Thank You, Gary Dahl!

pet_rockGary Dahl is not a household (remembered by everyone) name. But when he died last week, newspapers and TV news programs around the U.S. paid homage (did something to show respect) to him.

Dahl was responsible for what Time magazine called “One of the top 10 toy crazes (something that becomes popular suddenly but for only a short time)” of all time. Newsweek called it “one of the most ridiculously (silly or unreasonable) successful marketing schemes (clever plans) ever.”

Dahl’s scheme was born during a conversation with friends in a Northern California bar. They were complaining about their pets and all the care they required – feeding, training, cleaning. Dahl listened for a while, then told his friends that his pet never caused any trouble and required almost no care. They looked at him, and he quietly said, “I have a pet rock.”

He said it as a joke, but it soon became a business idea, and Dahl decided to sell Pet Rocks. He found a couple of friends to provide the money and began to work.

Pet Rocks were ready in time for Christmas 1975 and quickly became the gift that everyone had to have. The small smooth stones, just large enough to hold in your hand, came in a box that doubled (had another use) as a carrier. The box had holes in the sides so the rock could “breath.” And the Pet Rock sat in the box in a nest (a place where birds or other small animals live) of straw (dried stems of wheat or other plant) (see photo).

The best part of Dahl’s idea, and probably the funniest, was the 20-page manual (instruction book) that was included with each Pet Rock. It begins with this warning:

“Your new rock is a very sensitive (easily upset) pet and may be slightly traumatized (to be so upset that it affects you for a long time) from all the handling … required in bringing the two of you together. While you may look in on your new pet from time to time, it is essential (necessary) that you leave your rock in its box for a few days.”

You can read the manual here; it’s easy reading and very funny, especially if you remember that it’s talking about a rock.

More than one million people paid $3.95 each for a Pet Rock. But by February 1976 they had disappeared from the market. Interestingly, they became available again in September 2012 and, if you’d like to have your own Pet Rock, a simple Google or eBay search should help you find one.

Thank you, Gary Dahl, you made us smile, again!

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo (cropped) by MegadriveFanboy used under Creative Commons license.

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11 Responses to Thank You, Gary Dahl!

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Warren.

    I believe it is possible to “love” rocks.
    Just look at the rock cycle! that’s beautiful.

    I like looking at the different types of rocks and guess how they formed.
    As I turn and look back out I see two mounts that look the same from a distance, but as you get closer, you start noticing they are very different.
    One was a volcanic eruption and the other one is sedimentary rock and it probably was the bottom of an ocean. They are separated by a stream of water.

    They were pushed up by the African plaque that formed the European Alps.

    Having said that, I would never buy a pet rock. I would just go out and pick one up from the river.
    I does not cost anything.

    People that buy those things, do that just to show it to relatives and friends with whom to have a laugh I guess.


  2. peter says:

    Hi Warren,
    It is insane!

    How on earth could u persuade sb to buy a small rock as sth of companionship.
    I mean what the sail peach would be.
    A person who can sell rocked to people can make fortune in wall street by selling stocks:)
    I m wonder how it did in 2012.
    The most bizzar fad ever.:)

  3. peter says:

    It is as crazy as it can get.
    I can’t get over how crazy it sounds.
    I remember jeff talking about keeping rocks as pets.
    Well , why didn’t this people go out there find their own rock.
    I mean
    4 dollars out of their pocket for sth they can find in abundant everywhere ,I mean everywhere !!!
    I mean :
    They don’t even need to go out of way to find one.
    We live on a big piece of rock.
    Naturally , u can find rocks the size of their Palm like every where. On the beach , in the park, Even sometimes in the strip of land between lanes in a Bulvard ; I mean median.
    So ,why the pay?
    I pretty much want to know what makes them do that. What is their line of thinking!
    I m not judging. I m just wondering

    Pete ,the pet peeve

  4. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Hi Warren, the subject is indeed interesting. It is new for me. I wouldn’t understand it if it were not said by you. Imagine to carry a box with a rock inside believing it is a pet! Crazy! Only a fool would do that. I think it is insane. But nontheless let it be like people see it.

  5. Felipe says:


    It´s very joke,

    This’s a single thing to people care, in years than everyone dont have time for nothing, you dont need put water, not of a food not of a care.

    Im kidding but tihs idea was amazing.

  6. MJ Marra says:

    Maybe this is where they got the idea where patrick the starfish once had a pet rock named Rocky . . .

  7. Parviz says:

    It is funny and crazy.

  8. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Funny, crazy and unique.

  9. soraia says:

    Its crazy but if you to stop to think its is an idea that
    have as objetive stimulate the capacity to care, same that
    be a rock.

    Great Idea.

  10. emiliano says:

    I would like to have some rocks taken from the river or the beach, that all, they are free and it is not necessary to
    look after them.
    They are simple beautifu, that´s all.

    My Gatufo needs very few also, he only wants to be close near emiliano, have his meals and some wáter, a box
    with sand to other personal necesseties, that´s all. By change of this, so Little care, he gaves me lot of things
    and pleasure.

    I do think that not ever I have bought silly things like that, despite usually there are lots of them if you look
    carefully in the shops or by the web.

    Have a good saturday Warren and all the readers. emilliano

  11. lili:) says:

    Thank you very much Warren for this valuable article. Thank you also all of you clever writers above. Reading all the writings above has given me a lot of thoughts about stones/rocks that millions of people buy everyday. It also has enticed me to dig deep into the story of the life of Gary Dahl.

    I ran across another article written by Jeffrey A. Tucker. He says: “Gary Dahl, the inventor of the Pet Rock, has died at the age of 78, and he has some regrets about his product and its cultural impact. He shouldn’t have regretted a thing. He taught us economics. He taught us about the marketplace. He demonstrated the lie that elites can outwit consumers. With one brilliant stroke, he showed that economic activity is inseparable from the silliness and play that is part of the human spirit. His product showed us the way to universal human empowerment, and it gave birth to modernity as we know it.”

    Think about the huge amount of money that people pay for a “priceless” diamond. People don’t need a diamond to live their life, but some women need that diamond ring to prove her husband’s love for her. The bigger the diamond, the deeper the love. But is it true?

    Anyway, I don’t want to pretend that I understand everything that Jeffrey Tucker talked about in his article, but I sort of totally agree with him.

    Thank you Gary Dahl. You have lived a worthy life. Complicated but accomplished. Rest in Peace!

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