1970s1960s1950s1940s1930s1920s1910s1900s1890s1880s1870s1860sPre-1860s

Time Machine » The 1970s

The 1970s was the disco decade, a time of political upheavals and polyester suits. As old wars ended and new ones began, the cultural fringes of the 1960s entered the mainstream, while antique and vintage looks were enthusiastically embraced by a public hungry for something a bit more adventurous than avocado green and harvest yellow.

In the home, the mingling of disparate styles from different eras meant that Art Deco lamps adorned with female figurines often sat on Mid-century Modern George Nelson end tables or next to molded-plywood Eames chairs. On kitchen walls, Trimline telephones hung, waiting to ring. In garages across the land, gas-guzzling Mustangs and Chevelles sat idle, waiting out the decade’s multiple gasoline shortages. Upstairs, little girls quietly engaged in role-play games with their Barbie dolls, while little boys made an unholy racket by adding top-of-their-lungs sound effects to their Hot Wheels cars.

1970s Technology and Culture

After the near-tragedy of Apollo 13 ("Houston, we’ve had a problem."), missions to the moon proceeded through the end of 1972 and Skylab launched in 1973. Three manned trips to the space station followed within a year—Skylab eventually fell out of orbit and crashed in Australia in 1979. Despite the Cold War, an Apollo-Soyuz project went ahead in 1975, and in 1977, a pair of unmanned Voyager space probes were launched, one to Jupiter and Saturn, the other to Uranus and Neptune.

The decade’s technological innovations weren’t limited to space exploration. 1970 was the year that both the microwave oven and the VCR were introduced to consumers. Intel and Texas Instruments developed the first microprocessors in 1971 and 1973 respectively. That set the stage for the first microcomputers, which were available by the end of the decade but only embraced by the geekiest electronic-hardware hobbyists and aficionados. More widespread was the acceptance of digital wristwatches with easy-to-read LED numbers on their faces rather than hands.

Culturally, the 1970s picked up where the 1960s left off. In the United States, the decade began with the nation’s first Earth Day in April of 1970 and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency later that year. In 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which was designed to guarantee equal rights for women (the amendment ultimately failed, though, because not enough states ratified it by its 1982 deadline). And the sexual revolution continued apace, with publications such as "Our Bodies, Ourselves" in 1970 and Alex Comfort’s illustrated "The Joy of Sex" in 1972 leading the way.

1970s Movies and TV

In fact, sex was everywhere in the 1970s, especially in the movies. Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal canoodled in "Love Story" (1970) and Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider gave "Last Tango in Paris" (1972) its infamous X rating. Of course, Hollywood had a few other things on its mind. "MASH" (1970), "Catch-22" (1970), and "The Deer Hunter" (1978) were just a few of the 1970s films to tap the anti-war sentiments of the time, while "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) explored society’s simultaneous fascination with violence. Two "Godfather" films (1972 and 1974) followed the history of a New York mob family—both films won Academy Awards—while "The Exorcist" (1973) was the first big-budget horror flick.

The 1970s also shined a spotlight on two of the world’s greatest visual storytellers, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Spielberg made his mark with "Jaws" in 1975—in 1977, he followed up that blockbuster with the science-fiction epic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." That film might have been the year’s biggest were it not for a mid-budget space-epic called "Star Wars." Writer-director George Lucas had to give up much of his fee in order to get the picture made. In exchange, he kept sequel and merchandising rights, which, given the film’s five sequels and enormously popular Star Wars toys and collectibles, turned out to have been one of the smartest moves in film, or maybe even business, history.

On the small screen, cable had yet to make much of an impact, although HBO’s live 1975 airing of the Ali-Frazier "Thrilla in Manila" heavyweight fight was a major technological and media breakthrough. Programs like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-1977) and "All in the Family" (1971-1979) brought the cultural questions of the day into U.S. living rooms. In the U.K., "Monty Python’s Flying Circus" (1969-1974) paved the way for a U.S. comedy program, "Saturday Night Live," which first aired in 1975 and continues to be a force on television to this day. Also in the U.K., "Doctor Who" enjoyed its most popular years in the late 1970s.

