What happened in the 1970s - USA?
What happened in America in the 1970s? We look at events, films and music from 1970s in the USA.
In the news
- 1970 - Gary Gabelich in the Blue Flame rocket-propelled car set the world land speed record at 622mph. The record stood until 1983.
- 1971 - The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years of age.
- 1970 - The first pocket calculators went on sale.
- 1972 - Richard Milhous Nixon re-elected President.
- 1972 - The first digital watches went on sale.
- 1972 - Apollo 17 astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, were the last humans on the Moon.
- 1974 - Nixon resigned as President following the Watergate scandal. Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr, Nixon's Vice-President, became the new President.
- 1975 - North Vietnamese Communist forces overthrew South Vietnam. US Embassy staff were evacuated by helicopter.
- 1976 - James Earl (Jimmy) Carter Jr was elected President. He defeated President Ford.
- 1976 - The Apple Computer Company was founded. The Apple II Computer went on sale the following year (1977).
- 1977 - The London to New York supersonic Concorde service began.
- 1978 - Volkswagen opened a plant in New Stanton, Pennsylvania.
- 1979 - Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II agreement in Vienna.
- 1979 - Militants in Iran take over the American Embassy in Tehran. Embassy staff were held hostage for 444 days.
- The population of the USA rose from 205 million in 1970 to 220 million in 1979. Today (2021) it is 333 million.
- Presidents: 1969-74 Richard Nixon (Republican), 1974-6, Gerald Ford (Republican), 1977-81 Jimmy Carter (Democrat).
- Median family income rose from $9,867 in 1970 to $19,684 in 1979. However, taking inflation into account, the increase was only 7% 
- Wealth: in 1972 the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 20.7% of all wealth in the USA 
- Smoking: around 40% of US adults smoked in the 1970s
- The best-selling cigarette in 1970 was Winston made by R J Reynolds. In 1978 Marlboro, by Phillip Morris, overtook it 
- Car registrations rose from 90 million in 1970 to 120 million in 1980 
- In 1970 95% of US households had a television set, by 1979 the figure was 98% 
- In 1970 20% of US households had a color TV, by 1979 the figure was 60% 
- 4.5 million US households subscribed to cable television channels in 1970. By 1979 14 million households had cable 
- 91% of US households had a telephone in 1971, by 1978 95% of households had a telephone 
The top grossing films of each year in the 1970s were:
- 1970 - Love Story
- 1971 - Fiddler on the Roof
- 1972 - The Godfather
- 1973 - The Exorcist
- 1974 - The Towering Inferno
- 1975 - Jaws
- 1976 - Rocky
- 1977 - Star Wars
- 1978 - Grease
- 1979 - Kramer Vs Kramer
The top-rated TV shows of the 1970s year by year were:
- 1970-1 - Marcus Welby, MD (medical drama)
- 1971-2 - All in the Family (sitcom)
- 1972-3 - All in the Family
- 1973-4 - All in the Family
- 1974-5 - All in the Family
- 1975-6 - All in the Family
- 1976-7 - Happy Days (sitcom set in the 1950s)
- 1977-8 - Laverne and Shirley (sitcom spin-off from Happy Days)
- 1978-9 - Three's Company (based on the UK sitcom Man About the House)
- 1979-80 - 60 Minutes (news)
The sitcom 'All in the Family' was the most popular American TV show of the 1970s. The show ran from 1971 to 1979. A spin-off, 'Archie Bunker's Place', continued into the 1980s. The show centred around a prejudiced working-class man, Archie Bunker. There are similarities with UK TV shows 'Till Death Us Do Part' and 'Love Thy Neighbour'.
A close second in the early to middle years of the 1970s was 'Sanford and Son' about a junk dealer in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was based in another UK sitcom about rag and bone men, 'Steptoe and Son'.
Nostalgia was a big theme in popular American TV shows of the 1970s. 'The Waltons' took us back to the 1930s and the War years. 'Little House on the Prairie' took as back to the late nineteenth century. Both dramas centered around rural families.
More recent nostalgia for the 1950s, then only twenty years previous, was the theme for the mid-1970s comedy 'Happy Days' and the spin-off 'Laverne and Shirley'.
M*A*S*H about a mobile US Army surgery in the Korean War provided cult viewing for some.
Westerns were less popular than in previous decades. The long-running series 'Gunsmoke' ended in 1975.
Towards the end of the decade some shows popular in the 1980s started to appear. 'Dallas' showcased the lives of fictional wealthy oil barons and their wives. It paved the way for 'Dynasty' in the 1980s. The emphasis had moved from portrayals of working-class people, whether current or in historical settings, to the glamorous and wealthy.
The best-selling pop records of 1970s year by year in the USA were:
- 1970 - Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
- 1971 - Joy To The World - Three Dog Night
- 1972 - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Roberta Flack
- 1973 - Killing Me Softly With His Song - Roberta Flack
- 1974 - The Way We Were - Barbara Streisand
- 1975 - Love Will Keep Us Together - Captain & Tennille
- 1976 - Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright) - Rod Stewart
- 1977 - You Light Up My Life - Debby Boone
- 1978 - Night Fever - Bee Gees
- 1979 - My Sharona - Knack
Source: USA Top 1000 Singles compiled by Joe Whitburn, published by Guinness in 1986
American Football - Super Bowl winners
- January 1970 (IV) - Kansas City Chiefs
- January 1971 (V) - Baltimore Colts
- January 1972 (VI) - Dallas Cowboys
- January 1973 (VII) - Miami Dolphins
- January 1974 (VIII) - Miami Dolphins
- January 1975 (IX) - Pittsburgh Steelers
- January 1976 (X) - Dallas Cowboys
- January 1977 (XI) - Oakland Raiders
- January 1979 (XII) - Dallas Cowboys
- January 1979 (XIII) - Dallas Cowboys
Baseball - World Series winners
- 1970 - Baltimore Orioles
- 1971 - Pittsburgh Pirates
- 1972 - Oakland Athletics
- 1973 - Oakland Athletics
- 1974 - Oakland Athletics
- 1975 - Cincinnati Reds
- 1976 - Cincinnati Reds
- 1977 - New York Yankees
- 1978 - New York Yankees
- 1979 - Pittsburgh Pirates
There were plenty of fashion fads in the 1970s: hot pants, platform soles, bow ties, army surplus, Afghan coats, kaftans, t-shirt dresses, mini and maxi skirts, tie-dye t-shirts, cheesecloth shirts and blouses, safety pins inspired by Punk and headbands inspired by Bjorn Borg.
The enduring fashion story of the 1970s was the continued rise of denim.
Jeans were the counter-culture uniform of the 1960s. They were standard wear on campus in the second half of the 1960s. By the 1970s denim was almost universal for men and women.
Campus fashions changed from stove pipes in 1970 to flares in 1971. By the mid-1970s the young abandoned flared jeans, but they remained mainstream fashion for men and women until the end of the decade. 
Sales of denim jeans, jackets, skirts and anything else continued to increase throughout the 1970s. At the end of the decade a craze for designer jeans was beginning.
The other lasting fashions crazes of the 1970s were t-shirts and sneakers.
 'Statistical Abstract of the United States 1980'
 'The Guinness Book of Records 1980', published by Guinness Superlatives, page 165
 'Year by Year in the Rock Era' by Herb Hendler, published by Greenwood Press, 1983
More on 1970s
By Steven Braggs, August 2021