Life in the United States in 1970s

Life in the United States in 1970s

Larry Holzwarth - January 19, 2020

America was a much different place half a century ago, though for those of a certain age it doesn’t seem that long. McDonald’s sold burgers and shakes, but not breakfast. Pay phones abounded everywhere, in stores, shops, gasoline stations, hotel lobbies, and on street corners. Many of them still had rotary dials. So did the majority of telephones found in private homes, though push-button phones appeared in offices. There was no 911 service in most of the United States. One dialed zero for the operator in emergencies, who connected the caller with the appropriate service. Operators also provided help in long-distance calling, such as collecting calls or charging the call to a third number.

Life in the United States in 1970s
A telephone operator and switchboard in the 1970s. Joseph A. Carr via Wikimedia

There were no video games, no personal entertainment devices (other than the transistor radio), though portable tape decks were available. Quality headphones were expensive. Music for entertainment was purchased, on vinyl, cassette, eight-track, and reel-to-reel tape. Americans didn’t vape in 1970 but nearly half of adults smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. A non-smoking area in a business was rare, and neither did commercial aircraft prohibit smoking in certain areas. United Airlines introduced the non-smoking section on domestic flights in 1971. It was a much different world. Here is a brief look at American life fifty years ago, in 1970.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Game ball from a Monday night game which was presented to First Lady Betty Ford by the Washington Redskins. Ford Presidential Library

1. The presentation of sports on television changed in 1970

In 1970, the executives of three networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, controlled what Americans watched on television. In communities, the three were affiliated with local stations, while other privately owned stations broadcast their own fare. Usually, the non-affiliated broadcasts consisted of reruns and local celebrities, and usually, they broadcasted in UHF. A television receiver not specially equipped could not process their signal. The three major networks broadcast, for the most part, in VHF. They determined what was available for Americans to watch, subject to the approval of the censors and the whims of sponsors.

On September 21, 1970, ABC broke decades of tradition when it introduced NFL Monday Night Football on ABC. ABC changed the way football – and later all professional sports – was broadcast by creating an extravaganza featuring the personalities of the network’s broadcasters. The inimitable Howard Cosell became a national celebrity from his connection to Monday Night Football, a love-him-or-hate-him figure. ABC had the only professional sports available on Monday nights in the fall, and the NFL obliged by attempting to schedule teams which promised widespread fan interest.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Cigarette advertisements were television’s leading revenue source by 1970. Wikimedia

2. The government changed American television through legislation in 1970

The three networks made enormous profits from the fees they charged sponsors who advertised on their shows. In 1970, tobacco companies were major advertisers on all three networks. Cigarette advertisements were ubiquitous. A long-running advertising campaign for Marlboro created a character which became a piece of Americana, the Marlboro Man. The ads featured a ruggedly handsome cowboy working the range, mending fences, herding cattle, and camping. When he relaxed, it was with a Marlboro cigarette. All the while the theme music from The Magnificent Seven played behind the narration.

Other tobacco companies presented jingles and slogans which became part of the American lexicon. A drive to remove cigarette advertising from television began in the 1960s. The networks and the tobacco companies fought hard against congressional legislation targeting them. Tobacco companies were by far the largest advertisers collectively on television by 1970. On April 1, 1970, President Nixon – himself a pipe smoker – signed legislation passed by Congress known as the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. It banned all cigarette advertising from television and radio, effective on January 1, 1971. Anti-smoking Public Service Announcements continued to be broadcast. The Marlboro Man continued, though in print advertisements and on billboards and posters at points of sale.

Related: Tobacco has Made the World What it is Today.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Map depicting the movement of the Ohio National Guard and their victims at Kent State University. National Archives

3. The Vietnam War was seen on television news nearly every day

Vietnam was the first televised war. Nightly newscasts and network specials presented images of American dead and wounded troops, body bags, bombed-out or burned buildings. The images of the horrors of the war fed the protests in the United States. They too were broadcast, deepening the divide which separated the nation. Protests increased when Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia and Laos. Many of the largest protests over the war occurred on college campuses. One such protest was organized at Kent State University in Ohio upon news of Nixon’s ordered raids into Cambodia by American bombers. Ohio governor James Rhodes ordered the National Guard to the campus after two days of protests.

Rhodes went to Kent and held a press conference, calling the protestors “un-American”. He added, in a desk-pounding speech, “They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America”. The next day, after tear gas failed to disperse a crowd gathered for a scheduled protest, the National Guard opened fire, killing 4 students and wounding another 9, leaving one paralyzed. A Presidential Commission which investigated the shooting called it, “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable”. Some justified the shooting and claimed the protestors were outside agitators, but all of the victims were registered students in good standing at Kent State University.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The Hard Hat Riot was an attack by union workers on anti-war protesters in New York. YouTube

4. Labor unions organized an attack on war protesters after Kent State

Anti-war activists organized a protest in New York in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings, against both the President’s war policy and the actions of the Ohio National Guard. A senior union official in New York, Peter Brennan, organized union members to counter-protest. On the morning of May 8, about one thousand student protestors rallied at Federal Hall in New York, with a line of police separating them from the Hall, and from the public. Until late morning the rally was peaceful. Shortly before noon, the rally was disrupted by more than a thousand union protestors, who attacked both the students and the police. Students were beaten with signs and hard hats as the mob pushed toward City Hall.

The flag above City Hall was at half-mast in honor of the students slain at Kent State. Union workers pushed through the building to the roof and raised the flag to full staff. Brennan claimed that the riot had been a spontaneous reaction of patriotic workers who had seen the American flag “desecrated” by protesting students. Several witnesses claimed the workers were led in an organized manner. In 1973 Brennan was appointed Secretary of Labor by Richard Nixon, and he was retained in that post after Gerald Ford ascended to the Presidency. There were no deaths in what became known as the Hard-hat Riot, but over 70 students and policemen were injured.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Reaction to the Volkswagen Beetle led to changes in America’s car industry. Wikimedia

5. The American auto industry developed small cars with better fuel efficiency

Throughout the 1960s the Volkswagen Beetle became a common sight on American roads and in American driveways. Japanese automobiles, also small cars, began to arrive in increasing numbers in the United States late in the decade. America’s so-called Big Four automakers – General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors, developed models to compete with the Germans and the Japanese. AMC was the first to market in 1970 when they introduced the Gremlin. It was aptly presented to the American public on April Fool’s Day. The Gremlin was basically half of an AMC Hornet. It was marketed as the first American “import”.

Ford followed with the Pinto, and Chevrolet with the Vega. Though they sold fairly well, especially when gasoline prices started to rise, all three vehicles were frequently the butt of jokes. Especially the Gremlin, which was called half of a car because that was, in essence, what it was. All three developed reputations for poor construction, fit and finish, and reliability. Years later the Pinto also developed the reputation of burning up. The American sub-compacts damaged the reputation of American automakers, and did much to increase the sales of imports in the United States, which throughout the ‘70s offered superior quality and reliability.

Life in the United States in 1970s
NASA engineers and technicians improvised a carbon dioxide filter as part of the Apollo 13 rescue. NASA

6. Apollo 13 revitalized American interest in the Space Program temporarily

Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Americans watched each manned space mission with avid interest. Apollo 12 repeated the feat, and with traveling to the moon evidently routine, public interest waned. Some in Congress wanted to end the program and save its costs. In April, Apollo 13 on the way to be the third team of Americans on the moon, suffered a catastrophic explosion. Suddenly spaceflight was dramatic again, and for the next few days Americans, as well as the rest of the world, watched as the story unfolded. NASA engineers and astronauts came up with innovative solutions to each of the problems encountered to bring the astronauts home.

News of the astronauts scrolled across Times Square’s ribbon board. Newspapers (Americans still read newspapers in 1970) carried dramatic headlines. The three networks covered every aspect of the dangers faced and the solutions achieved. It became a four-day miniseries on television. The astronauts returned safely to earth four days after the accident, and the American Space Program received a shot in the arm. The success brought national pride in the bravery of the astronauts and the ingenuity which brought them home. Tens of millions watched their recovery on television. By the time of Apollo 14’s launch at the end of the following January, interest had waned once again.

