- 1 January - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America comes into existence, creating the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.
- 2 January - Georgia celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- January 9 - Connecticut celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- January 26 - Australia celebrates its bicentennial day.
- February 3 - The United States House of Representatives rejects President Ronald Reagan's request for $36.25 million to support Nicaraguan Contras.
- February 6 - Massachusetts celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- February 11 - Anthony M. Kennedy is appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- February 13 - The 1988 Winter Olympics open in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- February 17 - US Lieutenant Colonel William R. Higgins, serving with a United Nations group monitoring a truce in southern Lebanon is kidnapped (captors later kill him)
- February 21 - On his own televangelism program being taped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jimmy Swaggart confesses that he is guilty of an unspecified sin and will be temporarily leaving the pulpit. The "unspecified sin" was an affair with a prostitute.
- February 24 - The Supreme Court of the United States sides with Hustler magazine by overturning a lower court decision to award Jerry Falwell $200,000 for defamation (see Hustler Magazine v. Falwell)
- February 28 - The 1988 Winter Olympics close.
- February 29 - Nazi document implicates Kurt Waldheim in WWII deportations
- March 1 - Anthony M. Frank is appointed United States Postmaster General
- March 7 - Operation Flavius - The SAS shoot dead three unarmed Irish Republican Army members in Gibraltar.
- March 8 - Two United States Army helicopters collide in Fort Campbell, Kentucky killing 17 servicemen
- March 9 - Students at Gallaudet University go on strike for the selection of a Deaf university president
- March 16 - The Halabja poison gas attack was carried out by Iraqi government forces.
- March 16 - Iran-Contra Affair: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Vice Admiral John Poindexter are indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
- March 19 - British army Corporals Woods and Howes are killed by the IRA in the so-called "Corporals killings".
- March 24 - Israeli court sentences Mordechai Vanunu to 18 years in prison for disclosing Israel's nuclear program to The Sunday Times
- March 29 - Assassination of Dulcie September in Paris
- April 4 - Governor Evan Mecham of Arizona is convicted in his impeachment trial and removed from office.
- April 10 - The Great Seto Bridge opened to traffic in Japan
- April 12 - Former pop singer Sonny Bono is elected mayor of Palm Springs, California
- April 14 - In Geneva Agreement, Soviet Union commits itself to withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan
- April 14 - USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) strikes a mine in the Persian Gulf while deployed on Operation Earnest Will
- April 16 - Israeli commandos kill PLO's Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad) in Tunisia
- April 18 - U.S. Navy forces retaliate for the Roberts mining with Operation Praying Mantis, a day of strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels
- April 25 - In Israel John Demjanuk is sentenced to death for war crimes committed in World War II. He was accused of being a notorious guard at the Treblinka extermination camp known as "Ivan the Terrible" by survivors. Conviction overturned by Israeli Supreme Court.
- April 28 - Maryland celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- April 28 - Aloha Flight 243 loses in flight several yards of its upper fuselage; extraordinarily, the craft lands with only one fatality.
- April 30 - World Expo '88 opens in Brisbane Queensland Australia. The exhibition runs for 6 months hosting pavilions from over
70 countries and thrusts the sleepy city of Brisbane into the international spotlight.
- May 15 - Soviet war in Afghanistan: After more than eight years of fighting, the Red Army begins its withdraw from Afghanistan.
- May 16 - A report by the Surgeon General C. Everett Koop states that the addictive properties of nicotine are similar to those of heroin and cocaine.
- May 16 - California v. Greenwood: In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States rules that police officers do not need a search warrant to search through discarded garbage.
- May 23 - South Carolina celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- May 24 - Section 28 (outlawing promotion of homosexuality in schools) is passed as law by Parliament in the United Kingdom.
- June 6 - Queen Elizabeth strips jockey Lester Piggott of his OBE
- June 21 - New Hampshire celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- June 25 - Virginia celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- June 25 - The Netherlands defeat the Soviet Union 2-0 to win Euro 88.
- June 28 - Four workers asphyxiated at a metal-plating plant in Auburn, Indiana, in the worst confined-space industrial accident in US history. A fifth victim dies two days later.
- June 29 - United States Supreme Court upholds the law allowing special prosecutor to investigate suspected crimes by executive branch officials.
- July 1 - Bologna, Italy: Quartetto Cetra's last concert after over forty years' musical career.
- July 3 - Iran Air Flight 655 shot down by missiles launched from the USS Vincennes ship
- July 6 - The Piper Alpha drilling platform in the North Sea is destroyed by explosions and fires killing 165 oil workers and 2 rescue mariners.
- July 26 - New York celebrates its bicentennial statehood.
