What happened in 1980? The events, products, and services that sprang up in that year will be celebrating their 40th anniversaries in 2020. Some may seem like ancient history, while you may be surprised that others are that old.

1. The Far Side

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On January 1, 1980, The Far Side debuted in newspapers. Gary Larson’s surreal, single-panel comics featured anthropomorphic animals and clueless humans illustrating how absurd life can be. The Far Side gathered avid fans for fifteen years, until Larson abruptly retired the comic when he was only 44 years old. Almost 40 years after the first Far Side comic, Larson has resurrected his website, where you can find both old and new comics.   

2. GPS 

The Global Positioning System is a system of 24 satellites owned by the U.S. Air Force that coordinate with each other to pinpoint the location of anything on earth that is within an unobstructed line to four or more satellites. The system began keeping time on January 6, 1980, making it usable for navigation. It took another 20 years for GPS navigation to become common in cars, and now anyone with a smartphone can tap into the satellite system for geolocation and tracking.  

3. The McChicken Sandwich 

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In 1980, Andrew Clark and Justice Newcomb introduced the world to the McDonald’s McChicken sandwich. It was rolled out nationwide, but failed to catch on, and was eventually replaced by Chicken McNuggets. The McChicken was re-introduced in 1988, pulled again in 1996, and re-launched in 1997. It will probably stay popular as long as the sandwich remains on the dollar menu.   

4. The Miracle on Ice

Do you believe in miracles? Going into the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, no one thought the U.S. men’s hockey team, consisting of college students and amateurs, would have a chance against the full-time players of the USSR. When the tournament came down to the final four, the Americans faced the mighty Soviet Union. 

The February 22 game has become known as the “Miracle on Ice,” as the U.S. won 4-3. The Americans then defeated Finland in the final game, winning the gold medal.

5. Sriracha sauce 

The bottle makes it look like an ancient traditional Vietnamese condiment, but Huy Fong Sriracha sauce was introduced in 1980. David Tran had cooked up the chilis his brother grew in Vietnam, and after seeking asylum in the U.S., he founded his company Huy Fong Foods in 1980 to market his sriracha sauce. 

In the 40 years since then, the sauce often called “rooster sauce” because of the label has exploded in popularity. While the term “sriracha” is considered generic for chili sauce, Huy Fong’s version is what most people mean when they say sriracha sauce.   

6. Mariel Boatlift

Amid negotiations between President Jimmy Carter and Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1980, Castro announced that anyone who wished to leave Cuba could do so. Between April 15 and October 30, around 125,000 people made their way to the U.S. in any way they could, from rickety homemade rafts to chartered tour boats to plane flights. Another 25,000 people from Haiti joined in the flotilla. Thousands more Cubans fled to other countries. 

So many refugees arrived in Florida that the governor declared a state of emergency. Seeing Cubans welcomed in the U.S., Castro began freeing up inmates in prisons and mental institutions who could leave the country, further complicating the process of accommodating the refugees. An agreement between Carter and Castro ended the exodus in October.    

7. Game & Watch handheld games

In 1980, a series of small, handheld electronic games were made available in Asia. Each contained one game, but proved to be addictive, especially for people who were waiting in line or riding in a train or plane.

They were called Game & Watch, which might not sound familiar to you. But they were an innovation released by a playing card company named Nintendo. The games in the Game & Watch series eventually included Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers. The success of the handheld Game & Watch devices eventually led to the Game Boy, which you are no doubt very familiar with. 

8. Mount St. Helens eruption

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The active volcano Mount St. Helens, in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, had been peaceful since 1921. Then in the spring of 1980, seismologists detected increased activity, and an earthquake shook the mountain on March 20. Further earthquakes followed, and steam eruptions began on March 27. Small eruptions continued through April, and waned in early May. 

The zone closest to Mount St. Helens was evacuated, but by May, property owners wanted back in. Officials allowed 50 carloads of people back into the zone to gather their belongings on May 17. Another trip was planned on May 18, but that was the day the mountain finally gave way to a major eruption, in which 57 people died, 200 homes were destroyed, and thousands of animals perished.     

9. The Empire Strikes Back

The sequel to the 1977 film Star Wars was released nationwide on May 21, 1980. The Empire Strikes Back is now widely considered to be the best of all the Star Wars films. It is also the one that revealed that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, a twist that no one saw coming. The Empire Strikes Back is now the midpoint of the nine-film Skywalker saga, not counting the two extra prequels Rogue One and Solo.  

10. Pac-Man

Game developer Toru Iwatani ate a pizza and was inspired to create a video game centered around eating. He developed a game for Namco Limited called Pakkuman in which a round character with a mouth would eat cookies to gain points, while intermittently being chased by ghosts. The name was changed to Puck Man and finally to Pac-Man for American players. 

