1979 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

1979 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

Quick Facts from 1979

  • World-Changing Event: Khomeini’s Iranian Revolution over Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
  • The Other World-Changing Event: The Introduction of the Sony Walkman.
  • The Top Song was My Sharona by The Knack.
  • The Movies to Watch include Alien, Rocky 2, The Muppet Movie, Apocalypse Now and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Life of Brian.
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Pope John Paul II.
  • Notable books include Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
  • US Life Expectancy: Males: 70.0 years, Females: 77.8 years
  • Minimum Wage in 1979: $2.90 per hour
    Composition book, 100 pages: 69 cents
  • The Funny Late Night Host: Johnny Carson
  • Girl Power: Fully independent in 1979, Saint Lucia is the only country in the world named after a woman

Top Ten Baby Names of 1979

Jennifer, Melissa, Amanda, Jessica, Amy, Michael, Chris, Topher, Jason, David, James

Fashion Icons and Sex Symbols

Loni Anderson, Susan Anton, Barbara Bach, Catherine Bach, Kim Basinger, Valerie Bertinelli, Jacqueline Bisset, Christie Brinkley, Lynda Carter, Bo Derek, Farrah Fawcett, Erin Gray, Shelly Hack, Debbie Harry, Marilu Henner, Lauren Hutton, Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd, Olivia Newton-John, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton, Bernadette Peters, Victoria Principal, Diana Ross, Jane Seymour, Brooke Shields, Jacquelyn Smith, Suzanne Somers, Donna Summer, Cheryl Tiegs, Charlene Tilton, Mary Woronov

Leading Men and Hollywood Heartthrobs

Gregg Allman, David Cassidy, Patrick Duffy, Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford, Andy Gibb, Mark Hamill, Julio Iglesias, Kris Kristofferson, Lee Majors, Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, Richard Roundtree, Davide Lee Roth, Sylvester Stallone, Rod Stewart, John Travolta

“The Quotes”

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
– Robert Duvall in ‘Apocalypse Now’

“Have a Coke and smile.”

“Quality is job one.”
– Ford

“Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.”
– Brooke Shields, for Calvin Klein

“Reach out and touch someone.”
– AT&T

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year:
Ayatollah Khomeini

Miss America

Kylene Barker (Roanoke, VA)

Miss USA

Mary Therese Friel (New York)

The Bad News

Ford’s Pinto automobile design allowed its fuel tank to be easily damaged during a rear-end collision, sometimes resulting in deadly fires and explosions. Ford first noticed it in 1971 tests.

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, although its minor radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public. Its aftermath brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations. A combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems, and worker errors led to TMI-2’s partial meltdown and very small off-site releases of radioactivity.

52 Americans are taken hostage in Tehran, Iran, for 444 days. Four days later, ABC’s Nightline premiered, centering on the crisis.

NASA’s Skylab fell to Earth, landing mainly in the Indian Ocean.

Rock and Roll Death: Sid Vicious (heroin overdose)

Eleven people were crushed to death outside of Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum before a concert by The Who.

Cleveland School Shooting

The Cleveland School Shooting in San Diego, CA, is remembered as one of the deadliest school shootings in United States history. On January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer opened fire on the Cleveland Elementary School from her house across the street with a rifle, killing two people and injuring eight others. She said she did it because “I don’t like Mondays.”

In response to this shooting, schools have looked for ways to protect their students better; one such measure has been to install metal detectors at school entrances, though this can be costly and time-consuming. Schools have also turned to other measures, such as improved surveillance tracking systems to protect their students from potential threats better.

1979 Pop Culture Facts & History

A song called ‘Ready ‘n’ Steady’ by ‘D.A’ appeared on several charts peaking at #102, but it is very, very hard to find.

Eight “Sea Shepherd” activists were arrested in 1979 for violating the Seal Protection Act, for spraying a thousand seal pups with permanent red dye, which made their pelts useless for hunters.

Scrappy-Doo was first added to the cast of Scooby-Doo in 1979.

Hurricanes were traditionally named only after women. After feminist groups protested over the implied slur that women alone were tempestuous and unpredictable, men’s names were also used for such weather phenomena beginning in 1979.

Australia Fined NASA $400 for littering after debris from the spacecraft “Skylab” landed in the Shire of Esperance, Western Australia. NASA never paid. Thirty years later, California DJ Scott Barley raised funds from his listeners and paid NASA’s bill. Scott got a key to the city for his efforts.

The Guardian Angels were formed in New York City as an unarmed organization of young crime fighters.

The eradication of the smallpox virus was certified.

Black and Decker released the now-famous cordless mini-vacuum, The Dustbuster.

1979 -The film The China Syndrome, a movie about a nuclear meltdown caused by a faulty sensor reading and a stuck-open pressure release valve, was released only 12 days before the 3 Mile Island Meltdown on March 28, 1979, caused by a faulty sensor reading and a stuck open pressure release valve.

Rhodesia became Zimbabwe

The highest Nielsen rating (24.1) for any basketball game in the US, college or pro, is still the 1979 NCAA Championship between Michigan State, with Magic Johnson, and Indiana State, with Larry Bird. The highest-rated and most-watched NBA Final game was Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals which averaged a 22.3 rating.

Chrysler received a $1.5 Billion government loan guarantee from the United States government.

Chip Shearin had to play bass, and Bryan Horton had to play the drums for 15 minutes straight on the 1979 song “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang because it was the days before samplers and drum machines.

Tens of thousands of rock fans gathered at Disco Demolition Night was an ill-fated baseball promotion on July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. On The Day That Disco Died, the field was ruined, and The Chicago White Sox had to forfeit the second game (of the doubleheader) to the Detroit Tigers.

Pope John Paul II visited the United States.

Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in an attempted suicide, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor by a gust of wind. Her only injury was a broken hip.

A (still) unknown group of people paid for the erection of the Georgia Guidestones, six granite slabs that instruct the survivors of an apocalyptic scenario on rebuilding a better world. The builder was told that it was planned for 20 years; it was completed in 1980.

The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, is the venue where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper gave their final performances on February 2, 1959. Each February, since 1979, the venue hosts a Winter Dance Party (the name of Holly’s last tour) in honor of the three stars.

Pushing the Envelope is a reference to a World War 2 flight envelope. WWII pilots used it to describe upper and lower conditions where the pilot could fly. To push those conditions, increased capabilities and technology. The phrase was brought into the mainstream in 1979 by Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff.

Cost of a Superbowl ad in 1979: $185,000


In January 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer was arrested after killing a principal and a custodian at an elementary school in California. When asked why she did it, she replied, “I just don’t like Mondays.” She also injured eight children and a police officer.

On January 25, 1979, Robert Williams became the first known human being killed by a robot. He was an American factory worker at the Ford Motor Company Flat Rock Casting Plant in Michigan. He was struck from behind and crushed by a one-ton cart moved by a robot arm, killing him instantly.

The Who Concert Disaster: Eleven fans were crushed to death during a crowd surge for unreserved seats before The Who rock concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.

When Australia abolished its inheritance tax in 1979, an unusually high number of parents died in the week immediately after the abolition went into effect, suggesting that many of their heirs were doing everything to keep them alive just long enough for the inheritance tax to expire.

The Mount Erebus Disaster: A plane crash in Antarctica (Air New Zealand Flight 901) in which 237 tourists and 20 crew were killed on a sightseeing flight due to an error in flight planning and a phenomenon known as “sector whiteout” in which there is no contrast between the sky and the ground.

Cold War

In the late 1980s, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was tasked by his superiors to find a mole within the agency after the FBI’s moles in the KGB were caught. In reality, he was the mole, working with the KGB since 1979.

NORAD experienced a computer glitch that alerted technicians of a widespread Russian nuclear attack on North America. The U.S. air defense program ordered the president’s “doomsday plane” to take off and warned launch control to prepare for a retaliatory attack.

Nobel Prize Winners

Physics – Sheldon Lee Glashow, Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg
Chemistry – Herbert C. Brown, Georg Wittig
Medicine – Allan M. Cormack, Godfrey N. Hounsfield
Literature – Odysseas Elytis
Peace – Mother Teresa
Economics – Theodore Schultz, Arthur Lewis

The Habit

Jogging while listening to tapes on your Sony Walkman and wearing a Lacoste preppy shirt with the famous alligator on the left side and designer jeans.