- July 30¨- Antonio Gomes dos Santos stands motionless in a Lisbon, Portugal shopping center for 15 hours, 2 minutes and 55 seconds
- August 6–7 - "Police riot" in New York City's Tompkins Square Park
- August 8 - Thousands of protestors in Burma (Myanmar) killed during demonstrations against the government.
- August 9 - Wayne Gretzky is traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in one of the most controversial transactions in hockey history.
- August 17 - Pakistan President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and US Ambassador Arnold Raphel are killed in a plane crash.
- August 19 - Ceasefire begins in the Iran-Iraq war
- August 20 - Iran-Iraq war finished, costing an estimated 1 million lives
- August 26 - Merhan Karimi Nasseri ends up stuck in the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris
- August 28 - A fire destroys part of Chiado quarter, in Lisbon's historical center.
- September 1- Acacia pycnantha proclamed Australia's national floral emblem
- September 3- Federal referendums on 4-year terms, recognition of local Government and other issues is defeated in Australia
- September 5 - With US$2 billion in federal aid, the Robert M. Bass Group agrees to buy the United States's largest thrift, American Savings and Loan Association
- September 17 - Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea open
- September 22 - Ocean Odyssey drilling rig suffers a blowout and fire in the North Sea. (See also July 6)
- September 29 - NASA resumes space shuttle flights, grounded after the Challenger disaster
- October 5 - Thousands riots in Algiers, Algeria against the government of National Liberation Front - by October 10 army has killed and tortured about 500 people in crushing the riots
- October 5 - Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is defeated in a national plebiscite that sought to renew his mandate.
- October 11 - Women are allowed to study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, for the first time. Male students wear black armbands and the porter flies a black flag
- October 12 - two officers of the Victoria Police are gunned down executional style in the Walsh Street police shootings in Australia
- October 19 - United Kingdom bans broadcast interviews with IRA members. BBC gets around this by using actors' voices.
- October 28 - Abortion: 48 hours after announcing it was abandoning RU-486, French manufacturer Roussel Uclaf states that it would resume distribution of the drug, bowing to pressure from the government of France
- October 30 - Philip Morris buys Kraft Foods for US$13.1 billion.
- October 30 - Expo '88 in Brisbane Australia draws to a close after a 6 month spectacular.
- November 8 - U.S. presidential election, 1988: George Herbert Walker Bush is elected over Michael Dukakis.
- November 11 - In Sacramento, California, police find a body buried in the lawn of 60-year-old boardinghouse landlady Dorothea Puente (seven bodies were eventually found and Puente was convicted of three murders and sentenced to life in prison)
- November 15 - In the Soviet Union, the uncrewed Shuttle Buran is launched by an Energia rocket on her maiden orbital spaceflight (this was the first and last space flight for the shuttle)
- November 15 - Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: An independent State of Palestine is proclaimed by the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers, by a vote of 253 to 46
- November 16 - The Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR declares that Estonia is "sovereign" but stops short of declaring independence
- November 16 - In the first open election in more than a decade, voters in Pakistan choose populist candidate Benazir Bhutto to be Prime Minister
- November 17 - The Netherlands becomes the second country to get connected to the Internet
- November 18 - War on Drugs: US President Ronald Reagan signs a bill into law providing the death penalty for murderous drug traffickers
- November 22 - In Palmdale, California, the first prototype B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is revealed
- November 30 - Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. buys RJR Nabisco for US$25.07 billion.
- December 2 - Benazir Bhutto is sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head the government of an Islam-dominated state].
- December 2 - Cyclone in Bangladesh leaves 5 million homeless - thousands dead
- December 7 - In Armenia an earthquake 6.9 on the Richter scale killed nearly 25,000, injured 15,000 and left 400,000 persons homeless.
- December 12 - The Clapham Junction rail crash kills 35 and injures 132.
- December 19 - The Consumer Product Safety Commission bans the sale of lawn darts following the deaths of three children.
- December 20 - The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is signed at Vienna.
- December 21 - Pan Am flight 103 is blown up by Libyan terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 on board and 11 on the ground.
- December 22 - Assassination of Brazilian union and environmental activist Chico Mendes.
- Dave Barry won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
- Singer Fish leaves the band Marillion to pursue a solo career.
