Gary Dahl with packages of his Pet Rocks in Los Gatos in 1975. Bettmann/Getty Images

The man who invented the Pet Rock

In April 1974 a freelance copywriter named Gary Dahl struck upon an improbable multimillion-dollar idea.

Over beers at a Los Gatos bar, Dahl’s buddies were lamenting the hassles of pets: the feeding, the walking, the cleaning up. “I own a pet rock,” Dahl said in jest. It turned into a running joke, then a serious business idea.

Dahl crafted a booklet for rock ownership modeled on dog training manuals. To calm your rock’s nerves, he advised, place it on some old newspapers. “It will remain on the paper until you remove it,” he wrote.

Pet Rocks were offered for $4 apiece, delivered in a box with air holes, during the 1975 holiday buying season. They were a sensation, with more than a million units sold.

“People are so damn bored, tired of all their problems,” Dahl told People magazine. “This takes them on a fantasy trip — you might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”

For Dahl, who died in 2015, the Pet Rock brought riches, but also unwanted attention. He told the A.P. that he was besieged by threats, lawsuits, and wannabe inventors seeking his advice on the next big thing.

“Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn’t have been simpler if I hadn’t done it,” he said.

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