Energy Crisis

First day of gas rationing, California, May 9, 1979

First day of gas rationing, California, May 9, 1979

The energy crisis played a key role in the economic downturn of the 1970s. With the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, oil prices jumped 350%, and the higher costs rippled through the economy. Although business and government asked consumers to help by conserving energy, and entrepreneurs worked on solutions, the economic crises worsened. As things got more expensive, businesses laid off workers. Inflation and economic stagnation produced “stagflation” and shook confidence in the American dream.

The energy crisis played a key role in the economic downturn of the 1970s. With the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, oil prices jumped 350%, and the higher costs rippled through the economy. Although business and government asked consumers to help by conserving energy, and entrepreneurs worked on solutions, the economic crises worsened. As things got more expensive, businesses laid off workers. Inflation and economic stagnation produced “stagflation” and shook confidence in the American dream.

“OPEC and Energy,” cover of Time, 1976

“OPEC and Energy,” cover of Time, 1976

Oil Crisis of the 1970s

In 1973, Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson remarked, “The era of low-cost energy is almost dead.” Americans paid the price as prosperity came to an end. The oil embargo of 1973–1974 and subsequent crises stretched across the decade and had a deep impact on everyday life.

Jet magazine, 1974

Jet magazine, 1974

Gasoline price numbers, late 1970s

Esso price numbers from Closter, New Jersey, mark a turning point in gas pricing, when fuel jumped above the $1.00 per gallon level for the first time.

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“Sorry, Last Car in This Line,” 1973

Gas station owners placed signs like this one on the back bumpers of cars, designating the last car to be served.

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Conservation

President Jimmy Carter became an example of conservation by donning a sweater. On February 2, 1977, he asked consumers to reduce fuel consumption. Businesses and environmental advocates joined Carter in issuing advice on cutting back and fostering the design of new products.

President Jimmy Carter, 1977

President Jimmy Carter, 1977

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Honeywell thermostat, Silver T832 Day-Night Round, 1960

Pacific Gas and Electric “Conserve Energy” button, 1970s

Pacific Gas and Electric “Conserve Energy” button, 1970s

GE Miser Maxi Light, 1981

Reddy Kilowatt puppet, 1970s

Reddy Kilowatt puppet, 1970s

Reddy debuted as the licensed spokes-character for utility companies in 1926, urging energy consumption. In the 1970s he changed his tune and told children to “use energy wisely.”

45 rpm record, Energy (20), 1970s

With songs like Just a Little Recession, pop band Energy (20) captured the pain of stagflation.

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Editorial cartoon, “Trust Me,” Doug Marlette, 1973–1974

Editorial cartoon, “Trust Me,” Doug Marlette, 1973–1974