What Happened in 1980?

It was the first year of the 80s, and no one truly knew what this incredible decade would bring! From intriguing music and iconic fashion to world-changing events and political drama – this was the start of a decade looked upon fondly and with some controversy, too.

But, what happened this very first year of the 80s? Here are some of the biggest events that took place in 1980.

In this year



Millions of us use the Global Positioning System, or GPS, every day on our smartphones – but did you know it first started recording its time epoch back on January 16th, 1980, at 00:00, UTC? Within a decade or so, millions of us were using the satellite system to help track our journeys and find directions.

new mexico riot


A major riot in the New Mexico State Penitentiary unfolded as of February 2nd and 3rd, 1980 – leading to over 100 inmates getting injured, and even 33 were killed – it was an extremely bloody uprising.



As of March 4th, 1980, Zimbabwe elected Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister. Mugabe would go on to become an infamous leader as a result of brutality and crimes against humanity. He would become the President of the nation in 1987, only leaving power in 2017.

Gibraltar-Spanish border


As of April 10th, 1980, Spain and the UK agreed to reopen the Gibraltar-Spanish border for the first time since 1969, while meeting on neutral ground in Lisbon, Portugal.



Bizarrely, many, many years after the disease was considered a genuine threat to mankind, the World Health Organization officially announced on May 8th, 1980, that smallpox was officially eradicated from the planet. It’s amazing how far medicine has come, and that was over 40 years ago!



24-hour news and always-on information streams are nothing new nowadays, but constant streams of global events made their debut all the way back on June 1st, 1980. We have CNN, the Cable News Network, to thank. CNN’s still with us today, though it’s changed shape a few times to say the least!

The Moscow Summer Olympic Games


The Moscow Summer Olympic Games officially opened on July 19th, 1980, but under a cloud of controversy. Earlier in the year, US President Jimmy Carter announced that the US would boycott the Games – and, another 81 countries did likewise. However, several athletes from at least 16 of the nations took part in events via neutral flag.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir


Vigdís Finnbogadóttir officially became the 4th-ever President of Iceland on August 1st, 1980. This made her the world's first-ever directly-elected female President via democratic process! Big strides were made in gender equality, even going back to the start of the 80s!

Gotthard Road Tunnel


The Gotthard Road Tunnel first opened in Switzerland on September 5th, 1980s, stretching from Göschenen all the way through to Airolo underneath the Gotthard Pass – running an impressive 16.3 km or 10.1 miles, making it a major record-breaker at the time!

Irish Republican Army prisoners


As of October 27th, 1980, six Provisional IRA or Irish Republican Army prisoners in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison went on hunger strike, doing so while claiming they were political prisoners. This strike would eventually come to an end by December.

Ronald Reagan


Ronald Reagan officially beat Jimmy Carter in the US Presidential election of November 4th, 1980, becoming the country’s 40th President. Reagan would oversee some major legislation across much of the decade, though he would also become infamous for his role in political controversies such as the Iran-Contra affair.

John and Yoko


Singer-songwriter John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota apartments in New York City, leading to the arrest and eventual incarceration of murderer Mark David Chapman. It’s still regarded as one of the most shocking deaths in entertainment history, and Chapman remains behind bars at Green Haven to this day.

1980 was the year of the…

Chinese year of the monkey


Like 1944, 1956, 1968, 1992, 2004, and 2016, 1980 celebrated Monkeys everywhere, according to the lore of the Chinese Zodiac. People born in Monkey years tend to be very smart, although a little cheeky – as you might well expect! They’re witty, and mischievous when they want to be. The next Monkey year won't be until 2028, so you have plenty of time to plan ahead for any pranksters in your life whom you’d like to celebrate.

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