A year full of political tensions, 1989 was a turbulent time. Salman Rushdie’s Whitbread Award winning novel The Satanic Verses caused tension between the UK and Iran, while political revolutions saw to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain which had divided Europe since 1946 was beginning to lift and the Cold War was coming to a close. Below are just some major 1989 events and more can be found in our archive of 1989 newspapers.

1989 timeline

George H W Bush at his inauguration ceremony
Image: Wikimedia Commons

1989 Timeline

  • January

    January 1: In Scotland, Old Dryfesdale village becomes the location of a memorial service to honor the passengers of Pan Am flight 103 who died in the Lockerbie air disaster. Several world leaders, including Margaret Thatcher are among the 200 people in attendance at the church service.

    January 8: 47 people are killed and 74 injured when a Boeing 737-400 crashes into an M1 embankment. Pilots of the plane report an engine failure shortly after take-off from Heathrow airport but mistakenly switched off the incorrect engine. Passengers who survive the crash with only minor cuts and bruises are found to have instinctively adopted the brace position and so since the Kegworth air disaster, the brace position becomes part of safety procedure.

    January 14: The City of Bradford in Yorkshire, England sees Muslims take to the streets to burn copies of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. The Rushdie Affair became one of the most significant 1989 events.

    January 15: A meeting of 35 European countries takes place in Vienna. Spokespersons for each nation agree to work towards improving trade between East and Western Europe.

    January 17: In Stockton, California lone gunman Patrick Edward Purdy commits mass murder, killing five children, and wounding over thirty more before turning the gun on himself.

    January 20: In Washington DC, George H. W. Bush is sworn in to become the 41st President of the United States.

    January 23: The second earthquake in two months hits the Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikstan killing around 275 people.

    January 23: Spanish artist Salvador Dali dies, aged 84.

    January 24: America’s most infamous serial killer, Ted Bundy is put to death by electric chair in the state of Florida. Bundy’s execution is seen as a cause for celebration across the USA. 

    January 25: Comedian and actor John Cleese wins a court case against British tabloid the Daily Mirror for an article published about his alleged behavior during filming of the hit movie A Fish Called Wanda.

    1989 timeline

    Salvador Dali
    Image: Wikimedia Commons

  • February

    February 1: New York City welcomes Diana, Princess of Wales on her first visit without Prince Charles accompanying her.

    February 11: In Massachusetts, America Barbara Harris becomes first ever female bishop in the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury, among others, openly opposes her becoming ordained.

    February 14: The first satellite of the Global Positioning System is launched into orbit, one of a total of 24 satellites to be placed around the Earth. This satellite operates for just over 11 years before being retired on 26th March 2000.

    February 15: First Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses on charges of blasphemy. Within days of this decree, a bounty is placed on Rushdie’s head for a sum of money somewhere between two and three million dollars.

    February 15: The Soviet–Afghan War ends as the last Soviet Union troops leave Kabul, ending their military occupation which began in 1979.

    February 16: Investigations into the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 reveal that Pan Am Flight 103: was caused a bomb concealed within a cassette player.

    February 17: Following the murder of a 14-year-old in Johannesburg, South African police raid anti-apartheid activist, Winnie Mandela’s home and arrest four bodyguards.

    February 20: Continuing the 1989 timeline of IRA related incidents, Clive Barracks in Shropshire is damaged in a bombing which injures two soldiers.

    February 24: Japan’s late Emperor, Hirohito’s state funeral takes place. The formal event is attended by many world leaders, including current president George H Bush, who attends as part of his second international state visit as president.

    February 24: United Airlines Flight 811, experiences uncontrolled decompression after the cargo door malfunctions. Nine passengers aboard the Boeing 747 die after their seats are sucked out of the cabin. The aircraft lands safely back at Honolulu airport and an investigation goes on to find that at least one previous aircraft suffered a similar malfunction and the crash was caused by electrical failings of the locking mechanism and poor design of the cargo door.


    March 1: Iceland’s beer prohibition, which has been in place since 1st January 1915, ends.  This is celebrated as the first bjórdagur (translation: beer day) an annual celebration which takes place every 1st March from 1989 onward.

    March 2: CFC gasses (chlorofluorocarbons) are banned from being produced. In a meeting of twelve European Community nations, it is agreed that the production of CFCs will completely cease by the end of the century.

    March 2: The Madonna single Like a Prayer is featured on a Pepsi commercial, one day before the artist releases the song officially. The advert is pulled one month later after boycotts from religious groups are widely publicized. Pepsi also pull sponsorship for Madonna’s Like a Prayer world tour, which is subsequently canceled.

    March 4: Five people die and a further 88 are injured when two trains collide near Purley railway station, in London. One of the train drivers admits passing a signal he should not have and is convicted of manslaughter. It takes five days to remove the derailed trains and clean debris; the track will not be reopened until March 27.

    March 6: Another two trains collide, this time in Bellgrove, Glasgow. Two people are killed.

    March 13: Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web as a way of sharing information between computers.

    March 20: Senior Royal Ulster Constabulary officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan are killed by the IRA as they cross the border from Northern Ireland. These are the highest ranking officers to be killed as part of the Troubles in Ireland.

    March 22: An asteroid known officially as 4581 Asclepius passes by Earth missing us by 430,000 miles (700,000 kilometers). In astrological terms this is a very close call; if the asteroid passed our orbit 6 hours earlier, a collision with the force of 12 atomic bombs would occur.

    March 23: Cold fusion is achieved at Utah University by electrochemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann. Scientists who try to replicate results all fail and by the end of the year the pursuit of cold fusion is considered a dead end.

    March 29: The Oscar for Best Picture is awarded to Rain Man along with 3 further gongs. Who Framed Roger Rabbit also wins four of the coveted trophies.


    April 5: Construction of the Channel Tunnel to connect England to France is delayed as 500 workers go on strike to protest working conditions and wages.

    April 7: 42 crewmen are killed when a fire breaks out in the engine room of Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets. The nuclear warheads aboard sink, along with the submarine, just south of Bear Island in the Barents Sea.

    April 15: The Lincoln Savings and Loan Association is made defunct as it is seized by the US government. It is estimated that around 23,000 investors are defrauded, and many lose their life savings. Considered one of the pivotal events in the Savings and Loan crisis in America which took place in the 1980s and ‘90s.

    April 15: In England, 94 soccer fans die when Liverpool play Nottingham Forest due to overcrowding at the stadium. Dubbed the Hillsborough disaster, two further casualties die in hospital and as many as 766 people are injured. Still known as one of the biggest tragedies in English soccer, many clubs go on to remove fencing within their own stadiums. 

    April 19: 28-year-old Trisha Meili is attacked while jogging in Central Park, New York along with eight others. Widely publicized, Meili is dubbed The Central Park Jogger by the press as her identity is kept secret.

    April 19: The gun turret aboard the USS Iowa battleship explodes and kills 47 crew members. Two investigations are conducted to find the cause of the explosion, but they return conflicting results. Further investigation is not undertaken and an apology is issued to the victim’s families.

    April 20: The majority of workers on the London Underground go on strike in protest of plans for driver-only operated trains.

    April 20: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) debate redesigning and modernizing short-range missiles. However, West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl causes the decision to be deferred.

    April 25: Motorola launches the world’s smallest mobile phone. The MicroTAC is designed to fit in a shirt pocket, weighing 12.3oz (350g) and measures about 9 inches (23cm). The average price for the cell phone stands at $3,000.

    April 26: Bangladesh is hit by its most deadly tornado. The Daulatpur–Saturia tornado, kills an estimated 1,300 people and injures around 12,000 more.

    1989 Timeline

    Motorola’s MicroTAC cellular phone
    Image: Wikimedia Commons


    May 1: Detainees of Risley Detention Centre in Cheshire begin a riot and 54 prisoners stay on the roof of the prison for three days demanding better conditions within the prison. 

    May 3: In Moscow, construction of the USSR’s first McDonald’s restaurant begins. It will open on 31st January 1990.

    May 4: Margaret Thatcher becomes the first British Prime Minister of the 20th century to remain in office for ten years.

    May 11: As part of Operation Nimrod Dancer, President Bush orders 1,900 American troops to Panama to protect Americans there as tensions rise between the Noriega dictatorship and the United States.

    May 12: A Southern Pacific freight locomotive derails in a residential area of San Bernardino, California. Four people are killed and seven houses destroyed. Clean-up efforts cause damage to the petroleum pipeline which runs adjacent to the tracks and an explosion occurs on 25th May. Two more people are killed and 11 houses burn down.

