The Pet Rock Captured a Moment and Made Its Creator a Millionaire

PHOTO: Gary Dahl, originator of the Pet Rock, holds Pet Rock items in 1976.PlaySan Francisco Chronicle/AP Photo
WATCH July 7, 1984: Pop Culture Trends

Gary Ross Dahl devised the perfect pet.

No messes. No allergies. No effort. Just pure, simple solidarity. Dahl’s Pet Rock was a key innovation of the 1970s, tongue-in-cheek humor for a post-Watergate world, a pop culture fad that made its creator lots of money -- and continued to draw bemused attention in the decades that followed.

Dahl, whose death was announced Tuesday at age 78, reportedly stumbled onto his Pet Rock idea while at a bar talking with friends.

Dahl quickly got to work, developing the packaging. The smooth stones rested on a bed of excelsior inside a cardboard box -- featuring air holes for breathing purposes, naturally -- and included a tongue-in-cheek instruction pamphlet for "care and training."

“Your PET ROCK will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come,” stated Dahl’s booklet, which featured illustrations of the rocks in inaction. "Rocks enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part -- at least not on your PET ROCK’s account. Once you have transcended the awkward training stage your rock will mature into a faithful, obedient, loving pet with but one purpose in life -- to be at your side when you want it to, and to go lie down when you don’t."

PHOTO: A Pet Rock is displayed with its own carrying case. Al Freni/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
A Pet Rock is displayed with its own carrying case.

Lineage was highlighted, too, assuring the owner that there is “nothing common” about the rocks. No, these Pet Rocks came from a long line of famous rocks, the type of rocks found in pyramids and great walls.

The instructions featured obedience commands such as “come,” “stay,” “roll over” and “play dead” (“play dead” was one of the Pet Rock’s specialties).

Dahl introduced his Pet Rock in August 1975 in the San Francisco area, and the fad exploded, with more than one million of them sold in the ensuing months. “Tonight Show” appearances, newspaper clippings and even a song -- “I’m in Love With My Pet Rock,” by Al Bolt -- followed.

Despite his success, Dahl remained grounded.

“I packaged a sense of humor for a very bored public,” Dahl admitted in an interview with the Oakland Tribune.

The fad faded as the calendar switched to 1976, eventually relegated to a sweet, saccharine sentimentality with the likes of lava lamps, pogs and hula hoops. But decades later, Dahl’s creation continues to resonate. The Pet Rock was commemorated in a scene from the 1999 Mike Judge comedy, “Office Space.”

“You know, there are people in this world who don’t have to put up with all this s---, like that guy that invented the Pet Rock?” Tom Smykowski (Richard Riehle) says to his downtrodden co-workers. “You see, that’s what you have to do. You have to use your mind and come up with some really great idea like that. You could make millions. Never have to work again.”

“You think the Pet Rock was a really great idea?” Michael Bolton (David Herman) asks.

“Sure it was. The guy made $1 million.”

As the fad fizzled, Dahl estimated that he had sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks for $3.95 each – not a bad haul for devising a preposterous but pleasant pet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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