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Iran Hostage Crisis

History >> US History 1900 to Present

What was the Iran hostage crisis?

The Iran hostage crisis occurred when Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran and took a group of U.S. citizens hostage. They held the hostages for over a year from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981.

Hostages getting out of a plane
Iran Hostages Return Home
by Don Koralewski of the DoD
Revolution in Iran

For many years, Iran had been ruled by a king called the Shah of Iran. The United States supported the Shah because he was against communism and sold oil to western nations. However, many people in Iran did not like the Shah. They thought he was a brutal dictator.

In the 1970s, revolutionaries led by the Muslim leader Ayatollah Khomeini began to protest against the government. In 1979, they managed to take control of the government and overthrew the Shah. The Shah fled Iran.

Jimmy Carter Admits the Shah

The Shah was sick with cancer at the time and needed medical care. President Jimmy Carter decided to allow the Shah to come to the United States to get treatment. This started off a wave of protests against the United States in Iran.

Takeover of the American Embassy

Angry at the United States for protecting the Shah, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. They took 66 of the people there hostage.

The Hostages

Thirteen of the hostages were let go after a short time. They were mostly women and African-Americans. A fourteenth man was released later when he got sick. The remaining 52 hostages were held for a total of 444 days.

Being a hostage was terrifying. For over a year, the hostages lived in fear of death and torture. They were sometimes blindfolded and marched in front of angry crowds. They often were not allowed to talk for months, placed in solitary confinement, and had their hands bound for days at a time. Their captors constantly threatened them with execution and even performed a mock execution one night to scare them.

Failed Rescue

In April of 1980, President Carter ordered a mission to rescue the hostages. It was called Operation Eagle Claw. The mission failed when a sandstorm damaged the helicopters, causing one helicopter to crash into a transport plane. Sadly, eight soldiers were killed in the crash.

The Hostages are Released

The Iranian militants holding the hostages agreed to start negotiations for their release in late 1980. The Shah had died of cancer and President Carter had lost his reelection bid for president to Ronald Reagan. As punishment to Carter, the militants waited until just after Reagan had taken the oath of office to release the hostages. After 444 days, on January 21, 1981, the hostages were sent home.


The Iran Hostage crisis has had a long lasting impact on U.S. relations with Iran. In Iran, the old U.S. embassy is used as a museum and memorial to their revolution. Organized anti-American rallies take place each year in the streets around the embassy where marchers chant things like "Death to America." In the U.S., the image of the hostage crisis still impacts how many people think of Iran.

Interesting Facts About the Iran Hostage Crisis

Works Cited

History >> US History 1900 to Present

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