Russia. However, over 60 countries boycotted the events. It was the first time ever that the Olympic games were in Eastern Europe as well as within a socialist country. The United States led the boycott because of Russia’s presence in Afghanistan. The games only had 80 nations present, and had the smallest number of athletes since 1956 while the boycotting countries participated in the Liberty Bell classic.
On November 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, the premier of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, passed away, making him the last of the old guard to go. His regime was replaced by a newer guard that wanted reform and change. Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist approach to communism ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On March 25, 1982, the Canada Act passed. What did this mean for Canadians? Well, they become independent from the UK and could have parliamentary bills passed without British Parliament approval. Sure, the modern state of Canada was created back during the British North America Act of 1867, but it still forced British legislation to reign supreme. In the ’80s, Queen Elizabeth II and the then-current Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the official document.
After watching this movie, we all wanted a gentle little alien friend. This classic movie stole our hearts when a troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape from Earth and return to his home planet. Made and released early in the Reagan years, E.T. exemplified a shift in America’s cultural values after the 1960s and 1970s, during which the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandals, and the Iran hostage crisis had convulsed the nation.