    May 14: Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev visits China, making him the first Soviet leader to visit the country since the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s.

    May 17: Beijing sees one million protesters, mainly students, march through the streets to demand greater democracy. This causes leaders to declare martial law and move troops to the city.

    May 20: The FA Cup final becomes a Merseyside derby as Liverpool play rivals Everton. Liverpool win their fourth trophy with a score of 3-2 after extra time.

    May 24: Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe’s wife, Sonia wins a court battle against satirical magazine Private Eye. The publication is ordered to pay £600,000 in damages

    May 29: NATO agrees to meet with the Soviet Union to discuss reducing the amount of short-range nuclear cruise missiles in Europe.


    June 2: Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams is released in the United States.

    June 4: 800 people are injured and 645 killed as two passing trains throw sparks near a leaky gas pipeline in Ufa, Russia. Many survivors are horrifically burned.

    June 5: Military tanks in Beijing are halted by an unknown protester. The Chinese man is photographed by Western photographers and dubbed Tank Man. The image of the lone protester becomes one of the most iconic photos in history.

    June 7: Low visibility due to fog over Paramaribo, Suriname causes Surinam Airways Flight 764 to crash upon landing. 176 people, including all nine crew members, die.

    June 12: Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment exhibition tour is removed from The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The photographs within the exhibition showed controversial gay imagery.

    June 8: The Bismarck wreck is found 960 kilometres off the coast of France. The German battleship sank during its final battle in May 1941. The vessel was discovered by oceanographer, Robert Ballard, the same man who discovered the wreck of the Titanic. At first Ballad doesn’t reveal the exact location as he’s worried about others stealing artefacts from the sunken battleship. 

    June 13: Timothy Dalton appears for his second role as James Bond as Licence to Kill premieres in Leicester Square, London.

    June 16: Highly anticipated sequel Ghostbusters II is released in the United States.

    June 21: 800 British police arrest 250 people who travelled to celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge. A four-mile exclusion zone is set up around the ancient site to prevent the gathering. All arrests are made peacefully, unlike scenes of previous Stonehenge Solstice celebrations.

    June 22: The London Underground grinds to a halt again as workers stage another one-day strike.


    July 5: A secret meeting between State President of South Africa, P. W. Botha and prisoner Nelson Mandela takes place. It is the first time the two have met face to face to begin discussions to end apartheid.

    July 11: As a result of the National Dock Labour Board being abolished, Britain’s dock workers going on strike in protest of losing their Dock Labour Scheme. The scheme had ensured the workers had a ‘job for life’ and this is no longer guaranteed.

    July 14: Leaders gathering for the 15th G7 summit, over the next three days they discuss numerous global issues including calling for gas emission restrictions to help the environment.

    July 18: Actress and model Rebecca Schaeffer is shot by an obsessed 19-year-old fan Robert John Bardo. Bardo had obtained her address via a private investigator. Schaeffer’s death leads to stricter stalking laws in California and the DMV is no longer allowed to share private addresses.

    July 19: The rear engine of United Airlines Flight 232 fails leading to a crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa. 112 of the 296 on board are killed.

    July 25: The Landmark Aids Centre in South London is officially opened by Diana, Princess of Wales. The princess makes headlines by openly shaking hands with director Jonathan Grimshaw, who was diagnosed with HIV five years ago.

    July 26: Robert Tappan Morris becomes the first person to ever be convicted under the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for releasing a computer virus back in 1988. Morris’ worm was released onto the internet to highlight the infected computers’ security flaws. He receives 3 years’ probation, 400 hours community service and a fine.

    July 27: The longest ever prison sentence is given to Mae Chamoy Thipyaso and her accomplices for defrauding as many as 16,231 people in her Thai pyramid scheme. Each of them is sentenced to 141,078 years in prison.

    July 31: United Nations Security Council Resolution 638 is adopted as a result of Hezbollah’s murder of captive United Stats Marine, Lt. Col. William R. Higgins in Lebanon. Resolution 638 condemns the taking of hostages by both sides of conflicts.

    July 31: North Americans can now purchase Nintendo’s portable video game system, the Game Boy. The hand-held game console can be purchased for $89.99.

    1989 Timeline

    Human chain the Baltic Way
    Image: Wikimedia Commons


    August 1: In Cleveland, England Charlotte Hughes celebrates her 112th birthday. This makes her the oldest living person in Britain.

    August 8: The first mission NASA launch since the Challenger disaster in ’86; STS-28 is launched on a secret five-day mission for the US Department of Defense. The mission is labelled a success and Space Shuttle Columbia returns safely to Earth on 13th August.

    August 9: Asteroid 4769 Castalia is discovered, becoming the first asteroid to be imaged by radar.

    August 13: The deadliest ever ballooning disaster in Australian history takes place. Thirteen people are killed when two hot air balloons collide near Alice Springs, Australia. 

    August 17: Electronic tagging is introduced in the UK. Criminals can now be monitored and located via an ankle bracelet.

    August 19: Thousands of Austrians and Hungarians gather at the boarder of their countries to take part in The Pan-European Picnic. This peace demonstration is another event to incite political change and bring down the Iron Curtain.

    August 20: Two boats on the river Thames in London collide at 1am. 51 people are killed when pleasure boat, the Marchioness collides with dredger, Bowbelle. The weight of the dredging vessel pushes the pleasure boat underwater with no time for those aboard to utilize the lifeboats. 79 people from the Marchioness survive.

    August 23: Two million people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania join hands to form the Baltic Way, a human chain stretching 600 km (373 miles). Their peaceful protest is a demand for independence from Soviet occupation.

    August 23: A dispute over wages comes to an end when all 1,645 pilots in Australia resign. The strike damages the country’s tourist industry and the Australian Prime Minister declares a national emergency.

    August 24: To strike back at the latest government crackdown, Colombia drug traffickers begin a series of arson attacks and bombings. The Medellin cocaine cartel state “”We declare total and absolute war on the Government”.


    September 6: In Paris, 41,000 people guilty of minor traffic violations are accused of more serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter and prostitution, due to a computer error. Legal notices of the serious offences are mailed to each of the accused. 

    September 7: The IRA murder Heidi Hazell. The German citizen was the wife of British Army staff sergeant is shot at least a dozen times. Her murder follows previous warnings by the IRA for civilians to stay clear of British soldiers.

    September 8: A Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcon reports Partnair Flight 394 flying off course and appearing to crash into the North Sea. The chartered flight’s rudder malfunctioned shortly after take-off from Oslo airport and all 55 aboard are killed.

    September 12: In another strike to hit Great Britain, 19,000 ambulance crew members go on strike. Army troops and police officers are recruited to drive ambulances until the pay increase dispute is resolved.

    September 14: Joseph T. Wesbecker, an aggrieved worker on long-term disability leave enters Standard Gravure, a printing company in Kentucky, and walks through the offices shooting his former colleagues. 12 are injured and eight die before Wesbecker turns the gun on himself.

    September 17: Hurricane Hugo hits the Caribbean and south-east states in America. The storm kills 71 and causes billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

    September 19: A terrorist bomb aboard UTA Flight 772 explodes as it flies over Niger. All 171 people aboard die.

    September 22: Deal barracks in Kent, England are bombed by the IRA. The Royal Marine School of Music had a timed bomb planted, leaving 11 musicians dead.

    September 22: In the court case Doe v. University of Michigan: the University of Michigan’s 1988 hate speech law is deemed to be in violation of the United States Constitution, where all citizens have the right to free speech.

    September 22: Viewers in the US see David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson run along a beach as Baywatch is shown for the first time.


    October 2: Denmark becomes the first country to legalize same-sex unions. Six couples legally register their homosexual relationships in a specially held ceremony. This allows them the same rights as married couples, though they are not given the right to adopt or have joint custody of a child.

    October 7: The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the Dalai Lama.

    October 9: Thousands of people gather in the East German city of Leipzig to peacefully demonstrate their right to freedom and democracy.

    October 17: 63 people die when the Loma Prieta earthquake hits the Central Coast and San Francisco Bay Area. Broadcasters covering the baseball World Series are interrupted and games are postponed for ten days as a result of the earthquake.

    October 18: Unmanned orbiter Galileo is launched from Space Shuttle Atlantis and begins its mission to study Jupiter.

    October 19: Four men convicted of bombing two pubs in Guildford, England are released. The Guildford Four had been imprisoned for 14 years but have had their names cleared as it was determined their original sentence had been given without sufficient evidence.

    October 22: Ayrton Senna hits his McLaren teammate, and personal rival Alain Prost during the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. The crash sees the two skid onto an escape road. Prost can no longer continue the race and Senna is later disqualified for re-entering onto the track incorrectly.