- January 17 - Nikki Reed, American actress
- February 4 - Carly Patterson, American gymnast
- February 8 - Ryan Pinkston, American actor
- February 27 - JD Natasha, Latin music artist
- March 25 - Erik Knudsen, Canadian actor
- March 27 - Brenda Song, American actress
- April 10 - Haley Joel Osment, American actor
- May 2 - Brooke Hogan, American singer
- June 1 - Nami Tamaki, Japanese singer
- June 7 - Michael Cera, Canadian actor
- June 27 - Kate Ziegler, American swimmer
- August 8 - Princess Beatrice of York
- August 23 - Niki Leinso, Croatian singer and songwriter
- August 24 - Rupert Grint, English actor
- August 27 - Alexa Vega, American actress
- September 24 - Kyle Sullivan, American actor
- September 26 - Marina Kuroki, Japanese actress
- October 5 - Bobby Edner, American actor
- November 15 - Zena Grey, American actress
- November 21 - Jamie Mahoney, American actor and rapper
- November 28 - Scarlett Pomers, American actress
- December 7 - Emily Browning, Australian actress
- January 2 - Edmund Brisco Ford, British geneticist (b. 1901)
- January 5 - Pete Maravich, American basketball player (b. 1947)
- January 7 - Trevor Howard, British actor (b. 1913)
- January 11 - Pappy Boyington, American pilot (b. 1912)
- January 13 - Chiang Ching-kuo, President of the Republic of China (b. 1910)
- January 14 - Georgi Malenkov, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party (b. 1902)
- January 15 - Seán MacBride, Irish Republican Army leader, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (b. 1904)
- January 16 - Ballard Berkeley, British actor (b. 1904)
- January 20 - Philippe de Rothschild, French vineyard owner (b. 1902)
- January 22 - Parker Fennelly, American comedian and actor (b. 1891)
- February 1 - Heather O'Rourke, American actress (b. 1975)
- February 15 - Richard Feynman, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1918)
- February 19 - René Char, French poet (b. 1907)
- March 1 - Joe Besser, American actor and comedian (b. 1907)
- March 5 - Alberto Olmedo, Argentine comedian and actor (b. 1933)
- March 7 - Divine, American actor (b. 1945)
- March 8 - Henryk Szeryng, Polish-born violinist (b. 1918)
- March 9 - Kurt Georg Kiesinger, third Chancellor of Germany (b. 1904)
- March 10 - Andy Gibb, Australian singer (Bee Gees) (b. 1958)
- March 31 - William McMahon, twentieth Prime Minister of Australia (b. 1908)
- April 3 - Milt Caniff, American cartoonist (b. 1907)
- April 15 - Kenneth Williams, English actor and raconteur (b. 1926)
- April 23 - Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury (b. 1904)
- April 26 - James McCracken, American tenor (b. 1926)
- May 3 - Lev Semenovich Pontryagin, Russian mathematician (b. 1908)
- May 8 - Robert A. Heinlein, American author (b. 1907)
- May 11 - Kim Philby, British spy (b. 1912)
- May 12 - Chet Baker, American jazz trumpeter (b. 1929)
- May 16 - Charles Keeping, British illustrator (b. 1924)
- May 18 - Daws Butler, voice actor (b. 1916)
- May 21 - Sammy Davis, Sr., American dancer (b. 1900)
- May 25 - Ernst Ruska, German physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1906)
- June 25 - Hillel Slovak, Israeli-born guitarist (Red Hot Chili Peppers) (b. 1962)
- July 8 - Ray Barbuti, American athlete (b. 1905)
- July 27 - Frank Zamboni, American inventor (b. 1901)
- August 8 - Ramon Valdez, Mexican actor (b. 1923)
- August 11 - Anne Ramsey, American actress (b. 1929)
- August 17 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr., American lawyer and politician (b. 1914)
- August 17 - Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, leader of Pakistan (b. 1924)
- August 27 - William Sargant, British psychiatrist (b. 1907)
- September 1 - Luis Alvarez, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1911)
- September 5 - Gert Fröbe, German actor (b. 1913)
- September 28 - Charles Addams, American cartoonist (b. 1912)
- October 1 - Sacheverell Sitwell, English writer (b. 1897)
- October 15 - Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, English composer and pianist (b. 1892)
- October 19 - Son House, American musician (b. 1902)
- October 22 - Henry Armstrong, American boxer (b. 1912)
- October 31 - John Houseman, Romanian-born actor and producer (b. 1902)
- November 9 - John N. Mitchell, U.S. Attorney General and convicted Watergate criminal (b. 1913)
- November 13 - Antal Dorati, Hungarian conductor (b. 1906)
- November 19 - Christina Onassis, American shipping magnate (b. 1950)
- December 2 - Tata Giacobetti, Italian singer and lyricist (Quartetto Cetra) (b. 1922)
- December 6 - Roy Orbison, American singer (b. 1936)
- Physics - Leon M. Lederman, Melvin Schwartz, Jack Steinberger
- Chemistry - Johann Deisenhofer, Robert Huber, Hartmut Michel
- Medicine - Sir James W. Black, Gertrude B. Elion, George H. Hitchings
- Literature - Naguib Mahfouz
- Peace - The United Nations Peace-Keeping Forces.
- The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel - Maurice Allais
- International Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims / Dr. Inge Kemp Genefke
- José Lutzenberger
- John F. Charlewood Turner
- Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Mohamed Idris, Harrison Ngau, the Penan people.
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