50 Things Only People Who Lived in the 1970s Will Remember
It's not ancient history just yet!
Here’s one thing everybody who was alive during the 1970s can agree on: The entire decade still feels like it only happened yesterday. Seriously, how can the ’70s be four decades ago? It’s just not possible that the era ruled by bell bottom jeans and 8-track cassettes was nearly half a century ago. For those of us who lived through it—and survived that groovy and perilous time—it will forever be a part of our souls. Here are 50 things that, if you were alive during the 1970s, you probably still remember. (And chances are, you’re also still shocked that those born in the ’80s, ’90, and—gulp—the 2000s don’t.)
Gas Station Lines
The 1973 oil crisis (and the subsequent 1979 one) caused a nationwide panic resulting in around-the-block lines to gas stations that never seemed to move. Some stations even started posting color-coded flags: green indicated they still had gas, while red alerted customers that they were out. Every car trip you took with your family in the 1970s, it always felt like it might be your last.
Roller Disco Parties
All the fun of a discothèque with the extra awkwardness of having wheels on your feet. We might all remember these parties fondly, but it’s a miracle we didn’t break any bones trying to dance along to a Bee Gees song while skating at frightening speeds.
Coveting an Atari Video Game Console
No, you may not have owned an Atari console during the ’70s, but at the very least you knew somebody who did and you made sure to do everything in your power to win their friendship. The very idea of playing video games in the comfort of our home without ever worrying if we had enough quarters seemed so futuristic and unfathomable.
Waiting for the Phone
Everybody in the ’70s had just one phone in their house. It was a rotary phone that stayed in some central location, with a cord that could only be stretched so far. If someone was on that phone, you just had to sit and wait for them to finish. Family members hogging the phone were the cause of many sibling battles during this era.
Pretending to be “Bionic”
If you truly are a ’70s kid, we don’t need to explain what’s involved in pretending you’re bionic. But for those who aren’t, you simply start running in slow motion, and then you make a sound with your tongue that sounds vaguely robotic. Even so many years after the Six Million Dollar Man TV show was canceled, trying to imitate Steve Austin still makes us feel powerful.
So simple, and yet so addictive. When this electronic game came out in 1978, every kid had to have one. The gameplay wasn’t too involved—you just had to tap on the right series of four colored buttons to repeat a sound pattern—but we played it with the intensity and focus that kids play Fortnite today.
Annoying (or Being Annoyed By) Your Sibling on Road Trips
When a family piled into a station wagon for a long trek across the country in the 1970s, kids didn’t have the distractions they enjoy today. There were no iPads or smartphones or portable DVD players to keep them distracted. The only way to pass the time was to see how much we could torture our brother or sister sitting in the backseat with us. It was either that or you were the one being tortured, which required constantly demanding justice from your oblivious parents trying to ignore you both in the front seat.
Waiting Until Saturday for Cartoons
If you wanted to watch Bugs Bunny or Fred Flintstone or any of your favorite cartoon characters, you had only one chance to catch them: Saturday morning. If you missed it, you missed it, and those precious few hours of animated bliss were gone forever (or at least until the next Saturday). It taught us important lessons about delayed gratification. It just wasn’t possible back then to see every cartoon ever made with the press of a button.
The Watergate Hearings
Even if you didn’t give a hoot about politics, everyone was at least vaguely aware that something bad was happening in Washington. It was the topic of every dinner party conversation, and the evening news reported on every detail like the Watergate scandal might very well be the downfall of democracy. Seeing the disgraced Richard Nixon leave the White House forever and get into a helicopter was one of the most unforgettably surreal moments of TV viewing for just about everybody in the country in the 1970s.
Living in a World without Darth Vader
The ’70s was the last decade when a person could wake up one day having no idea who Darth Vader was and by dinner that night his or her head would be spinning with thoughts of the dark side and black helmets and lightsabers. The world was suddenly divided between “Before Star Wars” and “After Star Wars,” and nothing would be the same for us again.