    October 23: In Pasadena, Texas 23 people die when the Phillips chemical plant explodes. 314 employees are injured, and the resulting blaze takes ten hours to be brought under control.

    October 24: Riots begin in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar, India. Religiously motivated, these riots kill nearly 1,000 people.

    October 30: Following the enforcement of the Flag Protection Act, Shawn Eichman, Dave Blalock, Dread Scott and Joey Johnson burn American flags on the U.S. Capitol Building steps. Their protest was to highlight that this new act was a violation of their First Amendment rights.


    1989 Timeline

    East meets West at the Brandenburg Gate
    Image: Wikipedia


    November 4: Thailand’s Chumphon Province is devastated by Typhoon Gay.

    November 4: In East Berlin half a million people gather in Alexanderplatz to protest against communist rule in East Germany.

    November 9: The Berlin wall falls and for the first time in decades East Germany opens checkpoints to allow its citizens to travel freely to West Germany.

    November 10: After flying for 99 days, Gaby Kennard becomes the first Australian woman to circumnavigate around the world. She credits her inspiration to her childhood hero, Amelia Earhart .

    November 16: In El Salvador, Six Jesuit priests are murdered by Salvadoran soldiers. Reports of the murders highlight the violence of the Salvadorian civil war.

    November 17: Students taking part in a peaceful demonstration are severely beaten by riot police in Prague, Czechoslovakia. This instigates a revolution aimed at bringing down the Communist government.

    November 22: President René Moawad, is killed In West Beirut when a bomb explodes near his motorcade.

    November 27: The Medellín drug cartel attempt to kill César Gaviria Trujillo by bombing a domestic passenger flight. All people aboard Avianca Flight 203 are killed but Gaviria is not on board. He goes on to become a successful presidential candidate in the 1990 Colombian election.

    November 30: Chairman of Deutsche Bank, Alfred Herrhausen dies when a 15.4lb (7kg) bomb explodes next to his car as he is chauffeured to work.


    December 2: SolarMax, the research satellite crashes. The Solar Maximum Mission satellite burned up in our atmosphere over the Indian Ocean.

    December 3: The Unity Party in East Germany all resign now that communist rule has ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall

    December 3: President George H. W. Bush meets with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev at the Malta Summit. The two world leaders release statements indicating the Cold War may be coming to an end.

    December 6: In Bogotá, Colombia 52 people die and around 1,000 more are injured when The DAS Building is bombed. The Medellín Cartel are suspected of the attack.

    December 11: A group of 6 explorers from 6 different nations reach the South Pole. The International Trans-Antarctica Expedition will end in March 1990 and takes a total of 220 days.

    December 14: Chile’s military regime ends as the first election in 16 years is held. Patricio Aylwin becomes the new president of Chile.

    December 15: Infamous drug baron, El Mexicano is killed by Colombian police. José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha tried to flee from police but is killed along with his bodyguards in a shootout.

    December 17: America is introduced to the iconic Simpsons family as the first episode premieres television.

    December 20: The United States invades Panama and Operation Just Cause is launched. The goal is to overthrow dictator Manuel Noriega and restore democracy to the country.

    December 28: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 hits Newcastle, New South Wales in Australia. 13 people are killed.

    Tiananmen Square

    What began as a protest for a free press, democracy and freedom of speech, became a government crackdown and massacre in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. 

    The recent allowance of some private companies to operate within communist China raised hopes of many for a possibility of greater political openness. On April, 15 the death of Hu Yaobang, a pro-reform leader, made him a martyr for the cause of liberating China from communism.  Students within China, many of whom had lived abroad and so had been exposed to higher standards of living and free democracy, organised a mass demonstration on the day of Hu’s funeral. Several more demonstrations in the square took place over the next few weeks and media coverage of these inspired more student-led protests and hunger strikes across China’s other major cities. 

    At first, the government had taken no direct action against the protesting citizens, but eventually declared martial law in Beijing at the end of May 1989. Protesters continued to gather and on June 4th, Chinese troops stormed the square, firing into the crowd. Official figures released by China state 200 civilians died, however thousands of people are actually thought to have died.

    As tanks moved through the square on June 5th, a lone man carrying two shopping bags blocked their way. The photograph, taken by a western photographer, became iconic but Tank Man has never been identified.