The pet rock was one of the biggest gift crazes in American history. Introduced in time for the holiday gift buying season in 1975, the humble stones sold for two dollars apiece and came with a special "training manual." The man who "invented" the pet rock became an instant millionaire.
Pet rocks were the brainchild of Gary Dahl (1937?–), a California advertising man who came up with the concept while having dinner with some friends in April 1975. Dahl thought, What if there were a pet that did not require any care or feeding? He quickly set about writing his Pet Rock Training Manual. Soon after, he decided to market an actual pet rock as well. He bought a bunch of Rosarita beach stones at a building supply store and took them to the annual San Francisco gift show in August 1975. The stones cost him only a penny each, but he packed them in a gift box and attached his training manual and offered them for sale to retailers for two dollars each.
The rocks were the hit of the show and Dahl could barely keep up with the orders that came rolling in. Neiman-Marcus, the giant retail chain, ordered five hundred. By October, Dahl was shipping out some ten thousand pet rocks a day. By Christmas, he had sold over one million of the adorable "creatures." At $3.95 retail, that made for an enormous profit margin. The outgoing, bearded ad man was now a millionaire—and with that came instant celebrity. Dahl appeared on The Tonight Show (see entry under 1950s—TV and Radio in volume 3) twice and was profiled in newspapers and magazines across the country, including Newsweek.
As quickly as the pet rock craze began, it ended. Soon after Christmas of 1975, demand for pet rocks began to plummet. Imitators rushed their own pet-rock products onto the market in the hopes of cashing in, but the mania had subsided. Dahl himself had to give away thousands of unsold stones to charity. Having earned enough to retire on, however, he was not complaining. He embarked on a lucrative second career giving motivational speeches and writing books about how to make a million dollars fast.
Robert E. Schnakenberg
For More Information
Panati, Charles. Fads, Follies, and Manias. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.
Polson Enterprises. "Pet Rock Page." Virtual Pet Home Page.http://www.virtualpet.com/vp/farm/petrock/petrock.htm (accessed March 29, 2002).
Skolnik, Peter L., with Laura Torbet and Nikki Smith. Fads: America'sCrazes, Fevers & Fancies from the 1890's to the 1970's. New York: Crowell, 1978.