Long before Americans began collecting McDonalds Happy Meal toys and Beanie Babies, Troll dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids, or Bobble Heads and Furbys, there was the wildly popular Pet Rock. Introduced in the summer of 1975, these clean, cheap and well-behaved rocks became THE pet to have.
The brainchild of Californian Gary Dahl, the first Pet Rocks were gray stones bought from a local building supply company. Several weeks after the Pet Rock craze started, rocks were being “harvested” from Rosarita Beach in Baja, Mexico. Over three tons of stone was used to create these geological pets.
Marketed as if they were live pets, Pet Rocks even came with a “Pet Rock Training Manual.” The manual had instructions on how to properly raise and care for one's newfound pet (notably lacking instructions for feeding). The instruction manual contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet, and while "sit" and "stay" were effortless to accomplish, "roll over" usually required extra help from the trainer. “Potty training” and "Come" were found to be impossible to teach, but "attack" was a much easier command (picture cavemen throwing rocks).
Pet Rocks were packaged in a cardboard box designed to look like a pet carrier and they sold for $3.95 each. They became so successful because Dahl, an advertising executive, created an attractive press release and sent it to almost every major media outlet in the country. An October 1975 edition of Newsweek had an article on the Pet Rock fad and several dozen newspapers picked up the story. Dahl also had his Andy Warhol moment when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
The fad lasted about six months, ending with the Christmas season in December 1975. By the time Americans came to their senses, there were over 1.5 million Pet Rocks sold, making Dahl an instant millionaire.
I totally remember being caught up in the Pet Rock craze, asking for my own loveable rock for my 12th birthday. Citing the fact that my cousins-slash-friends Karen and Ann each had a Pet Rock, I was rewarded with my own Pet Rock to train and love. I was proud of the fact I taught “Sylvester” to sit, lie down and play dead.
Although Americans have gone through many stages of fad toys and gadgets, no one has been as successful as Dahl with marketing his useless Pet Rock. The Pet Rock is celebrating its 40th birthday this year.