Culture and technology exploded in the 1970s in the West, setting the stage for some of the most advanced products today. Technology and new products were churned out at a record rate in the 1970s, producing some ubiquitous items that you may find in your office, at home, and even at school.
Companies like Apple and IBM began to shape the way pop culture thought about computers and even data storage. You can thank this decade for things like the floppy disk and email. Think where you would be without these technologies. If you haven’t picked up on it already, today we are going to talk about the 1970s.
1. Email would change the way we communicate
Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971, an invention that you probably used today at some point. Remember ARPANET? Tomlinson and Bolt Beranek created text-based messaging between computers through the ARPANET network using the “@” symbol to route messages.
However, there is some controversy in this story. Shiva Ayyadurai built an electronic messaging platform in 1978 when he was 14 years old, basing it off the internal communication system at his high school. Though the young inventor was eventually awarded the copyright for “EMAIL”, it is still disputed who actually invented the 1970s technology.
2. The mobile would make the world a little smaller
How would you celebrate creating the first handheld cell phone? Invented by Motorola in 1973, senior engineer Martin Cooper called rival telecommunication company Bell Laboratories just to inform them that they were speaking through a mobile phone. Now, this phone was nothing like the phone you might have in your hands right now, it was definitely clunky, but for the time, it was very impressive.
The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x weighed almost two and a half pounds and was a little over a foot in length. You could call up a friend and talk with them for 30 minutes, but it would take 10 hours to charge.
3. Intel 4004 helped us build better computers
In 1971, Intel released the first programmable microprocessor to the market, and it was dubbed the Intel 4004. Invented by Stanley Mazor, Federico Faggin, and Ted Hoff, it was the first programmable, commercially available microprocessor. Their invention would go on to earn them the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by US President Barack Obama.
4. Apple II changed personal computing
Love them or hate them, there is a good chance that you longed for an Apple product at some point during your childhood or adulthood. At the very least, you shared some respect for Steve Wozniak or the controversial Steve Jobs. Following the Apple I, the Apple II was the first personal computer to achieve mass-market success. Its most important features were the eight expansion slots on the motherboard. These allowed hobbyists to add additional cards made by Apple and the many other vendors who quickly sprung up, creating a new ecosystem of amateur and professional software suppliers. For example, in 1979 Software Arts introduced the first computer spreadsheet, Visicalc, for the Apple II. This “killer application” was extremely popular and helped boost sales of the Apple II.
5. The Sony Walkman was the iPod before the iPod
The creation of the Walkman was a pop culture moment and would weave itself into the 1980s. Before your smartphone, Mp3 player, or CD player, the Sony Walkman was where you would put all your songs for the summer. The product became synonymous with portable music devices after it first entered the market in 1979.
6. Rubik’s Cube would become one of the most popular toys in history
The Rubik’s Cube is one of the most popular toys in history. It’s always awe-striking to see a kid solving a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute. The toy was created by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architecture professor. Interestingly, he used the Rubik’s Cube to present information about spatial relationships to his students in a more interesting and compelling way.
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Rubik never intended or expected that the cube would become a top-selling toy. In fact, he viewed his invention more like a piece of art.
7. The digital camera would change photography forever
This 1970s invention was a forerunner of the camera that you use in your phone today. The first self-contained digital camera was invented by Kodak engineer Steven Sasson in 1975; however, like a lot of things on this list, it was bulky and clunky, looking nothing like the digital camera that you may have grown accustomed to over the years.
The invention weighed about eight pounds (3.6 kg) and took 0.01-megapixel black-and-white photographs that were recorded onto a cassette tape in a process that took 23 seconds.
8. The good ol’ floppy disk
If you grew up in the 90s or before, you likely remember the floppy disk. At their peak in the mid-1990s, more than five billion were sold each year worldwide. Floppies helped enable the PC revolution and the emergence of an independent software industry.
The first floppies were created at IBM’s data storage skunkworks in San Jose, California by a small team of engineers working on developing a reliable and inexpensive system for loading instructions and installing software updates into mainframe computers. The team first considered using magnetic tape, but then switched to using a flexible Mylar disk coated with magnetic material that could be inserted through a slot into a disk drive mechanism and spun on a spindle.
IBM began selling floppy disk drives in 1971, and received U.S. patents for the drive and floppy disk in 1972. BUt the big breakthrough came when the Apple II was released with two 5-¼ inch floppy drives. Thanks to the floppy, ordinary people were able to load operating systems and other software programs into their personal computers with ease — a big breakthrough in user-friendliness.
9. If you had a LED display pocket calculator, you were the coolest guy in the room
Another timeless 1970s technology, this calculator featured a state-of-the-art integrated circuit and LED display, bringing the power of calculation to everyone’s pocket. The aim of this calculator was to make math easier for generations of people in the office and at school. However, the first calculator was not cheap, costing $395.
10. Fast food started to become a staple of Western culture
The fun inventions from the 1970s do not end with technology. The 1970s also saw the birth of some of the most iconic foods, things that millions still enjoy today. Candies like the culturally popular Jelly Belly, Reese’s Pieces, and Twix all made their US debut in the 70s. Earlier in the decade, Orville Redenbacher introduced his Gourmet Popping Corn. The Quarter Pounder was introduced at McDonald’s for 53 cents in 1971, and towards the end of the decade, they introduced the Happy Meal. As you probably noticed, the 1970s birthed a lot of snack foods and fast-food staples.
11. The 1970s churned out some of the most important video games in history
Now, there are games that are worth mentioning that made their debut in the 1970s. These games would shape and plant the seeds of the coming massive gaming industry. Games like Pong, Space Invaders, and Asteroids were all released in the ’70s, they would later go on to become iconic cultural staples of the decade. Simple, but fun.
Do you have a favorite invention from the 1970s? Which 1970s technology do you think had the most impact? Interested in some other ancient inventions?