Way back in 1975, an advertising copywriter named Gary Dahl was listening to his friends complain about their pets. He joked that a pet that wouldn’t need much maintenance was a rock. Such a joke would get, like, 3 upvotes if it were posted in this Open Thread today.
The madness of Gary Dahl was that he thought this might be a nifty thing to put to market. He did… and somehow it was worth millions of dollars.
This Real Life Meme Spiral was a novelty gift that came in a cardboard box with tiny holes that let the rock breathe. It also came with a bed of straw and humorous instructions on pet care.
The rocks came from a beach in Mexico and cost all of one cent each. Dahl once joked that he didn’t care if product got returned to him. He’d just use it to line his sidewalk.
The pet rock became a fad and the hot Christmas item of 1975. I’ve read sites that say that people needed the amusement after the Vietnam War and Watergate… but I don’t know. People don’t really need to have an excuse to hop onto a ridiculous trend. Some people customized their rocks by putting googly eyes on them (GOOGLY EYES NOT INCLUDED). And… I don’t know, walking around with it on a leash? I have no idea, I wasn’t even one years old (or American) the year that pet rocks blew up in the States. (Born, I was, in the Year of the Pet Rock.)
At the end of the day… it was literally a rock that you basically bought for the packaging. (Apt, given that it was invented by an ad guy.) I’ve read that a million pet rocks were sold. A special Bicentennial Edition released in 1976.
Dahl tried to sell a couple other novelty gag gifts like the Sand Breeder Kit (which was a bag of sand) and the Canned Earthquake (a vibrating can), but none of them quite caught on. But he’ll always have the pet rock, a novelty gift that has baffled me for ages.