1970s Music

For music fans, the decade began with the triple-whammy loss of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison, all of whom died in 1970 of drug overdoses. A death of a different sort occurred in April of that same year when Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the Beatles.

For some, such losses seemed the end of the world, but for many more, the beat went on. Fans of Led Zeppelin, The Who, and the Rolling Stones got all they could handle from their musical heroes, who achieved levels of popularity and financial success they could not have imagined in the 1960s. British psychedelic rockers Pink Floyd released "The Dark Side of the Moon" in 1973—it remained on the charts throughout the 1970s and even into the 1980s. San Francisco’s Grateful Dead took a hiatus in 1974 and then regrouped in 1975 with the jazzy "Blues for Allah"—one track included a jam with live crickets. And Michael Jackson released his first solo effort in 1972, as did Steely Dan, who, along with many other artists, fused rock and jazz impulses to create progressive rock.

There was lots of room in the 1970s for those who enjoyed hopping on bandwagons, as well as those intent on carving out their own niches. Thus, it was possible for a movement like Northern Soul in England to spark enormous interest in obscure U.S. rhythm-and-blues acts from the 1960s such as the Magnetics, the Cashmeres, and The Tams, even after such acts, who were never that popular to begin with, had long faded from view.

As for bandwagons, disco and punk were easily the biggest. Disco was propelled into the public’s consciousness by the popularity of the film "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) and its light-footed star, John Travolta. The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and The Trammps made the music that made people dance. And because of the movie, a provocative poster of a grinning Farrah Fawcett became a must-have wall decoration in the bedrooms of young boys everywhere.

Punk was brewing on the other side of the tracks. Spearheaded by the Ramones in New York (debut album, 1976) and The Clash and Sex Pistols in London (both of whom had debut albums in 1977), punk was the antithesis of the slickly produced sounds of disco. The Clash were influenced by reggae (the 1970s were also prime years for Bob Marley), while the Sex Pistols wanted to sow seeds of chaos and anarchy—ironically, millions of kids ignored the message, choosing instead to merely ape the look of their anti-heroes.

1970s Fashion and Style

Indeed, many of the decade’s most popular styles had their roots in pop music. The Carnaby Street mod look of the swinging ’60s gave way to a punk uniform codified in clothing boutiques and hair salons around the world—leather pants and jackets, dangling chains, safety pins everywhere, and hairdos that featured colorful Mohawks and aggressive spikes. For true disco fans, platform shoes and polyester shirts were almost mandatory. And the tie-dyed, bellbottomed, leather-fringed style of the San Francisco hippies was replaced by the preppie look that had been made famous in "Love Story."

As in previous decades, fashion took a lot of its cues from Hollywood, most famously in the style championed by Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s 1977 Oscar winner, "Annie Hall." Keaton’s attire was a far cry from the mini-skirted, Go-Go-girl look of the 1960s. That would not do in a world whose consciousness had been raised by feminism. Thus, Keaton’s character wore lots of layers that hid her figure. Instead of heels she wore boots, instead of shawls she wore men’s-style jackets, and if she donned a hat, she made sure it was one that could be pulled down tight over her forehead.

Elsewhere in the fashion world, prints were in, especially ones from India and the Third World. Halston created minimalist eveningwear, the sort of thing you put on before heading to Studio 54. Ossie Clark revived the bias-cut dress. Even the "chubby," a waist-length jacket from the 1940s, made a comeback, although sometimes ostrich feathers were substituted for traditional longhaired fur. By the end of the decade, women’s hairstyles had begun their evolution into the manic manes of the big-hair ’80s.