Being Oblivious to “Stranger Danger”
The world was no less dangerous for kids in the 1970s than it is today. Our parents just weren’t as freaked out about it. We weren’t specifically told to talk to strangers, but at the same time we weren’t warned that every unfamiliar face might mean us harm. So we made friends with everyone, even random adults that we didn’t recognize. And we survived to tell the tale.
Memorizing the Lyrics to “Rubber Duckie”
There was just a limited amount of quality TV for kids during the ’70s, so when something came along that resonated for us, it burned into our subconscious. Sesame Street provided many of those pivotal memories. Even today, long past the age when we were regularly taking baths with toys, we can recall Ernie’s ode to his rubber duck in its entirety. “Rubber Duckie, joy of joys/When I squeeze you, you make noise!/Rubber Duckie, you’re my very best friend, it’s true!”
Short Shorts and Tube Socks
Rarely in the history of fashion has a clothing style been universally accepted by both men and women. But that was the case in the ’70s with short shorts and tube socks, even though nobody looked especially good in the getup. In hindsight, tube socks that stretched up to your knees and shorts that were way too tight was a combo that was anything but flattering. But at the time, we all thought we looked cool.
No car? No problem! Just stick out your thumb and wait for a kind stranger to pull over and offer you a ride. It seems unthinkable today, but for a ’70s hipster who didn’t have the bread to buy his or her own car (or was too young for a license), hitchhiking seemed like the best option when your own two feet couldn’t get you there.
Having a Favorite Charlie’s Angel
Some kids were always rooting for Jaclyn Smith, and some had eyes only for Kate Jackson. The vast majority of us, however, were smitten with Farrah Fawcett, and not just because she had the most iconic poster of the ’70s (and, arguably, of all time). Whatever your preference, they were the coolest crime-fighting trio on TV, and proof that ladies could kick as much criminal butt as the boys.
Going Outside without Sunscreen
These days, most health-conscious people won’t even leave the house on a winter day without slathering their exposed skin in sun protection. But in the ’70s, you could walk around shirtless on a blazing hot summer day and nobody would even ask if you’d applied any sunscreen. Wait, sorry, we mean suntan lotion. There was no sun protection in the ’70s, just lotion to help facilitate a tan. And when you didn’t get a tan, you got a sunburn, which nobody took all that seriously. Hey, skin burns, but it’s not like there are any long-term consequences, right?
The Metric System
Thanks to the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, we were all prepared to start measuring things in meters, liters, and grams rather than feet, pounds, and quarts. It’s hard to understate how big a deal this was in the late ’70s, especially if you were a kid. We were inundated with pro-metric system school films, which tried to win us over with the adventures of Metric Man. You couldn’t find a kid today stressed out about metric conversion, but in the ’70s, we all lived with the fear that we’d have to be metric-ready at a moment’s notice.
Brutal Playground Equipment
Playgrounds in the ’70s were about as user-friendly as modern-day adult obstacle endurance races. Sure, there wasn’t as much barbed wire, but the equipment was just as unforgiving and brutal. Monkey bars were made of cold steel that could break bones without mercy. Everything—from the slides to the seesaws, the swings to the merry-go-round—was built to withstand military strikes, and no ’70s kid would use them without anticipating at least the occasional bloody injury.
Being Terrified to Go in the Water
When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws first hit the theaters in 1975, it’s hard to quantify exactly how big an impact it had on our collective psyche. We weren’t just scared of getting into the ocean—even lakes and ponds and wading pools seemed to disguise shark fins. We looked for sharks virtually everywhere, certain that their ferocious fangs were just waiting to bite down hard on our toes and pull us underwater.
Smallpox Vaccine Scars
Before most doctors stopped routinely giving smallpox vaccines in the early ’70s, every kid had the same familiar scar on their upper arm, caused by the two-pronged needle that punctured our skin with all the delicateness of a staple gun. Yeah, it was scary, but kids stopped getting smallpox in large numbers. And the fact that we all had the same scars almost felt like a badge of honor.