The arcade game was released in Japan on May 22, 1980, where it received a lukewarm response. It was introduced to the U.S. in October, where it was an instant hit. Pac-Man became the best selling game in America, earning a billion dollars in its first year -all in quarters.  

11. Sony Walkman comes to America 


During the 1970s, the trend was to make stereos and speakers ever bigger and more powerful. But what if you wanted to listen to music privately? Masaru Ibuka, co-founder of the Sony Corporation, wanted to listen to opera music on plane flights without bothering other people, so he came up with the idea of the Sony Walkman, a small cassette player that would fit in a pocket, using earphones as speakers. 

The Walkman was introduced in the U.S. in 1980 under the name Soundabout. This was around the time that jogging became really popular, so a small portable music player with lightweight headphones turned out to be just the thing to make that morning run easier. The aerobics craze followed, which boosted Walkman sales even further. By 1999, Sony had sold 186 million cassette Walkmans. The Discman and digital media versions are still being manufactured. 

12. CNN

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Ted Turner took over his father’s billboard advertising business in 1963. He began buying small, struggling television stations and made them nationally known by beaming their content to other stations across the country via satellite, beginning with “superstation” WTBS. He also boosted his TV stations by joining them to the emerging cable TV industry. 

In 1980, Turner launched a 24-hour news channel that required substantial investment because, unlike his other TV stations, it produced its own original content. That was the Cable News Network (CNN), which debuted on June 1, 1980, live from Atlanta.

Forty years later, round-the-clock news is taken for granted, since we have multiple news channels and the internet. But in 1980 it was a novelty. However, it was a novelty that persisted long enough to become a part of everyday life. 

13. Peacetime military draft registration

In 1975, as the Vietnam War ended, the U.S. Selective Service System suspended the requirement for men to register for the draft at age 18. Then on July 2, 1980, President Carter signed a bill to reinstate draft registration for men born after 1960, within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The requirement is still in effect, even though the U.S. military has been all-volunteer since 1973.

14. Post-it Notes

Dr. Spencer Silver developed a glue for 3M in 1968 that would stick surfaces together but was easily un-stuck. Why would anyone need that? Then in 1974, Art Fry was looking for a way to bookmark his hymnal with something that wouldn’t fall out. Since he also worked at 3M, he thought of Silver’s useless adhesive. It was the perfect thing for his purpose. Together Fry and Silver developed what would later become Post-It Notes, which were introduced to stores in 1980. We’ve been sticking them to things ever since.  

15. Who Shot JR?

In 1978, the TV series Dallas introduced the concept of the primetime soap opera. In 1980, it introduced the concept of the end-of-season cliffhanger when an unidentified person shot the main character, JR Ewing. This occurred during the final episode of the third season on March 21st. 

Throughout the summer and early fall, viewers were kept waiting while discussing the possible perpetrator, ensuring a huge audience for the first episode of season four. However, the culprit was not revealed until the fourth episode, which aired on November 21st. By then, 83 million Americans (350 million globally) tuned in to find out who shot JR.  

16. The election of President Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan threw his hat into the ring to run in the presidential election in 1980, some people underestimated him. “Ronald Reagan? The actor?” Outside of California, Reagan’s post-acting career as a union leader and then governor of California was not at the top of everyone’s mind. Reagan won the election on November 4 of that year, and served two terms as president. His acting legacy is now completely overshadowed by his political career. 

17. Bloom County 

Berkeley Breathed’s comic strip Bloom County debuted in newspapers on December 8, 1980. The strip followed 10-year-old Milo Bloom and his friends, which included children, adults, and talking animals. A penguin named Opus became one of the most popular characters of the strip, as he curiously questioned the logic of life and current events. Bill the Cat was often around to provide a laugh when subjects got heavy. Bloom County ran until 1989, then was revived online in 2015 at Breathed’s Facebook page.

18. Whole Foods Market 

On September 20, 1980, the first Whole Foods Market opened in Austin, Texas. It was a new store that resulted from a merger of two local natural food stores, Saferway and Clarksville Natural Grocery. In 1984, the company grew by opening new branches in Texas. By purchasing other natural food stores and companies, Whole Foods expanded coast to coast by 2001. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2017, and now has 500 locations employing 91,000 people.   

19. Apple’s IPO

Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, 1977.
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Picture the scene in Forrest Gump in which Forrest tells us that Lt. Dan had invested their shrimping profits in “some kind of fruit company.” That was the Apple Computer Company, now Apple, Inc. The price at the initial public offering of Apple shares on December 12, 1980, was $22 per share. 

If you had bought stock on that day, each share would now be 56 shares, due to stock splits, worth around $290 each today. That’s over $16,000 for one share bought for $22 in 1980. 

20. Some famous people

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Zooey Deschanel, Venus Williams, Michelle Kwan, Kristen Bell, Macaulay Culkin, Chris Pine, and Michelle Williams, among others, were all born in 1980. They will be turning 40 in the coming year.  

See also: 20 things turning 50 this year

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