1970s Sports

HBO’s Ali-Frazier fight was just one of countless memorable contests. In 1973, female tennis star Billie Jean King trounced self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in "The Battle of the Sexes," while baseball legend Hank Aaron bested Babe Ruth’s home-run record (Aaron finished his career in 1976 with 755 homers). The Oakland A’s won the World Series for three straight years (1972-1974), the Cincinnati Reds took the next two (1975-1976), and the New York Yankees snagged the two after that (1977-1978). In football, the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowls in 1972 and 1978, while the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers each managed a two-year streak (1973-1974 for the Dolphins, 1975-1976 for the Steelers).

Some collectors snapped up sports cards for all those winning teams, as well as memorabilia from all those World Series and Super Bowls. Others looked around and noticed a lot of deals, from costume jewelry from the 1930s and ’40s to women’s dresses and men’s suits from the 1950s and ’60s. First-edition books by some of the century’s greatest authors were still affordable, as were pre-World War II Martin guitars. And if a generation of children hadn’t decided to actually play with all those Star Wars action figures at the end of the decade, their parents might have been able to sell the lot of them to pay for their college educations!

1970s Related Categories

Mego Toys

Before Mego jumped into the realm of action figures, the company, founded in the early 1950s by Dr. David Abrams, was the faceless… (more)

Surfboards

The oldest surfboards date to the 6th century, when early Hawaiians practiced he’e nalu, what we call surfing today. Common-folk i… (more)

1970s Games

By the middle of the 20th century, the ancient tradition of playing board games had managed to survive the inventions of film, rad… (more)

Lunch Boxes and Thermoses

The lunch box as we think of it today was born in 1935. That’s when a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, company called Geuder, Paeschke, and F… (more)

Michael Jackson Memorabilia

Michael Joseph Jackson first set foot on the American pop-music stage in 1969, when, at the tender age of 11, he was the front man… (more)

Progressive Rock Records

Progressive rock, or prog rock as it is more commonly called, evolved primarily in England from the late 1960s through the late 19… (more)

Metal Records

Heavy-metal rock, which is typified by heavily distorted guitars, lightning-fast solos, wailing vocals, and dominant drums, became… (more)

Northern Soul Records

Northern Soul does not refer to a music genre per se. Rather, it is the phrase used to describe the late-1960s-though-1970s dance … (more)

Beatles Records

Beatles records are collectible for two principal reasons. First, we’re talking about the Beatles, and anything associated with th… (more)

Barbie Dolls

Launched at the American Toy Fair in 1959, Barbie was the first teenage doll ever produced for children and quickly became one of … (more)

Psych Records

Psych is a broad term referring to a genre of psychedelic vinyl albums and singles recorded from roughly 1966 to 1969. As psych re… (more)

G.I. Joe

In 1963, Hasbro, a toy company from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was on a mission. A group of its designers were borrowing guns and ri… (more)

Trimline Telephones

The Trimline, like the Princess phone, was one of the Bell System's best marketing innovations. First introduced in 1965, the idea… (more)

Computers

Vintage computers aren't your typical collector's item, but some of the earliest PCs from the 1970s and 80s are already starting t… (more)

Star Wars

Ever since the first "Star Wars" movie was released in 1977, this franchise has been a collectibles juggernaut. From action figure… (more)

Frisbees

Throwing a disc for a game of catch or the sheer pleasure of watching it fly has probably been around for almost as long as we’ve … (more)

Kenneth Jay Lane Jewelry

Kenneth Jay Lane is a relative newcomer to the world of costume jewelry, launching his first line of earrings, bracelets, and neck… (more)

Barbie Houses and Furniture

Barbie did not live in a doll house. She lived in a Dream House, which was basically a cardboard box that unfolded to reveal a stu… (more)

Cabbage Patch Dolls

Cabbage Patch Kids weren't actually born in a field of vegetables, but out of the entrepreneurial mind of a 21-year-old art studen… (more)

Diecast Model Cars

Diecast model cars merge our love of the automobile with the childhood pleasure of playing with toys. Their palm-of-the-hand size,… (more)

Wax Packs and Card Packs

Wax packs, also called unopened packs, are collectible cards still in their original packaging. Similarly, trading-card boxes are … (more)