1st Appearances & 1979’s Most Popular Christmas Gifts, Toys and Presents

Walkman cassette/radio

More Firsts

Modern Sudoku was created by an American architect named Howard Garns in 1979, using the name “Number Place”. It became more popular in 1986 by the Japanese puzzle company Nikoli, under “Sudoku,” meaning “single number.”

ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) began broadcasting on September 7.

April 1st – Nickelodeon TV cable network began.

Victoria’s Secret stores opened in 1979. It went national in 1982 after being acquired by Limited Brands.

The McDonald’s Happy Meal first went on sale in 1979.

Debuting on PBS as a one-time, 13-part series, This Old House was one of the earliest home improvement shows and is arguably the most well-known.

The first use of the phrase “May the Fourth Be With You” was by a Danish political party that placed a congratulatory advertisement in The London Evening News when Margaret Thatcher took office as Prime Minister on May 4th, 1979, “May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Etan Patz was the 1st missing child to have their picture on a milk carton in 1979, and the murderer wasn’t caught till 2012.

Best Film Oscar Winner

The Deer Hunter (presented in 1979)

Broadway Shows

They’re Playing Our Song (Musical) Opened on February 11, 1979, and closed on September 6, 1981
Evita (Musical) Opened on September 25, 1979, and closed on June 26, 1983
Sugar Babies (Review) Opened on October 8, 1979, and closed on August 28, 1982

Popular and Best-selling Books From 1979

1985 by John Hackett
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Chesapeake by James Michener
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Establishment by Howard Fast
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Good as Gold by Joseph Heller
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
Memories of Another Day by Harold Robbins
Oh Say Can You Say? by Dr. Seuss
Overload by Arthur Hailey
Smiley’s People by John le Carré
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Triple by Ken Follett
War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
The White Album by Joan Didion

1979 Most Popular TV Shows

1. 60 Minutes (CBS)
2. Three’s Company (ABC)
3. That’s Incredible! (ABC)
4. Alice (CBS)
5. M*A*S*H (CBS)
6. Dallas (CBS)
7. Flo (CBS)
8. The Jeffersons (CBS)
9. The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS)
10. One Day at a Time (CBS)

1979 Billboard Number One Songs

January 6January 19:
Too Much Heaven – Bee Gees

January 20February 9:
Le Freak – Chic

February 10March 9:
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Rod Stewart

March 10March 23:
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

March 24April 6:
Tragedy – Bee Gees

April 7April 13:
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

April 14April 20:
What A Fool Believes – The Doobie Brothers

April 21April 27:
Knock on Wood – Amii Stewart

April 28May 4:
Heart of Glass – Blondie

May 5June 30:
Reunited – Peaches & Herb

June 2June 8:
Hot Stuff – Donna Summer

June 9June 15:
Love You Inside Out – Bee Gees

June 16July 29:
Hot Stuff – Donna Summer

June 30 – July 13:
Ring My Bell – Anita Ward

July 14August 17:
Bad Girls – Donna Summer

August 18August 24:
Good Times – Chic

August 25October 5:
My Sharona – The Knack

October 6October 12:
Sad Eyes – Robert John

October 13October 19:
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

October 20November 2:
Rise – Herb Alpert

November 3November 9:
Pop Muzik – M

November 10November 16:
Heartache Tonight – The Eagles

November 17November 23:
Still – The Commodores

November 24December 7:
No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) – Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer

December 8December 21:
Babe – Styx

December 22, 1979 – January 4, 1980:
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes


World Series Champions: Pittsburgh Pirates
Superbowl XIII Champions: Pittsburgh Steelers
NBA Champions: Seattle SuperSonics
Stanley Cup Champs: Montreal Canadiens
U.S. Open Golf Hale Irwin
U.S. Tennis: (Men/Ladies) John McEnroe/Tracy Austin
Wimbledon (Men/Women): Bjorn Borg/Martina Navratilova
NCAA Football Champions: Alabama
NCAA Basketball Champions: Michigan State
Kentucky Derby: Spectacular Bid

More 1979 Facts & History Resources:

Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1979X
1979 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Cambodia | Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Fact Monster
Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About 1979
1970s, Infoplease.com World History
Iranian Hostage Crisis
Iranian Revolution
1979 in Movies (according to IMDB)
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
1970s Slang
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
Wikipedia 1979