The Pet Rock, which isn't
technically an invention, is one of the best-known fads of all time.
The Pet Rock is to novelty gifts what a Rube Goldberg invention is
to any type of system that requires about a dozen steps to achieve
what should be a very simple task.
The Pet Rock is synonymous with inventions that made a fortune
for the inventor. This totally ridiculous idea succeeded because the
only person who thought it made sense did a brilliant job of
packaging and promoting it. Since this happened in the 1970s, it's
my journalistic duty to inform you that he was not stoned (bad pun
No. 2) when he came up with the idea of the Pet Rock.
The feature that made the Pet Rock so attractive was the
instruction manual and booklet that accompanied each rock. Retailing
for $3.95, each of the rocks cost Dahl about a penny apiece. The Pet
Rock Training Manual and the gift box -- shaped like a pet carrying
case -- are what really made it a popular item, and they also made
up the majority of Dahl's costs.
The fact that people would pay for something as simple as a rock
has caused many would-be inventors to scratch their heads and ask,
"Why didn't I think of that?"
The Pet Rock was originally conceived as a parody of a dog
training manual, and it went on to outsell other '70s fads such as
lava lamps and mood rings. It did not have the staying power of some
of the best fads of the '60s, such as the Slinky, the Hula Hoop or
the Frisbee, though. Its meteoric rise (bad pun No. 3) commanded
even more attention than Rubik's Cube or Cabbage Patch Kids of the
[to top of second column]
Dahl introduced the Pet Rock at a San Francisco gift show in 1975
and began writing up orders immediately. A major reason why he was
able to sell so many rocks was because he received so much media
exposure, including two appearances on "The Tonight Show" with
Johnny Carson and stories in three-fourths of the daily newspapers
in the United States.
In fact, with all of the media exposure his Pet Rock received, I
doubt if he spent a dime on advertising. He became a millionaire
from his idea by selling more than a million rocks at a profit of
$1.05 each. In the process, he became a legend of nearly mythical
proportions. Other inventors have made money with their products,
but it takes a genius to squeeze a fortune out of a rock!
As is the custom with fads, the popularity of the Pet Rock fell
just as quickly as it began. By early 1976, just five months after
it hit America like an asteroid, the Pet Rock phenomenon had faded
Where is the inventor now?
Gary Dahl runs his own ad agency in California. He also wrote a
book for the popular "Dummies" series, called "Advertising for
If you're keeping score at home, there were three really bad puns
in this story and, counting the asteroid comment, one pretty good
[Text from file received
from Paul Niemann]
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007