17 Bizarre, Nostalgic Facts About Pet Rocks

RealClear Staff


Inventor Gary Dahl recently passed away at 78. While his name is not very commonly known, his greatest creation is. Dahl invented the Pet Rock in 1975, which went on to become a cultural icon for many reasons. 

Here, then, is the wild story of how a man made a million dollars with rocks. 

1. Just a Rock

Despite later incarnations, the original and most popular Pet Rock was just that, a rock. No eyes or a face painted on it. 

Just a rock. And it was a sensation that epitomized the 1970s. 

2. Great Marketing

Newsweek once called the phenomenon of people purchasing Pet Rocks as "One of the most ridiculously successful marketing schemes in history."

3. Not a Shocker

Inventor Gary Dahl said he came up with the idea while drinking in a bar and listening to other patrons complain about taking care of their pets. Dahl said he had no such problems with his pet. 

"Because I have a pet rock."

It grew from there. 

4. Cheap Starts

After some encouragement from friends, Dahl went to a hardware store and bought a lot of smooth Mexican beach stones for about a penny each. 

5. The Biggest Expense

Actually, the biggest cost of the entire operation was the specially made, die-cut box each rock came in. 

6. Good Training

Arguably, the biggest selling point was the training manual that came with each rock. Dahl was an advertising copyrighter and knew how to craft a fun, pun-filled set of instructions. Chapters included how to teach your rock to "Sit," "Stay" and "Attack."

7. 1975 Dollars

Dahl sold the Pet Rock for $3.95 each. 

Adjusted for today's prices that's a staggering $17.95 per rock!

8. A Sense of Humor

Wisely, Dahl knew what he was dealing with regarding the ironic gift. "You might say we've packaged a sense of humor," he said in 1975. 

Well, that sense of humor was about to spread quickly!

9. Late Night Boost

The Pet Rock took off when it was featured on the Tonight Show just before the Christmas shopping season of 1975. 

10. A Million Rocks

It seems like an urban legend these days, but it was actually true. Dahl sold over 1.5 million Pet Rocks and became a millionaire in the process. 

11. Failed Followups

Dahl never again captured that lightning in a bottle. He introduced many other products, like the bicentennial Pet Rock for 1976. 

12. And Rock College

Dahl also introduced a line of humorous degrees for your Pet Rock, including a $3 Bachelors and a $10 PhD. 

13. His Biggest Flop

His biggest blunder, however, was the humorous but failed Sand Breeding Kit, which allowed owners to essentially care for a miniature desert. 

14. Other Investments

Dahl didn't just spend on other novelties, he also invested his million bucks in a sailboat business and the Carry Nations bar, a name which oozed with Dahl's signature humor. 

15. The Pet Rock Today

If it's known for anything today, the Pet Rock is a shorthand term for a useless item or a fad. 

16. A Fitting Book

In 2001, Dahl resurfaced as part of another marketing savvy trend, the For Dummies series of books. Dahl penned Advertising for Dummies, which might just be his longest lasting achievement, as it is still in print today. 

17. Unhappy Ending

Dahl later claimed his life would have been "simpler" had he not invented the Pet Rock. He was sued by his original investors and claimed to have been continually hounded by inventors looking for "the next big thing". 

Regardless, it's impossible to think of the 1970s without Gary Dahl. 

Rest in peace. 

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