Life in the United States in 1970s
1970’s Catch-22 was an anti-war film which was set in World War II. Paramount

7. American movies reflected the divisiveness affecting the country in 1970

1970 was a banner year for American films, driven in part by the development of multiplex theaters. More screens demanded more films. 1970 saw the release of Airport, which generated a number of sequels. Five Easy Pieces cemented Jack Nicholson as a major star. Anti-war films such as M*A*S*H, Little Big Man, Joe, and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came all found supportive audiences. Another anti-war film, Catch-22, also debuted in 1970. The film Woodstock appeared, presenting the counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s in a positive light, and least to their fellows in the counterculture.

Another war film, Tora! Tora! Tora! depicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor factually, while attempting to present the Japanese as more honorable than perfidious. But the big film of the year, which resonated with patriotic Americans and those who supported the Vietnam War, was Patton. The movie presented Patton as a dedicated and misunderstood warrior, glossing over the many foibles which made him problematic to his commanders. The film won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also won Best Actor for George C. Scott but he refused the award, saying, “I don’t want any part of it”.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The first Earth Day was observed in April, 1970. New York Daily News

8. 1970 saw the introduction of a new day of observance in America

April 22, 1970, was the first time Earth Day was observed in the United States. It has since grown to encompass over 190 countries, and is the largest secular holiday in the world. On April 22, 1970, 2,000 colleges and universities in the United States held events to recognize the environment and humanity’s role in protecting it. Approximately ten thousand high schools and primary schools joined in, as did hundreds of cities, villages, and towns across the United States. Observances were held in New York, home of the three major television networks, and their activities thus found a national audience.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency more than 20 million people in the United States took part in the observances of the first Earth Day. President Nixon and his wife Pat observed the day by planting a tree on the White House lawn. The day came about as a result of increased awareness of litter, waste management, oil spills, pollution of American waterways, pollution of the air, and other environmental issues. American cartoonist Walt Kelly drew a banner for the first day on which his character Pogo proclaimed once again, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

Life in the United States in 1970s
America and the world learned of the Beatles’ breaking up in April, 1970. Wikimedia

9. The Beatles’ breakup was revealed in the spring

On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney released advance copies of his first solo album to journalists. That in itself was not a shock, the other Beatles had all released projects which were outside the group. But McCartney’s album contained within a mock question and answer interview, which he had written, in which his departure from The Beatles was announced. He also made clear he had no plans to write songs with his long-time partner John Lennon for the then foreseeable future. Headlines around the world announced that Paul had broken up The Beatles. In truth, Lennon had announced his departure months earlier to the group, with the news kept private for reasons regarding contract negotiations.

The announcement was nonetheless the effective end of the band which had dominated the music industry in the ‘60s. Fans around the world mourned, and it became a common subject of debate in the United States over who was at fault for the breakup. Most of the blame in American eyes was directed at Yoko Ono. Others blamed it on Paul’s wife, Linda. Rumors that The Beatles would reunite after all their solo projects were completed stretched through the summer and autumn. On New Year’s Eve, 1970, McCartney filed suit in the High Court of Justice to dissolve the business partnership between the members of The Beatles. Rumors of a reunion continued up to Lennon’s death in 1980, and beyond.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Denver first accepted and then rejected the 1976 Winter Olympics. Denver Library

10. Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in May

On May 12, 1970, a group of Denver, Colorado civic leaders were feted in the city for having won the right to host the Winter Olympics in 1976. They prevailed in their bid over cities in Switzerland, Finland, and British Columbia, in Canada. They were paraded through the city in a motorcade, and delivered speeches chronicling the 16-year effort to win the games. Detailed plans for the construction of the facilities to support the games and the visiting athletes emerged over the ensuing weeks. As they did the cheers faded away. Faced with the enormous costs, most of which were to be covered by Colorado taxpayers, factions emerged to oppose the games being held in Denver.

