Nostalgic Vintage Photos That Define The 1970s
By | February 14, 2023
A gaggle of girls making phone calls in the dorm
The 1970s were a time of vast change in the 20th century. Families were moving out the city and into the suburbs. Urban centers were filling with hip, young upstarts, and some people were even trying to get back to the land. It was an exciting time for everyone because no one knew what was going to happen next. New sports like skateboarding were popping up in Southern California, and bands like The Ramones were blowing the doors off of New York City. Whether you remember tie dying your own shirts or hanging out in a sweet van with your best friends, this nostalgia inducing look back at the ‘70s will make you want to put your roller skates on and boogie down. Let’s rock.
Long before cellphones were a must have for every student in the good ol U S of A, the only way for young people away at college was to make a call from the dorm room phones. In many cases the use of these phones was included in the price of tuition so people could use them as much as they needed (in some Draconian schools they only had pay phones). On busy nights in the dorm long lines would form in the hallway, turning the phone calls into a party that could last late into the night - especially if some of your dorm mates were especially chatty. Imagine trying to call home and have a serious conversation in a hallway full of people, you’d definitely have to develop an indoor voice.
Reading the liner notes of the "Grease" LP
Remember reading the liner notes in albums? The joy that came with opening its folds and looking through the liner notes, feeling the thick cardboard in your hands; its weight even after the LP is placed on the turntable, and the way the layout tells you everything you need to know about the music, even without the lyrics. This young man is taking part in that greatest of pastimes, hanging out and listening to a record while soaking in the the experience. What was your favorite record to listen to? Which LP had the best album art? Everyone’s favorite LP is different, remember, there’s no wrong choice.
Burger King must have had a surplus of orange paint in the '70s
Burger King got its start in 1953, but things really started taking off when former McDonald’s executive Donald N. Smith started revamping their image as an alternative to the clown. Smith didn’t just slap on a new coat of paint, he took away the power that franchises had to make up their own menus, he streamlined the food and even instituted breakfast across the board. A big part of the new Burger King was to revitalize the restaurant’s look by creating a new color scheme that made use of red, orange, brown, and yellow. It was just ‘70s, it was uber ‘70s. It was a striking move that made the restaurant stand out, creating an exciting number two in the burger world.
The founders of Microsoft in 1975
Americans were still using typewriters and writing out letters long hand when Bill Gates and Paul Allen formed Microsoft, a computer software company, in 1975. They started up their business in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after Gates dropped out of Harvard and Allen left his job as a programmer to pursue their dream, but they relocated to Washington State in 1979. Their original plan was to simply produce software for the Altair 8800, and by 1978 they were selling more than $1 million in product. The success kept piling up as they soon began licensing their MS-DOS operating system to IBM in the early ‘80s. Obviously Gates and Allen both became what you might call “insanely rich.”
Bumper to bumper lines at the gas station
While the 1970s had some of the highest highs that America had ever seen, it also had some of the its lowest lows. At two separate times during the decade America faced coast to coast gas shortages when OPEC tamped down on oil supplies, throwing drivers into a panic. To try and avoid long lines drivers would make their way to the gas station before sunlight, or long after dark, and in many states you could only get gas on certain days depending on the last digit of your license plate. Lines at the pump remained long, even after drastic steps like lowering the speed limit and introducing a national daylight savings time were introduced to save energy across the board.
A Mr. Softee ice cream truck giving the people what they want
This nostalgia inducing photo shows the best way to spend a hot summer day - grabbing a cone from Mister Softee. The menu offered two flavors - vanilla and chocolate - with dipping options that really that the experience over the top. Are you a sprinkles kind of person or do you like your soft serve dipped in a cherry glaze? Anything goes with Mister Softee. Things really took off with the ice cream company in the ‘70s, they became so popular that they actually started hosting dealer conventions through the decade. One driver explained:
It was wild. People from all over the world would come together to see old friends. Some of the Italian and Greek franchise owners would show up with hunks of meat and cheese and slice them for party guests.
