A look back at what the world was like when AOL began


Thirty-five years ago, users heard the infamous dial-up sound for the first time.

The '80s were a decade defined by major technological innovations, big hair, cult-classic movies and the start of many iconic companies, including AOL on May 24, 1985. Most basic supplies in the '80s were a fraction of the cost today. The cost of gas was just $1.12 — less than half of today's prices. Today, a gallon of milk will set you back $3.52, but in 1985, you could pick up that same gallon for $2.26. While sending letters largely seems like a thing that stayed in the past, it was inexpensive to do. A stamp was only $.20, which is less than half the $.55 cost today.

To celebrate 35 years of AOL, here's a look at some of the big moments that took place in the world at the time:

January 1, 1985 The first seat belt law was enacted

It's hard to believe, but there was a time that seat belts were optional. That all changed in 1985 when New York became the first state in the United States to require the use of a seat belt. The law took effect on January 1, 1985. Later that year, the New York Times reported that the number of drivers and passengers killed in motor vehicle accidents in the state declined by 27 percent in the first three months after the new law was in effect.

January 3. 1985 Mitch McConnell begins his first term in Senate

After serving as Judge-Executive of Jefferson County, Kentucky, for 7 years, Mitch McConnell began his first term in the U.S. Senate representing the state of Kentucky in 1985. McConnell is now the Senate majority leader and is serving his fifth term, which ends on January 3, 2021. While we are certainly familiar with McConnell's disagreements with Rep. Nancy Pelosi today, Pelosi wouldn't be elected to Congress for another two years!

January 20, 1985 Ronald Reagan's second inauguration

Long before we had a businessman-turned-reality TV star seeking re-election, an actor-turned-politician was entering his second term in office. On January 20, 1985, President Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term as president with George H.W. Bush as vice president. Reagan remains the oldest U.S. president to date to be sworn in for his second inauguration.

March 2, 1985

The FDA approves the first blood test for AIDS

The AIDS crisis ran rampant during the '80s. On March 2, 1985, the FDA approved a blood test for the disease. The first test was known as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA test. The early test wasn't designed to diagnose patients, but rather screen donated blood for possible infection, according to Time. It wasn't until later that year that President Ronald Reagan publicly mentioned AIDS. He called it "a top priority" at the time and defended his administration against criticisms that funding for AIDS research was inadequate.

March 15 The first .com domain name is registered

The first .com domain name ever registered was Symbolics.com, on March 15, 1985. The now-defunct Massachusetts-based computer manufacturer Symbolics designed and manufactured a line of Lisp machines, according to Tech Crunch. The company held the historic domain for 25 years before domain name investment company XF.com Investments purchased it for an undisclosed sum in 2009, according to Tech Crunch.

April 23, 1985 Coca-Cola changes its formula

"New Coke" was launched in 1985, much to Coke fans' disappointment. Consumers didn't like the new product and went as far as to sign petitions and protest to get their beloved flavor back. A poll at the time showed that only 13 percent of soda drinkers liked the new Coke, according to CBS News. Shortly after — 77 days to be exact — the company decided to go back to its original formula, which is the same one you taste when you crack open a Coke today.

May 13, 1985 Compact discs become mainstream

The first compact discs were stamped off the production line on August 17, 1982. Since then, 200 billion CDs have been produced — 194 billion accounted for by AOL signup disks, according to Wired. Although the CD had been around, the unofficial arrival to the mainstream came in 1985 when the rock band Dire Straits released their "Brothers in Arms" album. The album was the first fully digital recording and the first to sell one million copies in the CD format and outsell its vinyl version, CNN reported. The album went on to become the third-highest selling CD of the decade, Wired reported in 2007.

October 18, 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System launches in the United States

On October 18, 1985, Nintendo released a limited batch of NES in New York City — the first time the home console was available for purchase in the U.S. 25 years later, Wired would call the NES "the most influential video game platform of all time."

October 19, 1985 The first Blockbuster opens its doors

On October 19, 1985, the first Blockbuster video-rental store opened, in Dallas, Texas. The store was unique at the time because it offered customers 8,000 tapes on shelves and had a computerized check-out process. The selection at Blockbuster was huge compared to most video-rental stores, which often had a limited selection. The iconic company went on to be the top video-rental company in the U.S. throughout the '90s and early 2000s.

November 20, 1985 Microsoft releases the first version of Windows

The original Windows 1 was released in November 1985. Microsoft founder Bill Gates spearheaded the development, which was announced in 1983. The system relied heavily on use of a mouse before it was common to have one and was an attempt to make the desktop operating system relatively affordable, according to BYTE Magazine. The founder recently stepped down from Microsoft's board in March 2020 to dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities, the company said.

Originally published