Denver planned for the games to be held in a string of sites between the city and Steamboat Springs, a distance of about 170 miles. Environmentalists opposed the infrastructure which was needed. Though the state offered to pay part of the costs, the bulk of which fell on the city of Denver, a grassroots movement against the games gained traction through 1970, and all of the ensuing year. In 1972, voters rejected the games with a majority of 59.4%. Having decided not to pay for the facilities, Colorado became the only entity to reject the Olympic Games after having first been awarded them two years earlier. The 1976 Olympics were awarded to Innsbruck, which had hosted them earlier and already had much of the necessary infrastructure in place.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Nerf made its debut in the United States in 1970. Parker Brothers

11. A new toy appeared in 1970 which launched its own industry

In the late 1960s, Parker Brothers rejected a game designed to allow modified football to be played indoors. But they were intrigued with the ball which was designed specifically for the game. It was a four-inch ball constructed of polyurethane foam. In 1970 Parker Brothers released the ball as a toy, calling it the “world’s first official indoor ball”. It was sold under the brand name NERF. One of its early marketing slogans promised, “You can’t damage lamps and windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people”. Televised advertisements for the ball were focused on Saturday morning hours, when children’s programming dominated the airwaves.

Four million of the original design sold in 1970 alone, and Parker Brothers aggressively expanded the use of Nerf in games and toys, including Nerf basketball, football, and baseball bats. Eventually, Nerf bullets and darts were developed to be shot from spring-powered guns. Targets were included, as if the game designers really believed that children (and adults) weren’t going to use the guns to shoot each other and unsuspecting pets. Nerf remains a thriving industry 50 years after its introduction as a simple ball, though Parker Brothers no longer make it. After changing hands several times Nerf became part of Hasbro in the early 21st century.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Vietnam war protests helped lead to America lowering the voting age to 18. Wikimedia

12. The United States lowered the legal voting age to 18

During the protests against the draft over the course of the Vietnam war, a leading complaint was that 18-year-old men could be drafted to serve in the military, but were denied the right to vote. In Congress, Senator Ted Kennedy and allies in the House raised the issue during debates over the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A provision was added which granted 18-year-old citizens the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections. Nixon allowed it as political expediency to get the legislation passed, though he believed that the courts would find the provision unconstitutional. It gave the federal government control over state and local elections.

Nixon was right, in a case brought by his Attorney General John Mitchell, the Supreme Court found the provision unconstitutional. But it struck down only the section dealing with state and local elections. The right to vote in federal elections remained in force. The following year the 26th Amendment was ratified, and the right to vote in all elections was granted to those who had reached the age of 18. In the first presidential election which followed in 1972, about half of the newly eligible voters participated. Voter turnout for the demographic declined in ensuing elections until the turn of the century. It rose in national elections since.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The cassette tape became a popular means of recording and listening to music. Shutterstock

13. People carried their music with them to parks, the beach, and anywhere else

In 1970, the first music delivery devices which became known colloquially as boom boxes emerged. They were expensive, and they were loud. The former prevented them from becoming popular across the United States at first. Less expensive transistor radios and cassette players with larger speakers and consequently superior sound were available. They became popular. People playing Nerf outside, or washing their Gremlins, could do so while listening to their music of choice. The tape cassette began to edge out the eight-track player as a preferred sound system in automobiles and home stereos. FM radio began to edge out AM as the preferred source of broadcast music.

