The inventor of the Pet Rock died last week at the age of 78 and nobody seemed to notice. On Tuesday, however, the New York Times rectified this with an obituary of Gary Dahl who in 1975, while working as an advertising copywriter, created some of the U.S.’ original viral content when he packaged and sold pet rocks for just under $4 a pop. If you assumed there couldn’t possibly be a market for, as the Times describes it “a plain, ordinary, egg-shaped rock of the kind one could dig up in almost any backyard,” you’d be wrong. More than three million were sold over the course of several months making Dahl a millionaire and creating pop culture history.
Here’s more from the Times on the birth of the fad that predated the viral age:
[Dahl] recruited two colleagues as investors, visited a building-supply store and bought a load of smooth Mexican beach stones at about a penny apiece. The genius was in the packaging. Each Pet Rock came in a cardboard carrying case, complete with air holes, tenderly nestled on a bed of excelsior. Mr. Dahl’s droll masterstroke was his accompanying manual on the care, feeding and house training of Pet Rocks…
Pet Rocks hit the marketplace in time for Christmas 1975. They were soon featured on “The Tonight Show” and in a blizzard of newspaper articles. In a matter of months, some 1.5 million rocks were sold… While Pet Rocks were the must-have gift of the 1975 holiday season, they soon went the way of all fads. The idea’s very simplicity proved its undoing: Though Mr. Dahl trademarked the name, there was nothing to stop someone from putting a rock into a box and selling it, and many did.