How the Pet Rock was one of the hottest novelty products of the 1970s

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The history of the Pet Rock novelty toy gag gift

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Just how hot was the Pet Rock in its heyday?

In late 1976 — after the craze was all but over — entrepreneur Gary Dahl, the creator of the runaway hit gag gift, had reportedly grossed an estimated $4 million. From selling rocks.

The rocks themselves came from Rosarito Beach in Mexico, for which Rock Bottom Productions paid just pennies apiece before packaging them up and selling them for $4 a pop.

“Before he unveiled the Pet Rock, Dahl was a struggling freelance advertising man,” the Associated Press wrote in February 1977.

The man behind the fad added, “That’s another word for being broke.”

Gary Dahl - Creator of the Pet Rock in the Boston Globe (1976)

If you want to know more about the history of the Pet Rock, below you can see a few of the little critters — along with excerpts from the vintage manual: “The care and training of your Pet Rock.”

That slim volume featured a variety of helpful tips on everything from paper training to teaching basic commands. That was important, because nobody wanted an unruly rock.

Hopefully, if you did it all correctly, you wouldn’t have to deal with a chip off the old block… or end up with a litter of pebbles.

The hottest novelty item of 1975: Pet Rock

The history of the Pet Rock: Promoter makes fortune selling rocks as pets (1975)

From the Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) November 10, 1975

You’re not considered ‘in’ in some circles if you don’t have a rock for a pet

And now, for only $4, the perfect pet can be yours — if you don’t mind taking a rock for a walk.

The care and training of your PET ROCK - 1970s manual excerpt (3)
Pet Rocks: A few of the most popular breeds

Gary Dahl, a San Jose advertising man, came up with the idea a few months ago of marketing pet rocks, hoping they would appeal to the sort of person who, well, might like a pet rock.

It turns out there are quite a few such people.

“Incredible as it may seem, we’ve sold 60,000 so far,” said Dahl’s wife, Marguerite, vice president of Rock Bottom Productions. “Those rocks are gathering green dollars instead of moss.”

ANOTHER FAD TO SEE: Vintage lava lamps: They were ‘like wild – way out!’ (1960s & 1970s)

The care and training of your PET ROCK - 1970s manual excerpt (5)
Praise your rock and give it a pat of approval. A pat of approval works wonders.

For $4, the purchaser receives an egg-sized stone packaged in a cardboard box with air holes, plus a manual on the care and feeding of petrified pets. 

According to the manual, the Pet Rocks need no training to be able to sit, play dead or roll over. They also can be taught to attack by placing them inside a purse, then hitting a mugger on the head.

The care and training of your PET ROCK - 1970s manual excerpt (4)
SECTION ONE Simple obedience. Come. It is essential that your PET ROCK learn this command. A rock that doesn’t come when it’s called will cause its owner endless embarrassment. Command gently but firmly.

The idea for the novelty Pet Rock came to Dahl, 38, one evening as he was having a drink in a local tavern and a stranger asked if he had a pet.

“I keep a rock for a pet,” Dahl responded. “You don’t need a license. You don’t have to feed it. It doesn’t mess up. It’s quiet. And there are no offspring to worry about.”

ALSO SEE: Mood rings: The colorful new-age ’70 trend – and what the colors meant

The care and training of your PET ROCK - 1970s manual excerpt (1)

The stranger departed before the end of the explanation, leaving Dahl to ponder his brainstorm. Two months later, he was turning a profit.

“They’re different, they appeal to a special sense of humor,” explained Mialma McWilliams, a buyer at San Francisco’s Liberty House, one of several stores doing a brisk business in the rocks.

The care and training of your PET ROCK - 1970s manual excerpt (2)
NOTE: If, when you remove the rock from its box it appears to be excited, place it on some old newspapers. The rock will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction. It will remain on the paper until you remove it.

Dahl says he’s being besieged by offers from inventors who want hint to market their ideas. One of the latest is a coin-changing machine that gives the wrong change.

“Now that’s really weird,” said Dahl.

Vintage Pet Rock gag gift

Top photos thanks to reinhardpribish & thevarsityclub

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