Only 28 centers for a hamburger? Who's got a time machine?
It’s Friday night, the windows are rolled down and you’ve got your arm hanging out into the breeze. What are you having for dinner? If it’s the ‘70s and you’re in Utah it’s probably a burger from Dee's Drive-In, the clown themed burger chain that could be found throughout the Beehive State. The clown on their sign was definitely the star of the show, who could forget about a giant guy covered in paint advertising turnovers? Not us. As the ‘70s wained the family who owned the chain sold Dee’s Drive-In to Hardees, bringing an end to the reign of the great clown burger god.
General Electric tried to trick everyone with their Widescreen 1000
What’s more American than buying the newest, biggest thing? Every year a new TV, a new computer, and a new phone is released, and in 1978 General Electric started the bigger is better trend when they released the Widescreen 1000 projection TV which they referred to as “a super-size TV with a picture three times as big as a 25-inch diagonal console and the 'chairside convenience' of random access remote control."
Here’s the thing about the Widescreen 1000, it wasn’t actually a big screen TV, it had a small CRT that used "a vertical deflection reversing switch to invert and laterally reverse the image, and a three element lens within a light-proof projection chamber to re-invert, magnify and project the image onto a forward projection type reflective screen." So the image wasn’t actually projected onto a big screen, but rather a small screen that was magnified. Nice try GE.
Nothing has ever looked as cool as grooving at the disco
Has shaking your groove thing ever looked so cool? These cats hitting the dance floor are enraptured on the dance floor without a care in the world. Even if people had problems at work or relationship woes they could hit a club like Studio 54 or Danceteria and leave everything they had on the dance floor. If these photos don’t make you want to go to the club and throw down to Donna Summer then the rhythm may not be inside you. But that’s okay, there’s always great pics of people partying to help you live through them vicariously.
All service pumping stations are a thing of the past
Remember pulling into a gas station and having a technician rush out to service your car while pumping a tank full of gas? It most states that was phased out in the ‘70s, and frankly we feel like it should make a come back. Whether you pulled into a Texaco, a Gulf, or a Phillips 66 you were likely to have someone pop your hood and give you a proper tune up, check your tires, hoses, and even change your oil if you needed it. That kind of service came to an end in the ‘80s for the most part, but for the most glorious decade getting your car taken care of was as easy as pulling into a full service station.
A shot of the "Star Wars" premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater
It’s hard to picture a time when the world wasn’t crazy for Star Wars, the George Lucas helmed space adventure series that’s made bajillion of dollars, and that changed the way films are marketed. Today, there’s a full on Star Wars park at Disneyland, three trilogies, and a handful of one off shows to satiate rabid fans, but in 1977 no one knew what to expect when the film debuted at Mann’s Chinese Theater on Memorial Day 1977. At the time, theater owners didn’t want to show the movie because they didn’t think it would make any money. Theater owners were certain that Star Wars was a kiddie movie that would disappear, but then the opposite happened. A New Hope created an insane fan base who returned to the theater as if it was a ritual, creating one of the most popular film franchises ever.
An ad for Count Dante, Chicago's premiere martial arts instructor
Who didn’t want to learn martial arts in the 1970s? If you were reading comic books in the coolest of decades then you remember this ad for Count Dante’s Black Dragon Fighting Society. All you had to do was enclose 25 cents and a self addressed envelope to receive the deadliest fighting secrets in the world for free. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of a deal like that?
Like his fighting style, Count Dante was a wild guy. He was the first instructor in Chicago to teach mixed race classes, but he also wanted to be the only game in town. One night Dante was arrested for trying to blow up a rival dojo. Now that’s what we call martial arts - Chicago Style.
Cool girls riding the New York City subway
You may think that riding the New York City subway is rough today, but in the ‘70s it was like something straight out of The Warriors (probably because The Warriors was filmed on the subway). The trains were woefully understaffed by security and there wasn’t much of a budget for upkeep which meant that the graffiti and the destroyed interiors stuck around for decades. Even though the cars looked scary, they were just a way of life for people in the city. Just look at how cool these girls are, they ride the train every day and don’t worry about the frightening intricacies of the city. To be young and in the city.