Cassette players often skipped or performed an act which became known as “eating the tape” when they were jostled while playing. The tendency made them unsuitable for use while jogging or even when walking. They sometimes exhibited the same tendency in cars, where they were often added as an aftermarket purchase, mounted in brackets under the dash or the driver’s seat. It was a peril which caused the same tape to be purchased over and over in some cases. One popular album and tape which appeared in 1970 was Bridge over Troubled Water, which became the best-selling album of the year, and was the last studio album produced by the popular Simon and Garfunkel.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Casey Kasem in 1989. Photo by Alan Light via Wikimedia

14. American Top 40 was launched on the 4th of July, 1970

On July 4 Americans for the first time heard on their radios, “This is Casey Kasem in Hollywood, and in the next three hours, we’ll count down the 40 most popular hits in the United States this week…” American Top 40 was instantly popular, as Americans listened to the three-hour broadcast, or at least parts of it, each week. It kept them abreast of their favorite performers as well as new talent appearing on the airwaves. “Now, on with the countdown”, became a popular catchphrase. Kasem broadcast in segments between commercial breaks, giving background about the song, the performers, or both. The format expanded as time went on, and the program is still broadcast, albeit hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

One song which topped the Billboard chart before its debut of the American Top 40 in 1970 was I Want You Back, by a group of brothers from Gary, Indiana who called themselves the Jackson 5. The group released four consecutive singles which reached number one in 1970, the next three being ABC, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There. Marketing by Motown and aggressive media play created what was called by the press Jacksonmania during 1970. Other shows copied the format of American Top 40, and acts like the Jackson 5 frequently had several songs within the confines of the countdowns across America throughout 1970.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The Carpenters had the top selling song in the summer of 1970. Wikimedia

15. Other types of music dominated at different times of the year

The biggest selling song during the summer months of 1970 was not from rock and roll, or hard rock, or R&B, or Motown. It was a song called (They Long to Be) Close to You. Performed by the brother and sister duo The Carpenters, it remained at Number One for four weeks. It was a year of musical diversity on the pop charts. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head held the top spot for four consecutive weeks early in the year. Late in the year, a made-for-television band and family, The Partridge Family, held the top spot for three weeks and catapulted David Cassidy to fame. The song was I Think I Love You.

1970 was the last year The Beatles put newly recorded singles on the charts, though all four members would hit them individually. It was one of the last years that commercial radio concentrated on singles airplay, within months album-oriented rock emerged, and AM radio began to alter formats to all-talk and all-news rather than playing records. The superior sound carried by the FM signal, in stereo, killed the market for singles beginning in 1970, though the 45 single continued to be the focus of the recording industry to market bands for some years to come.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Baxter became an enduring image of a pompous but befuddled news anchor. CBS Television

16. Several beloved American fictional characters were born in 1970

The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in September 1970, and gave birth to several characters which became part of the American landscape. Among them was Mary herself. Others included her friends Rhoda Morganstern and Phyllis Lindstrom. The almost impossibly obtuse Ted Knight was born from the show, as was Mary’s boss, hard-drinking Lou Grant, who later gained a show of his own (so did Rhoda and Phyllis). The show and its characters remain popular fifty years later, both as nostalgia for some, and as newly introduced performers for a younger audience. Other enduring characters were born in other television programs during 1970.

On January 5, 1970, the daytime serial (known as a soap opera at the time) All My Children debuted on American television. Actress Susan Lucci made her first appearance on the show on January 16, as the character Erica Kaine. Lucci portrayed Kaine for the next 41 years, until the show finally closed in September, 2011. TV Guide called Erica Kaine, “the most famous soap opera character in the history of daytime TV”. Kaine was the longest-running character in the history of American television played by a single performer. The character inspired at least three songs and two dolls manufactured by Mattel during the show’s run.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Congressional legislation bolstered America’s failing railroads in 1970. Wikimedia

17. Railroads were rapidly fading from the American scene in 1970

Both freight and passenger traffic on America’s railroads were perilously close to extinction in 1970. A series of government decisions had given significant advantages to shippers using other means, such as trucks and barges. Subsidies for highway construction had also made driving more feasible. Only a few large urban areas, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, had viable regional passenger trains. Intercity passenger traffic had dwindled to next to nothing. On June 21, 1970, the Penn Central – created as a merger of the once rivals Pennsylvania and New York Central – filed for bankruptcy. It was at the time the largest bankruptcy in American history.