Being Tricked Into Learning by Schoolhouse Rock
Saturday morning is supposed to be about eating sugary cereals and vegging out in front of the TV, watching animated shows with no educational content whatsoever. But the Schoolhouse Rock shorts tricked us, teaching out about multiplication, history, and the differences between conjunctions and interjections without our even realizing it. Thanks to their catchy songs, we knew all about the different branches of government and what carbon footprints are without ever cracking open a book.
Having the Oscar Mayer Commercial Stuck in Your Head
That Oscar Mayer commercial with the cute kid fishing while eating bologna played so often, and was so catchy, we could hear the familiar melody reverberating around our brains over and over and over. The only thing worse was when it got replaced by “I am stuck on Band-aid, because my Band-aid is stuck on me.” Or that “I’d like to teach the world to sing” Coca-Cola commercial! (We’re sorry.)
School Assignments Printed on Ditto Machines
Any worksheet or homework assignment passed out to students in a 1970s classroom was likely created using either a ditto or mimeograph machine. Who could forget the way they left purple ink on your fingers, or that unforgettable odor?
Using Silly Putty to Preserve Newspaper Comics
We felt like geniuses for discovering that Silly Putty could be rolled over the comic section in a newspaper and perfectly reproduce our favorite Doonesbury or Garfield strip. Today, most newspapers use non-transferable ink, so any kids wanting to try this experiment are out of luck.
Pencil Cases with Attached Slide Rulers and Sharpeners
It was an essential school supply back in the ’70s, the epitome of high-tech pencil gadgetry. Pulling one of these out of your backpack meant you were serious about learning—or at least looking like the coolest student in your class. Pencil cases have become as extinct as, well… pencils. But the plastic pencil case in 1975 was the iPhone of its era.
If you’re unfamiliar with the bowl cut, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Mom would put a bowl over your head and use scissors to cut around the edges. The resulting haircut made it seem like you were wearing a salad bowl as a hat—maybe not the most flattering look, but hey, if it was good enough for Pete Rose and Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, it was good enough for anyone.
Walt Disney World Becoming a Kid Mecca
When it opened to the public in 1971, Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, instantly became the white whale for every kid in America. It had an almost mythological stature as the ultimate destination, and didn’t yet have a reputation as a tourist trap filled with overpriced food and exhaustingly long lines. Those kids lucky enough to convince their parents to take them talked about Space Mountain with hushed reverence, and the rest of us plotted ways to convince our parents to make the journey south.
Never Consuming Pop Rocks and Soda at the Same Time
Every ’70s kid had heard that terrible rumor about Mikey, the picky eater in the Life cereal commercial. Apparently, despite the warnings of his friends, he had consumed the deadly combo of Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks, and the carbon dioxide had caused his stomach to inflate to a lethal degree. What happened next? Well, his stomach exploded, of course, and poor Mikey died on the spot!
The rumors were, of course, completely false. But that didn’t stop us from believing them. In a world without Snopes, we had no choice but to trust what the smartest kid on the playground was telling us.
Moving the TV Antennae for Better Reception
TV reception in the ’70s was unreliable at best. If the picture was distorted with zig-zag lines—or, worse, the dreaded “snow,” where everything was fuzzy—the only way to fix the problem was to adjust the antennae, otherwise known as “rabbit ears.” This involved twisting and turning until slowly, sooooo sloooooowly, you captured a better signal and the picture started to come into focus. But even then, just removing your hands might cause the picture to disappear yet again. It was a long and arduous process to get the kind of visual consistency that TV audiences take for granted today.
Decades before email or texting existed, if you were writing to a friend or family member, you either did it by hand—a long and excruciating process, especially if you had a lot to say—or you used a typewriter. The unmistakable metallic clang of typewriter keys pounding on paper is something that few of us who lived through the ’70s will ever forget.
