These Rad 1980s Inventions Changed American Life Forever!

The 1980s were all about big hair, loud colors, crazy music fads, and the Cold War … right? That may be how we remember the greatest decade of all time, but the truth is, the 80s also gave birth to some amazing innovations that changed the world forever. Which of these gnarly 1980s inventions was most important to YOU?

Chicken McNuggets

You can’t talk about 1980s inventions without mentioning Chicken McNuggets. These bite-sized pieces of fried chicken are a huge part of the American diet, but did you know they were first introduced in 1983? That’s when McDonald’s head chef Rene Arend had an idea that would change fast food forever and create one of the world’s most recognizable foods.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

The 1980s were a time of great video game innovation, and one of the most iconic was Nintendo’s NES. This innovative console had advanced graphics and sound unheard-of in 1980s games, but more importantly it introduced America to gaming as an art form.

Kids today might not realize how big this 1980s invention is, but their parents (grandparents!) certainly do.

Artificial Heart

The 1980s were a whirlwind of innovations in health care, with the artificial heart arguably coming out on top. In 1982 Dr. Robert Jarvik implanted his first device into Barney Clark to keep him alive. Clark died in early 1983, after just 112 days of “bionic” life, but he helped pave the way for a modern era of organ transplants.

DNA Fingerprinting

In 1984, British biologist Alec Jeffreys created DNA fingerprinting–a technique that allowed a person’s genetic information to be used as evidence in criminal investigations.

Although Jeffreys is rightly credited with pulling together the science into a comprehensive tool, it was Jeffrey Glassberg, a researcher from Rockefeller University, who filed the first patent for using DNA variations in forensics..

CD Player

In 1982, Sony introduced the CD player. It was a huge improvement over cassettes and records because it had better audio quality and didn’t wear out as fast from being played.

The format became even more popular when Philips created the Compact Disc Recordable (CD-R) in 1988; it allowed consumers to record their own music CDs for the first time and also moved the CD into position for use with personal computers.


The 1980s saw the rise of camcorders, right alongside VCRs. The cameras were bulky, expensive and difficult to use but still convenient compared to older alternatives, and they allowed you to see your life unfold in beautiful Betamax or VHS format. But which would prevail?

Microsoft Windows

The 1980s saw Microsoft Windows come into being, and it was a major innovation in PC operating systems. The most popular version of the software was arguably Windows XP; but when the 1980s began, Microsoft was just getting started with the in-your-face graphical interface, which would be modified to become more user friendly over time.

Disposable Camera

The 1980s also saw the invention of disposable cameras. These were a major advancement in photography because they made it easy to take pictures and then toss them aside, without having to worry about developing or disposing of the film.

In actuality, throwaway cameras had been around for about 100 years by then, but it wasn’t until Kodak’s 1980s breakthrough that they became popular and ubiquitous.

Nintendo Gameboy

The 1980s also ushered in a new era of gaming with Nintendo’s debut of the Gameboy. It was released globally on April 21, 1989 and offered hand-held gaming anywhere you wanted to go. Who needs a cell phone when you already have a Gameboy to play with?

Stealth Planes

The 1980s also saw innovation in the military. One of the most interesting 1980s inventions was Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk, better known as a Stealth Plane. These planes were designed to be invisible to radar and fly undetected deep into hostile territory while carrying massive payloads (sometimes nuclear bombs), making them one of the deadliest weapons.

(Like 1980s Inventions? Then you might like our article on 1970s Inventions, click here.)

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