Congress responded with legislation which created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC). It operated under the name Railpax, before choosing to use the name Amtrak. Amtrak was controversial, with Democrats viewing it as subsidizing a failed industry. Republicans considered it the nationalization of the American railroads. Most viewed it as a compromise to distract the public with the appearance of saving the passenger railroads. Nearly all would be surprised that it would survive fifty years, let alone operate profitably in some corridors, though by no means all. Several years later another Congress created a similar solution for the ailing freight lines, merging them into Conrail.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The first electronic calculators introduced in 1970 were obsolete by the time these were released in 1973. Wikimedia

18. Hand-held electronic calculators were a product of 1970

Before the advent of calculators, engineers, architects, designers, technicians, scientists, and mathematicians used slide rules to resolve difficult equations. In 1970, the first electronic handheld calculators appeared. Hand-held was a bit of a misnomer, they were large – far too large to fit in a pocket – but they were portable. The first calculators were marketed by Bowmar and Canon, and used chips from Texas Instruments. Another marketed by Busicom used chips from Mostek. None of them could perform functions except add, subtract, multiply, and divide. They were limited in the number of decimal places they could handle (12) and they had no screen on which to view the results.

The calculators relied on thermal paper to deliver the results of its use to the user. Numbers were literally burned onto the paper which was fed over a printer head. Thermal paper was sold separately, and was not known for being inexpensive. Batteries were rechargeable, and how long they could hold a charge depended on the length of use (as well as ambient temperature). Most professionals regarded calculators as little more than a novelty and continued to rely on their trusty slide rules. Within two years calculators appeared which were smaller, more reliable, had screens as well as printers, and could perform trigonometric functions. The personal computer wasn’t far behind.

Life in the United States in 1970s
S&H Green Stamps were exchanged for merchandise at stores like this one, in Tallahassee. Wikimedia

19. The entertainment dollar went further than in a later day

In 1970, one could visit McDonald’s and enjoy a hamburger, French fries, and a shake for 89 cents. One needed another nickel if they wanted a cheeseburger. There were considerably fewer options on the chain’s menu, and entering the restaurant was required. Drive-thru windows weren’t around yet for the most part, except at banks. A ticket to the movies was around $1.50, more or less. Minimum wage was $1.60. Gasoline was about 36 cents a gallon. It was pumped by a gas station attendant, who also washed the windshield, offered to check the oil, water, and tires, and often gave the purchaser gift stamps, complimentary drinking glasses, or other inducements.

Gift stamps were common throughout the United States. An early version of customer reward programs, stamps were collected until books were filled, which were then traded for various gift items. The largest gift stamp organization was S & H Green Stamps, though there were several regional competitors; Top Value, Gold Bell, Greenbax, and others. Customers received stamps in accordance with the amount of money spent. Gas stations, grocery stores, discount stores, and department stores all offered gift stamps along with their goods and services and in some larger towns and cities the stamp company had stores where the collected stamps could be redeemed for merchandise.

Life in the United States in 1970s
President Nixon and advisers in the Oval Office, March, 1970. White House

20. Rain and snow didn’t stop postal workers, but low wages did

Before 1970, the US Post Office was a department of the federal government. Its workers were allowed to unionize, but not to engage in collective bargaining. By law, federal workers were not allowed to strike. In March 1970, postal workers did. The strike began in New York and spread to other cities across the country quickly. Over 200,000 postal workers stopped the flow of mail across the United States. The disruption of business was substantial in a time when email was nonexistent. President Nixon gave a televised national address in which he ordered the strikers to return to work. The result of his speech was more angry postal workers and the strike expanded to nearly 700 Post Office locations and facilities.