Taking Selfies with Photo Booths
Sometimes in the 1970s, you were out with friends and wanted to take a quick photo but nobody in your group was carrying around a camera (believe it or not, in the 20th century, the entire world wasn’t walking around with cameras in their pocket). The only way to capture the moment was if a photo booth happened to be nearby. You’d all crawl inside a cramped little space and wait for the camera to flash three or four times. If you didn’t like the photos, well, tough beans. You could pay the machine for four more chances, but even then you might not be satisfied. Taking dozens if not hundreds of photos to get the perfect selfie was unheard of.
Secondhand Smoke Everywhere
Smoking wasn’t just acceptable in the ’70s, it was ubiquitous. In offices, restaurants, airplanes, homes, and most public buildings, everybody was puffing away on their cigarettes without a care in the world. Kids inhaled so much secondhand smoke during this decade that we were all essentially two-pack-a-day smokers. Thankfully, we all know better today.
Getting Freaked Out by Watership Down
If an animated movie with this much gore and bloodshed were made today, it’d get a hard R rating, for sure. That’s how traumatizing the original 1978 film version of Watership Down was for a generation of kids, who watched in horror as bunnies were gassed, trapped in barbed wire, and brutally killed by other rabbits.
If you asked a ’70s kid to name the most terrifying film villain of his childhood, he wouldn’t pick Darth Vader or the Jaws shark. He’d likely point to General Woundwort, the mad king in Watership Down who ruthlessly killed innocent bunnies by ripping out their throats.
Debating What the “American Pie” Song Was All About
What was going on in Don McLean’s 1971 hit? Nobody knew for sure, but plenty of kids had a lot of theories about who the jester was and why he was stealing the king’s thorny crown and if “Jack” was supposed to be Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan or somebody else entirely. Was the whole song really about Buddy Holly dying in a plane crash and McLean feeling sad about it? In those pre-internet days, your guess was as good as anybody else’s.
Shaking “Instant” Polaroid Photos to Help Them Develop Faster
As OutKast reminded the world with their 2003 hit “Hey Ya,” the ’70s initially taught us how to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Or at least that’s what we all believed. The moment a new picture slid out of a Polaroid instant camera, we pinched it between two fingers and shook it vigorously, as if air drying was the only way to get the clearest image.
It wasn’t until 2004 when we finally learned it was all bogus. As Polaroid helpfully explained on their website, “shaking or waving has no effect.”
Bicycle Helmets Not Being Required
If you wore a helmet while riding a bike during the ’70s, it meant either that you were recovering from a serious cranial injury or you were some kind of scaredy cat terrified of even the most minor of injuries. It’s not that we were more safety-conscious back then—if anything, we took bigger risks because we all felt indestructible—but a scraped knee or a bloody lip sustained in a bicycle accident just didn’t seem like such a big deal.
It was the only Olympics that mattered. It doesn’t matter who you rooted for—the Yogi Yahooeys or the Scooby Doobies (otherwise known as the “good guys”) or the always treacherous and immoral Really Rottens, who were like if Lance Armstrong, Tonya Harding, and the Chicago Black Sox all joined the same Olympic team. We knew the whole thing was scripted (and, duh, animated) and that there was never a question about who would be victorious, but we still watched every episode like actual Olympic gold was on the line.
So simple and yet so entertaining. Consisting of two heavy acrylic balls attached to a string, you basically knocked the two balls together as fast as you could…. and that was it. Somehow it kept us entertained for hours, or at least until some kids starting overdoing it with the clacker enthusiasm and the balls shattered and caused shrapnel-related injuries. Clackers were deemed weapons of mass destruction and officially pulled from stores in 1985.
Being Captivated by Patty Hearst
Everything about the strange case of Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publishing titan William Randolph Hearst, was like something out of a Hollywood movie. First, her 1974 kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and then, even more shockingly, her new identity as “Tania,” joining forces with her once captors and even helping them rob banks in San Francisco. As it played out on TV, we all had to wonder, “Is this really happening? How is this not all scripted?”
Aluminum Can Tabs
Opening a soda in the ’70s required pulling a ring that tore open a small wedge-shape on the top of an aluminum can. Then the ring would be thrown away, usually on the ground where somebody would invariably step on it and hurt themselves. Injuries from those metallic tabs became a nationwide epidemic. One 1976 New York Times report remarked that a large percentage of beach injuries “were due to cuts inflicted by discarded pop tabs,” Slate noted. Getting a tetanus shot was the only way to survive in a world littered with soda can tabs.
