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 a 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 makes it. After changing hands several times Nerf became part of Hasbro in the early 21st century.
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 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 a 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 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 consistently rose in national elections since.
13. People carried their music with them to parks, the beach, and anywhere else
In 1970 the first of the 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 which was the last studio album produced by the popular Simon and Garfunkel.
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 weekâ¦” 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 the debut of 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.
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.
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 were 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.
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 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.
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 hand-held 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 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.
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. Mimimum 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.
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 were 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.
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.
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, 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, its 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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: