Life in the Seventies

This is a list of items describing life in the 1970s, mainly in the Los Angeles, California, USA, area.

  1. Economically, in the 1970s the United States economy experienced sluggish economic growth, high inflation, and two large rises in petroleum prices.  This situation became known as "stagflation".  But the Japanese economy surged, and there was a fear that Japan would surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy (which never happened).

Price Comparisons 1970 1979
gasoline (average price per gallon) 36¢ 86¢
Dow Jones Industrial Average 800 839
minimum wage (per hour) $1.60 $2.90
postage (first class letter) 15¢
Gross Domestic Product ($ billions) 1017 2660
Consumer Price Index (1977 = 100) 65.3 114.1
Inflation (1970 = 1.00) 1.00 1.87
  1. Telephones mostly had dials at the beginning of the decade, but Touch-Tone phones were becoming more common through the decade. The phone company owned all the telephones; you had to pay extra to have an "extension" phone, and extra for a color telephone, although color phones were now quite common.
  2. The postage for a first class letter was 6¢ per ounce since 1968, 8¢ from 1971 to 1975, 10¢ from September, 1971, to the end of that year, 13¢ from 1976 to 1978,  and 15¢ from 1978 to 1981.  Air mail cost more until 1977, and, starting in 1975, additional ounces cost less than the first ounce.
  3. Amtrak was formed in 1971, to take over (largely money-losing) passenger trains.  Many trains were discontinued.  The following trains to Los Angeles were run by Amtrak when they started (with two trains added later):
  4. Air travel had become the main form of business travel, and was preferred for long-distance leisure travel.
  5. The modern office used an IBM Selectric® typewriter and a mimeograph machine (probably made by Gestetner or A.B. Dick).  Heavy-duty reprographic machines (probably made by Xerox) were becoming common, and so were computers.  Large companies owned or leased large mainframe computers (like the IBM 360 or 370); smaller companies used time-share services.  The beginnings of the internet happened in 1969, and bulletin board services began in the 1970s.  The Apple II computer, first sold in 1977, was the first successful personal computer. It was widely predicted that these "personal computers" would soon be found in every home.  But microcomputers remained largely the domain of hobbyists until the 1980s.
  6. Hand-held electronic calculators began to appear in 1971, but were very expensive. Before they were available, offices used mechanical adding machines, and scientists and engineers used slide rules, or tables of logarithms for more precise work. The first scientific calculator (which could replace a slide rule) appeared in 1972; it was the Hewlett-Packard HP-35, used RPL (reverse Polish logic), and it cost $395. Texas Instruments began introducing scientific calculators with "algebraic" logic (and lower prices) in 1973.  By 1975, calculators had largely supplanted slide rules in scientific and engineering use.
  7. Other advances in technology included Video Tape Recorders for home use.  Sony launched the Betamax in 1975.  In 1976, RCA introduced the VHS (Video Home System) format. Although many believed the Beta format superior, VHS offered longer recording times (first two hours, then four).  In addition, the VHS format was licensed, and with more manufacturers, the price began to decline.
  8. Most home music systems consisted of an amplifier & radio and a phonograph.  Small portable transistor radios were common, with a single earphone. Music was sold on LPs and 45s. Most record players had four speeds: 78, 45, 33 1/3, and 16 2/3. There were snap-in inserts for playing 45s on players lacking a large spindle. 8-track cartridges were the most popular medium for portable music at the start of the decade, reaching their peak of popularity in 1978, and then declined while compact cassettes gained popularity. The LP format also reached its peak of popularity in 1978.
  9. Smoking was permitted indoors, and even in airplanes; there were not even separate smoking sections. Trains, though, had some cars designated NO SMOKING, and buses usually only allowed smoking in the last few rows.  Cigarettes were advertised on television and radio until January 2, 1972.
  10. Governors of California during the Seventies were
  11. U. S. Presidents during the decade were
  12. International leaders of the decade included:
  13. Several "right wing" dictatorships ended in the 1970s.  The notion developed afterward that right wing regimes could move toward democracy, but left wing regimes could not.
  14. The Cold War continued throughout the decade.  Because of "stagflation" and a general feeling of malaise in the Western countries, plus President Carter’s statement about an "inordinate fear of communism", it was felt that communism may be permanent, and may even be advancing.
  15. In 1973, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Roe vs. Wade, invalidating all prohibitions on abortion in all states. The ruling did not settle the issue, and vehement debate has continued.
  16. In 1978 California voters passed Proposition 13, which limited property tax rates to 1% of assessed value.  This had many consequences, some perhaps unintentional.  Because local governments had relied on property tax for most of their revenues, they found they were now short of money, and thus became dependent on the state government.  Because property taxes dropped, property values immediately went up, because this made more properties available to buyers.  Because property is only reassessed upon sale, it meant that adjacent properties could be taxed at wildly different rates, resulting essentially in a transfer of wealth from young homebuyers to the elderly who had stayed in their homes for many years.  Also because single-family residences change owners more than commercial properties, the property tax burden was transferred more and more to single families.  Sales taxes now generated more revenue per acre than property taxes, so local governments began to favor commercial development over residential. It was predicted that Proposition 13 would be the beginning of a nationwide "tax revolution".  There were a few tax-limitation laws passed in other states, but the "revolution" didn’t materialize.
  17. Many social movements that had their beginnings in the ’sixties became mainstream in the ’seventies. Except for the environmental movement, the time of mass social movements was over, but action continued in legislatures. The social activism of the 1960s began turning to social activities simply for one’s own pleasure, so that Tom Wolfe named the 1970s the "Me Decade".
  18. Cults and gurus began to appear on the American scene, including the following.
  19. There were important developments in religion in the 1970s.  Many "mainline" protestant churches continued to lose membership throughout the decade, including the Episcopal Church, The United Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, The American Baptist Churches, and the United Church of Christ.
  20. Americans were routinely given the smallpox vaccine until 1972, and the disease was eradicated worldwide by 1979.
  21. In 1977, the Bank of America gave up control of its BankAmericard, which was then renamed VISA. In 1979, Master Charge was renamed MasterCard.
  22. Fashions of the decade.
  23. Popular music began to fragment in the 1970s, more than ever before.
  24. Sports news of the decade
  25. Numerous fads came and went during the decade.
  26. There was more heavy industry in the Los Angeles area than there is today.
  27. There were more department stores, including Robinson’s, I. Magnin, Joseph Magnin, Bullock’s, Ohrbach’s, The May Company, and The Broadway.  Both J. C. Penney and Sears had retail stores that have since closed.
  28. Three cities competed to have the world’s tallest building in the Seventies: Boston with the John Hancock Tower, Chicago with the Sears Tower, and New York with the twin World Trade Center towers.
  29. Notable books published in the Seventies included
  30. Notable songs in popular music for the 1970s (More songs are given on a separate list).
  31. Because of some bad decisions (like not knowing when the Sixties were over), major Hollywood studios were losing money early in the decade. MGM sold off many properties, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers and its own back lots. The movie ratings changed during the 1970s.  In 1970 the M rating became GP, and then PG in 1972. Very popular during the decade were James Bond films: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1970, George Lazenby); Diamonds Are Forever (1971, Sean Connery); Live and Let Die (1973: Roger Moore); The Man with the Golden Gun (1974: Roger Moore); The Spy Who Loved Me (1977: Roger Moore); and Moonraker (1979: Roger Moore).  Other notable movies of the 1970s included:
  32. Notable Broadway musicals of the 1970s included:
  33. During the fifth season of the TV sitcom Happy Days in 1977, Fonzie, while water skiing and wearing a leather jacket, jumped over a shark.  Many people felt that this was an indication that the series had passed its peak, and was running out of good story ideas.  This led to the term "jumping the shark" to refer to the same thing in other shows.  Notable television shows of the 1970s included:
  34. The blockbuster television mini-series began with Centennial (1976) and Roots (1977: ABC).  Other such miniseries were I, Claudius (1976: BBC, but broadcast in the US later) and Shogun (1980: NBC).  Earlier miniseries (a term not used in Great Britain), often broadcast on PBS’s "Masterpiece Theater", were The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972: BBC) and Elizabeth R (1972: BBC).

This list is intended to be similar to the "Mindset List", published each year by Beloit College. For more information about social, political and cultural trends in the decade, see the Wikipedia article on the 1970s. For suggestions, additions, and corrections to this list, please email me: tf_mcq {at} yahoo {dot} com.


See also: