Special Report

Most Important Event the Year You Were Born

Source: CAESARstock / Getty Images

1977: Rise of the personal computer
> Date: Jan.uary
> Location: Chicago

Personal home computers began to emerge in the 1970s, but many of the earliest versions resembled calculators that would plug into televisions sets. By 1977, however, the desktop home computer begins to resemble their more modern versions – with an accompanying attached or separate computer screen and a magnetic tape or floppy disk storage device. The Commodore PET is unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago that year, while the first Apple II and Radio Shack’s TRS-80 go on sale.

Source: Nancy Wong / Wikimedia Commons

1978: Cult’s Mass Suicide
> Date: Nov. 18
> Location: Jonestown, Guyana

More than 900 people die in one of worst recorded acts of cult-related mass murder-suicide after most of the victims and perpetrators drink a powdered drink mix dosed with cyanide. Most of the victims are Americans, devotees of Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones, a former Methodist-trained preacher who built a following and led the flock to Guyana. Among the dead are 276 children who drink the poison. A small number of cult defectors are killed by Peoples Temple gunmen who also slay California congressman Leo Ryan, who had gone to Guyana to investigate Jonestown.

Source: Evening Standard / Getty Images

1979: Islamic Republic Born in Iran
> Date: Feb. 11
> Location: Tehran

Worsening economic conditions, increasing discontent with the government, and wide support for religious leader in exile Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini end the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The shah and his family flee Iran in January 1979. On Feb 11, the monarchy is dissolved, and on April 1, Khomeini declares Iran an Islamic republic. With support among the nation’s clergy and their many followers, he begins rebuilding Iranian society based on conservative Shiite religious principles.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1980: Reagan Elected
> Date: Nov. 4
> Location: Washington, D.C.

With the United States in an economic malaise and the Iranian hostage crisis hobbling the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan is elected the 40th president in a landslide. Reagan, who would serve two terms, was the oldest man elected president at the time. Reagan’s election changes the trajectory of American politics, ushering in an era of conservative leadership. During his tenure, he takes a more aggressive approach to the Soviet Union and increases defense spending. Reagan convinces Congress to cut taxes, a move that many economists credit with triggering an economic boom in the 1980s.

Source: NIAID / Flickr

1981: AIDS Impacts America
> Date: June 5
> Location: Los Angeles

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a report about five gay men who had been diagnosed by local physicians with a rare form of pneumonia — the first reported U.S. cases of what would later become known as HIV/AIDS. The autoimmune disease spread so fast that by the end of the 1982, 500 Americans had died from what now the CDC called acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. The death toll would rise to 5,000 by 1985.

Source: Harvey Meston / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1982: Mexico Triggers Regional Debt Crisis
> Date: Aug 12
> Location: Mexico City

Global economic stagnation in the 1970s and early 1980s, and excessive borrowing among Latin America’s biggest economies, boils over when Mexico’s Finance Minister Jesús Silva-Herzog tells the U.S. Federal Reserve his country can no longer service its debt to $80 billion. After the announcement, lenders realize virtually every country in Latin America, led by Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, are not able to pay back loans. The crisis would lead to years of eroding wages, weak-to-negative economic growth, sky-high unemployment, severe austerity measures, and political instability — known as the “lost decade” in Latin America.

Source: mactrunk / iStock

1983: The Internet is Born
> Date: Jan. 1
> Location: Multiple

The internet as we know it today – a seemingly endless collection of websites hosted on servers scattered across the globe – is still more than a decade away. But at the beginning of 1983, the the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) — a small network for academics and researchers — transitions to the standard TCP/IP protocol of the World Wide Web. The protocol would become the internet’s cornerstone and technical foundation as it allows expanded available address space and decentralizes the network, thus also expanding accessibility.

Source: bhopalmedicalappeal / Flickr

1984: Chemicals Kill Thousands in India
> Date: Dec. 2
> Location: Bhopal, India

The chemical disaster in Bhopal is still considered history’s worst industrial disaster. About 30 tons of methyl isocyanate, an industrial gas used to make pesticide, are released at a Union Carbide Corp. plant. About 600,000 poor residents of nearby shanty towns are exposed to a highly toxic compound that kills about 15,000 people and countless farm animals, according to Indian government estimates. The calamity leads to a generation of birth defects. To this day, locals claim the now-abandoned site is riddled with toxic materials left behind by Union Carbide, which was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001.

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

1985: Reagan, Gorbachev Meet
> Date: Nov. 19
> Location: Geneva

Despite his often bellicose criticisms of the Soviet Union, Reagan agrees to meet with his counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva in the first meeting between leaders of the two Cold War foes in nearly a decade. Though the meeting yields little of substance, it starts a closer relationship between the two men who both seem committed to scaling back the nuclear arms race between the two nuclear superpowers.

Source: Space Frontiers / Getty Images

1986: Shuttle Tragedy
> Date: Jan. 28
> Location: Off the coast of Florida

The 25th mission of the U.S. space shuttle program ends with the tragic loss of seven astronauts as space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Among those killed are Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. The failure is later identified as a problem with the so-called O-rings used to form a seal in the seams of the shuttle’s external fuel tanks.