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James Logie

10 Inventions You Probably Didn't Know Were From the 1980s

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James Logie
James Logie
 2021-05-07

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Photo by Chris Ried on Unsplash

The 1980s gave us a lot of things; acid-washed jeans, leg warmers, and other terrible fashion choices.

But it was also a decade of tremendous technological advancements.

There are several significant 1980s inventions that not only made life more convenient — but changed the way our world worked.

Some inventions also changed the course of pop culture.

You may associate some of these things with being created earlier — or much later — but these iconic inventions were all from the 80s.

Let’s look back on some of those top inventions, whether they were big or small.

The Artificial Heart

This feels like an older invention, but the artificial goes back to December 2nd, 1982.

The idea with the artificial heart was that it would be a temporary fix while people waited for a real one.

Barney Clark from Seattle was the first person to receive an artificial heart. Clark was a dentist who actually volunteered to try out the experimental surgery.

The artificial heart was created by a man named Dr. Robert Jarvik who created it at the University of Utah.

Even though he created it, Jarvik didn’t perform the surgery. That honor went to Dr. William DeVries.

The artificial heart would be named in Jarvik’s honor and was called the Jarvik7.

The first surgery was a success and the Jarvik7 would now be used far and wide as the temporary placeholder for those waiting for a real heart.

MTV

“Ladies and gentlemen, rock n’ roll.”

These were the first words spoken when MTV first launched, and it would forever change pop culture.

MTV debuted on August 1st, 1981, and the very first music video played was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.

Music and culture would never be the same. For the first time, unique bands and music were available all over the country.

The advancement of cable television allowed for bands to be seen beyond their local area.

It also presented a problem. For the first time, bands and artists really had to think about the way they presented themselves visually.

Before MTV, you just had to worry about tours and album sales, but now — they had a brand new visual medium to deal with.

This was tough for some artists that weren’t exactly “visually appealing.” But this new format did work well for British artists.

Artists in the UK had been presenting themselves on video for years thanks to shows like “Top of the Pops.”

They knew the importance of appearance and production values to showcase their music.

The bands and artists from the UK in the 80s grew up watching Top of the Pops so when MTV launched — they were ready, and they took the new platform by storm.

The new “video jockeys” or “VJs” became celebrities in their own rights, and MTV would be required viewing for anyone who was young — or claimed to be young.

Chicken McNuggets

Not an earth-shattering invention — but we’ve all had Chicken McNuggets at some point, so they’ve made their mark.

This is one that I always thought came from much earlier, like the late 60s or early 70s. But Chicken McNuggets are an 80s creation.

The idea came about from a McDonald’s food supplier who provided frozen beef to McDonald's.

He believed they needed some sort of chicken item — but bite-sized and with no bones.

McDonald's turned to a world-renowned French chef to design them. The chef's name was Rene Arend, who had cooked for celebrities and royalty.

Despite his great culinary history, Arend said McNuggets was his greatest creation, as they would be remembered after he was long gone.

He went over countless designs of the tempura batter that would give them the perfect crunch.

He also experimented with hundreds of sauces before landing on BBQ, hot mustard, and sweet and sour.

Chicken McNuggets started with a trial launch in 1981, before being launched nationwide in 1983.

It wouldn’t take long for them to become one of the most famous fast food items of all time.

DNA Fingerprinting

Now on to more serious matters. This is another invention that you may have thought was older than the 1980s.

DNA fingerprinting was created in 1984 by a geneticist at the University of Leicester in England.

Dr. Alec Jeffries had been studying heredity family diseases when he discovered that there were repetitive patterns of DNA in humans.

He continued to research this and found that there were variations between a person’s DNA.

Unless a person had an identical twin, the variations in human DNA could be used to identify a specific individual.

This new discovery was called “genetic fingerprinting.” It forever changed how crimes could be investigated.

The Disposable Camera

You might have to ask your parents what a disposable camera was depending on how old you are.

The Disposable camera came out in 1987 and was developed (my attempt at photography humor, forgive me) by photography leader, Kodak.

They released a 24-shot disposable camera called “The Fling.”

No one realized that there was an enormous market for this, and after Kodak led the way, many other companies jumped on board.

The Fling cost $6.95 when it was first released and converted for today, that’s around $16. That seems more reasonable than I remember. If they released something like this today, I could see it selling for a lot more.

The disposable camera found immediate success and their sales rose from 3 million in 1988, to 21.5 million in 1992.

The Nintendo Game Boy

Many think of the Game Boy as a 90s creation, but it makes the cut coming in during 1989.

It’s hard to distinguish if the Game Boy is a toy or a video game, but ultimately — it’s probably a bit of both.

Portable video games had existed for years, but the Game Boy took it to the next level. This was like taking your NES wherever you went.

Nintendo had changed the landscape of video games forever with the Nintendo Entertainment System, and they struck while the iron was hot in 1989.

Despite being black and white, kids didn’t seem to care. A big feature with the Game Boy was the familiar Nintendo control pad built right into it.

The incredible success of the game Tetris helped launch the Game Boy into the stratosphere.

The Game Boy first came out in Japan in April 1989 before being released in North America in July of that same year.

The Game Boy would sell 40,000 units in its first day, and it was off and running to be the hottest selling toy of 1989.

The Personal Computer

Personal computing emerged in the 1970s, but the PC really didn’t enter our homes until the 80s.

One big reason for this was they started to shrink in size. You didn’t need a small room just to hold it.

They also had some more computing power and were starting to (relatively) come down in price.

Computers seemed to be for hobbyists, but many were starting to see their everyday applications.

A wide range of video games were also becoming available, and that helped to drive up interest.

IBM paved the way for the personal computer in 1981. The IBM 5150 PC was the notable PC release. It had an Intel 8088 processor and ran version 1.0 of the PC DOS operating system.

The 5150 would be the basis for what future PC’s would become. When it was released, the 5150 sold for $1565 which converted for today is around $4400.

This is a huge topic to cover in a short section, but everything would change in 1984.

This is when Apple released the Macintosh, which took the personal computer to the next level.

The Walkman

The Walkman is a bigger invention than you may realize. For the first time, people could now take their music on the go.

The music listening experience became much more personal with the invention of the Walkman.

There had been portable transistor radios, but you were limited to whatever it was the stations were playing.

With the Walkman, you now had complete control over what you listened to. Your music collection now went wherever you did.

No one could hear what you were listening to, and you could enjoy music that you might have been embarrassed to play out loud — while still being in public.

The Walkman would pave the way for the Discman and then the Mp3 players of the future, including the iPod, and then the iPhone.

But it all started with the Walkman. The Walkman was created as a solution to a problem. The then-president of Sony wanted to be able to listen to his music while traveling.

He only had a big TC-D5 cassette recorder to take with him, and that wasn’t cutting it.

He requested that a smaller device be created that would primarily be used for playback. The first version they came up with was called the “Pressman.”

It wasn’t great but put in motion what would become the first Walkman.

This device wasn’t called the Walkman just yet, but was classified as the TPS-L2. In June 1980, the TPS-L2 would be launched in America, but it needed a new name.

They went back to that original “Pressman” but swapped in the verb ‘Walk’ to describe what it was for.

They rolled the Walkman out with an effective marketing campaign that really pushed the concept of individualization.

It became the must-have accessory the same way the iPod and its white earbuds would be decades later.

Sony hoped to tell 5,000 units a month. They sold 50,000 in its first two months.

The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x

That name might mean nothing to you, but this is the first true commercial mobile phone.

When you think of the 1980s, you probably picture those giant Zack Morris cell phones that were the size of a small suitcase.

The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x is the godfather of all cell phones. When it came out in 1983, the 8000x cost an eye-watering $4000. Converted for today that’s over $10,000. Yikes.

The concept of a mobile phone seemed like a gimmick — and only for the rich — but the DynaTAC was truly mind-blowing.

For the first time, you could actually make and receive calls in public without being attached to anything.

It would be a long time until mobile phones became a standard item in the lives of many, but the 8000x was the true original.

We’ve come a long way from that giant accessory to the phone you may be reading this on right now.

The Space Shuttle

If the Space Shuttle was released today, I think it would still seem like a groundbreaking invention.

A plane that could fly in space was something from science fiction — but it happened in the 1980s.

The Space Shuttle doesn’t just go back to the 80s, but the early 80s. The fact that this is a creation with roots in the 60s' and 70s makes it even more astounding.

The Space Shuttle Columbia launched on April 12, 1981, and changed the trajectory of NASA — for good and bad reasons.

The Amazing thing with the Space shuttle was not only could it be used in space, but it could also fly back, land, and be used again.

The Space Shuttle was more than a space plane. This was a functioning laboratory that could be used while in orbit.

Astronauts, scientists, and researchers could now conduct experiments while orbiting the Earth.

The Space Shuttle was also crucial for providing maintenance in space and transporting important payloads.

Final Thoughts

The 80s gave us a lot more than crimped hair and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies. It was a time where technological advancements were progressing by leaps and bounds.

We didn’t just get inventions that changed the course of humankind, but made day-to-day life easier.

We saw some big changes in pop culture, and multimedia was really taking off.

This is the decade where we got more personal technology such as home video games, CD players, camcorders, and cable TV.

It’s hard to narrow down all the top creations from this decade, but hopefully, this list gives you a nice snapshot of the various inventions the 1980s gave us.