Nixon declared a national emergency on March 23 and ordered the National Guard to sort and deliver mail in New York and other major areas. The National Guard had no idea how to sort and deliver mail. The President then ordered what was called Operation Graphic Hand. Active duty military was ordered to take over mail delivery. Over 18,000 men of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, from military post offices, were assigned. The strike was settled after eight days when the postal employees returned to work. The US Post Office was dissolved, and the United States Postal Service was created, an independent organization of the executive branch of government.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Pan Am introduced commercial passenger service on the 747 in 1970. Pan American World Airways

21. The Boeing 747 changed international travel in 1970

On January 22, 1970, a Boeing 747 carried commercial passengers across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Pan Am launched regularly scheduled flights of the revolutionary aircraft when it carried 332 passengers from New York to London, along with a crew of 18. It would carry up to 550 passengers and crew in later configurations. The Pan Am tradition of naming its aircraft was continued, the particular airplane used was named Clipper Victor. It was selected for the flight only after the originally scheduled airplane developed engine problems, delaying the flight by more than six hours. Clipper Victor was later destroyed in the Tenerife Airport disaster in 1977, the worst commercial aviation accident in history.

Clipper Victor also claimed the distinction of being the first 747 to be hijacked in August of 1970, when it was diverted to Havana while on a flight from New York to Puerto Rico. But that was the unknown future when the aircraft arrived in London on January 22. With the 747, airlines could carry up to twice as many passengers on some flights as before, and at least initially in greater comfort. Its arrival in London left the British press awestruck due to its size – it was taller than a six-story building – and its accommodations. The flying public was evidently less impressed because its return flight to New York carried less than two hundred passengers in its spacious cabin.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Wreckage of the Marshall football team plane crash in November, 1970. Herald-Dispatch

22. 1970 saw three teams claim the National Championship in college football

In 1970, there was no playoff for college football, and only 11 bowl games were played following the regular season. There was no official national champion determined by the NCAA, but there was a National Champion trophy awarded by the writer’s poll from the Associated Press. Two other major polls were recognized, one from United Press International and participating coaches, and the other from the National Football Foundation (NFF). When the season was over the Nebraska Cornhuskers were unbeaten, but they had one tie on their record. Ohio State had its only loss in the Rose Bowl to Stanford (then called the Indians), but it played two games fewer than Nebraska. Texas lost in the Cotton Bowl, it’s only loss of the season.

The result was Nebraska being declared champion by the AP Poll; Texas by the UPI Coaches poll, and Ohio State by the NFF. No clear champion was hardly a tragedy though. On October 2, the airplane carrying part of the Wichita State team (there were two planes chartered) crashed, killing 14 players. On November 14, another charter flight carrying 37 members of the Marshall University team, eight coaches, and 25 team boosters crashed in West Virginia as the team was returning from a game in Greeneville, South Carolina. All 75 people aboard were killed. The accident occurred six weeks and one day after the Wichita State tragedy.

Life in the United States in 1970s
Bell-bottomed jeans, wide belts, and miniskirts were all features of 1970 fashion. Wikimedia

23. Fashion was diverse in most levels of society

Both men and women, especially the young, favored jeans with flared bottoms known as bellbottoms. The more frayed and ragged they were the better, and patches were often applied whether they were needed or not. Denim jackets were popular, as were fringed leather jackets and vests. Tie-dyed shirts were worn by both sexes. Vivid colors and patterns were popular, even for more dressy wear. Mini skirts reached a height from which they could rise no further and remain a skirt, but midi and maxi lengths were also popular. In most workplaces, more formal attire was required. Work uniforms were common and in offices, the suit still reigned supreme for men.

Men’s collars, ties, belts, and lapels widened, a trend which continued for the first half of the decade. Vintage clothing became popular, as did Army and Navy surplus, in particular, Army jackets and Navy peacoats. Men wore jewelry which included bracelets and necklaces. Earth shoes, invented in Denmark, were claimed to give benefits to the wearer from what was known as negative heel technology. The heel was lower than the toe, and when walking it was claimed the wearer was thus emulating walking in sand. They became so popular following an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the supplier could not keep up with demand by 1972.

Life in the United States in 1970s
US Senator Jake Garn and astronaut Karol Bobko display a Doonesbury cartoon aboard the Space Shuttle in 1985. NASA

24. Garry Trudeau created Doonesbury in 1970

On October 26, a new American cartoon strip made its debut in the United States. Doonesbury, written and drawn by Garry Trudeau, appeared initially in about two dozen newspapers. The following spring a Sunday strip was added. It became instantly known for not only its humor but its biting political commentary, usually from a liberal point of view. Two of its main characters, B. D. and Mike Doonesbury, initiated the strip as college roommates, with the first strip published depicting them meeting at the fictional Walden College, though the school was not identified by name until subsequent strips.