Fixing Mistakes with Wite-Out.
The “delete” button of the ’70s came in a little jar full of white liquid, which could be painted across anything in a letter or school assignment that we wanted to make disappear. It wasn’t quite as magical as it sounds, as you had to wait for what felt like forever for the Wite-Out to dry, and sometimes you had to blow on the paper which just made you feel ridiculous. By the time it was ready to put back in the typewriter, you’d have completely lost your train of thought.
Those ads in the back of comic books were too irresistible for most kids. Why would we not want to have our own anthropomorphic sea creatures, living in a tank and looking reverently out at our bedrooms like we were living gods? But when the sea monkeys arrived, we learned the hard lesson that you shouldn’t always believe the advertising in comic books. The sea monkeys didn’t look anything like tiny humans at all, because they were actually a type of brine shrimp, the most boring aquarium pet a kid could ever ask for.
Station Wagons with Wood Trim
Why so many people were drawn to cars that looked as if they were made at least partly out of wood is anybody’s guess. Maybe they were responding to some residual hippie influence, and they couldn’t resist a car that was seemingly made from biodegradable materials harvested in pesticide-free gardens. It was all bunk, of course—the wood texture, more often than not, was just vinyl siding—but especially in the ’70s, appearance was often more important than reality.
Drinking Tons of Tang
The makers of Tang drove home the idea that their instant beverage, which tasted vaguely of oranges, was the nutrition of choice for astronauts everywhere. And that was enough for us to believe that just drinking Tang for breakfast put you in the same intellectual company as the brave astronauts of NASA. Even though Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, once famously said he was not a fan of Tang, that wasn’t the popular opinion in the ’70s.
Think kids today waste their time by sharing pointless internet memes? Well, in the ’70s, we all collected rocks—rocks with googly eyes that we purchased with money. For $4 a pop, we “adopted” a rock of our own and took care of it like it was an actual pet. This was not a fringe movement or a handful of kids trying to be funny. Everybody had a pet rock, and they didn’t feel at all foolish about it.
Relating to One of The Brady Bunch Kids
Whether it was ambitious ladykiller Greg or awkward middle child Jan or fantasy-fueled young dreamer Bobby, there was somebody among The Brady Bunch that resonated with just about everybody. The oversized family that was too perfect to exist in the real world somehow still managed to reflect our individual quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Metal Lunch Boxes
A plastic lunch box? That would’ve seemed inconceivable to a ’70s kid, who proudly carried around a lunch box sturdy enough to protect bologna sandwiches from an air strike. The characters featured on the front of these lunch boxes, be it Evel Knievel or Strawberry Shortcake, said a lot about our personalities.
These round ottoman seats became weirdly popular during the ’70s, and always in the most outrageous colors like avocado green (seen here) or neon orange. They were meant as foot stools but kids knew they were perfect for stretching out, or curling up for cat naps, or even laying on stomach-first and pretending we were flying like Superman. Ah, those were the days.
Taping Songs Off the Radio
Call it the world’s first music piracy. When you had a new favorite song but there wasn’t enough in your piggy bank to buy the album or 45 rpm single, you would sit next to the radio with your portable cassette recorder and wait…and wait…and wait…until, finally, that song you love so much started playing, and you immediately pressed down on the record button, capturing all those beautiful sounds for free.
TV Test Patterns
Television wasn’t available 24-hours a day during the ’70s. At some point at night, maybe around 2 or even 3 a.m., the station would sign off for the night and some sort of test pattern would appear. Sometimes it would be an American flag; sometimes, a portrait of a Native American for some reason. That was the only viewing for the restless insomniac hoping for some pre-dawn distractions. You were out of luck until at least 6 a.m. And for sone more potent nostalgia, check out 20 Photos of 1970s Home Décor to Overwhelm You With Nostalgia.
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