Playsets

Beyond the realm of individual action figures lies the land of the playsets. These boxed toy packages include buildings, landscape… (more)

Skipper dolls

Skipper was released by Mattel in 1964 to appeal to little girls for whom Barbie, Skipper’s older and more worldly sister, was too… (more)

James Bond

Bond. James Bond. The most iconic secret agent in fiction, code name 007, got his start when Ian Fleming wrote his first novel, "C… (more)

Blythe Dolls

Designed by Allison Katzman of Marvin Glass Associates and distributed by Kenner (which was later sold to Hasbro), the original Bl… (more)

Ford Mustang

For many automobile collectors, the Ford Mustangs of the 1960s were the quintessential American muscle cars. The two seat roadster… (more)

Skateboards

The prototype for the first skateboard was a bright red, metal toy from the 1930s called the Scooter Skate. When its handle was re… (more)

Grateful Dead Memorabilia

Formed in 1965 in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead attracted a large concert following until the untimely death in 1995 of lead gu… (more)

LED Watches

The first LED (light-emitting-diode) digital wristwatches appeared around 1972, when an inventor named Roger W. Riehl produced an … (more)

Chevrolet Chevelle

The Chevrolet Chevelle made its debut in 1964 as a mid-size coupe meant to compete with the Ford Fairlane. Chevrolet hoped it woul… (more)

1970s Related Articles

Mod Began Here: The Spot Where '60s Teens Danced All Night to Northern Soul Music

Northern soul is basically American soul music that became the popular soul music of Northern England. The Twisted Wheel opened in 1963 in Manchester, and what might be t… Read more

Why People Flip Over Vintage Pinball Machines

I didn’t really get into to pinball machine collecting until maybe 15 years ago, but when I was a freshman in college, video games were really big. I went to Purdue Unive… Read more

Mary Tyler Moore, '70s Style for Strong Women

Although I was in my tween years when "The Mary Tyler Moore" aired on TV (1970-1977), I could identify with this strong, independent woman, even then. Today, watching it … Read more

Beatles 45s To Make You Twist and Shout

About 12 years ago a coworker told me that they saw a picture sleeve on eBay from The Beatles selling for 500 dollars. My sister had given me a Beatles 45 picture sleeve … Read more

U.S. Studio Art Glass, Before and After Chihuly

Marvin Lipofsky introduced me to glass while I was getting a bachelor’s degree in ceramics at the California College of Arts in Oakland, California. One day I saw a poste… Read more

Psych Out: The Trippy Side of Vintage Vinyl

I’ve been interested in psych records for about 25 years now. It started with just 1960s music, the Beatles and stuff like that, and then I kept on checking out new thing… Read more

Eyes on the Blythes

I collect dolls. I’ve got 2,000 dolls crammed into a studio in New York City. Someone said, “There’s a doll named Blythe that looks a little like you.” So I bought one off eB… Read more

Vintage 1970s Lunch Boxes Revisited: When Pop Culture Ruled the Playground

The most popular lunch boxes for kids in the '70s and '80s were the ones that wouldn't get you beat up in school. It was fine to go to school with a lunch box for a popul… Read more

The Force of Collecting Star Wars Cards

I was 10 when the movie came out and I went to the store and bought a couple of packs of Star Wars cards. But I ended up trashing all the cards I had when I was a kid, an… Read more

Before Sesame Street and Electric Mayhem, a Crude Kermit Lip Synced Pop Standards

When "The Muppets" storms the world’s multiplexes this holiday season, there will no doubt be lots of little kids who, thanks to “Sesame Street,” will associate the wide-mout… Read more

The Zen of Ken, or Life as Barbie's Boyfriend

I always wondered if starting a hobby in my free time was a good idea, and then I remembered Ken. He was a gift to my older sister Brenda in Christmas of 1970 when I was … Read more



1970s1960s1950s1940s1930s1920s1910s1900s1890s1880s1870s1860sPre-1860s