Trudeau won the Pulitzer Prize for the strip in 1975. It was the first comic strip ever so honored, winning the Editorial Cartoon category. Throughout its existence the strip provided commentary on current events and storylines reflected on social issues, political debates, and relationships. The strip frequently generated controversy. Many newspapers chose not to run individual strips or demanded they be altered before they would run. The strip, and the reaction to it, was another measure of the divisiveness present in the United States, much of it centered on America’s role in Vietnam.

Life in the United States in 1970s
The creation of OSHA in 1970 was a compromise between the White House and both Houses of Congress. White House

25. The Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed at the end of 1970

On December 29, President Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The new law made it a requirement for employers to ensure working conditions were free of known hazards, or that proper procedures and equipment were provided to minimize them. More than 2 million workers were injured on the job in each of the two years preceding OSHA’s passage. 14,000 were killed in work accidents per year. Some progressive states, including New York and California, produced workplace safety acts on their own, but OSHA was the first sweeping federal effort to address the issue.

Not surprisingly business leaders strongly resisted the act. Both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the resistance, as they had with earlier attempts to enact similar legislation. Labor unions generally supported the measure. The act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration within the Department of Labor. It was assigned the authority to establish and enforce regulations for enforcement of the provisions of the act, beginning on April 28, 1971. The law specifically excluded the United States under the definition of an employer, but it covered its agencies, Amtrak, and the United States Postal Service.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“MNF History: 1970”. Article, ABC Sports Online. August 29, 2002

“Congress bans airing cigarette ads, April 1, 1970”. Andrew Glass, Politico. April 1, 2018

“The May 4 Shootings At Kent State University: The Search For Historical Accuracy”. Jerry M. Lewis and Thomas R. Hensley. Kent State University. Online

“War Foes Here Attacked By Construction Workers”. Homer Bigert, The New York Times. May 9, 1970

“The much-maligned AMC Gremlin is gaining legitimacy as a collector car”. Jim Koscs, Hagerty. February 19, 2019. Online

“Apollo 13”. Article, NASA. July 8, 2009. Online

“The History of Earth Day”. Article, Online

Why the Beatles broke up”. Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone. September 3, 2009. Online

“‘Colorado would be laughing stock of the world’: Remembering Denver’s Disastrous ’76 Olympic Bid”. Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated. February 6, 2018

“Suffrage for 18-year-olds”. Article, History, Art, and Archives, US House of Representatives. Online

“A Eulogy for the Boombox”. Frannie Kelley, NPR. April 22, 2009. Online

“American Top 40 with Casey Kasem: The 1970s”. Pete Battistini. 2005

“20 Biggest Songs of the Summer: The 1970s”. Al Shipley, Rolling Stone. August 28, 2019

“The Seventies: TIME’s take on television”. Natalie Angley, CNN. August 17, 2015

“Railroads: Step to Nationalization”. TIME Magazine, October 26, 1970

“The History of the Hand-Held Electronic Calculator”. Kathy B. Hamrick, The American Mathematical Monthly. October, 1996

“Whatever happened to S & H Green Stamps?” Kelly Kazek, Alabama Living. April 25, 2016

“The Great Postal Strike of 1970”. Article. AFL-CIO. Online

The Story of Pan American World Airways”. Tom Boon, Simple Flying. October 12, 2018

The Conundrum of Selecting the 1970 NCAA Football National Champion”. Article, Scorum. January, 2019

A Look Back at the Greatest 1970s Fashion Moments”. Jennifer Algoo, Nicole Saunders. Harper’s Bazaar. January 14, 2019

“Garry Trudeau: Doonesbury and the Aesthetics of Satire”. Kerry Soper. 2008

“About OSHA”. United States Department of Labor. Online