The stoned rollers bring the pain to Redondo Beach
Would you check out these absolute legends? Who would want to face them on any night at the South Bay Bowl in Redondo Beach? A fool, that’s who. There were millions of bowling leagues throughout the United States in the ‘70s, which lead to an increase in bowling alleys, which meant lanes of raucous pin heads that were throwing strikes as fast as they lanes could be set up. The game was wildly popular amongst blue collar workers who were just looking to blow off some steam, which means there were games every night of the week, it was truly an amazing time in the world of bowling.
The Xerox Alto was the first computer to use a graphical interface
In 1972 the personal computer became a thing with the release of the Xerox Alto. It was the first consumer computer to make use of a graphical user interface, mouse, and a distinctive portrait screen. As you may have guessed by looking at the computer you’re using and seeing that it’s not a Xerox Alto ’19, the Alto didn’t take off, but it did live on in the brain of Steve Jobs. He licensed the interface technology in order to create the Apple Lisa which has similar functions to the Alto albeit with a more compact look. The Alto allowed users to check their email, print information, and use a keyboard to type up information. Revolutionary, don’t you think?
Dig that classic Taco Bell architecture
No one would call Taco Bell traditional Mexican cuisine, but it definitely holds a place in the hearts of anyone growing up in the ‘70s. This huge franchise began as a simple shop that only sold tacos, burritos, beans, and tostados (which is basically the same tostada that they’re still selling today). An early incarnation of Taco Bell also had a burger made with taco meat for 25 cents, but thankfully that was removed from the menu by the end of the ‘70s. There’s something homey about the early era of Taco Bell. Maybe it’s the mix of cheese and sauce, or maybe it’s that stellar signage. Whatever it is, we’d love to go stop in and grab an enchirito.
Two cool kids hanging in the parking lot
As much as fashion in the 1960s was about clean lines, tight suits, and far out patterns, in the ‘70s the pendulum swung the other way. Bell bottom jeans became the look of the day, colors clashed, and simple t-shirts and denim jackets replaced the more garish blouses and tops as staples in the wardrobe. These two kids look like they’ve been perfecting their style in front of the mirror - they look disaffected, like they don’t even care how cool they look, almost like that’s the thing that makes them cool. Which is your favorite combo, the bell bottoms and Chuck Taylors or the yellow jacket and blue shirt? They’re both radical.
The Amazing Grace surfboard car, ready for delivery
Whether you’re heading to the beaches of Malibu or you’re catching the surf behind the ocean trawlers of the Gulf of Mexico, you’ve got to have a good car that can hold all of your boards, your gear, and your friends. Surf cars are so big that they’re basically bordering on wagons. While some surfers prefer to take vans, the cooler surfers preferred to ride in these built out station wagons. This wagon is definitely one of the groovier cars out there, not only is it painted a sweet pea green, but it hauled surfboards for the smalltime factory. When surfers saw this bad boy coming they knew something cool was in the back.
Two girls looking groovy in tie dye
Is there any other fashion that’s more intrinsically tied to the ‘70s than tie dye shirts? This design is so iconic that they can still be found today everywhere from stores to the college closets. These bright and colorful shirts were the way to show off your personality and artistic side while blending in with the crowd. Even though these shirts were mass produced by the end of the ‘70s, it’s always more fun to make something on your own than to over pay for a piece of clothing that won’t look as good as something you did for yourself.
Is this a time machine or a living room?
How does it feel to be transported back to the 1970s in one photo? The exposed brick, the plush carpet, and oh boy oh boy all of that brown, orange, and gold. This kid is seriously living the dream, not only do they get to soak up all that ‘70s goodness, but they get to wear a big pair of headphones while jamming to an LP. The only thing that’s suspect about this photo is the fact that this kid is keeping their shoes on the ottoman which has to be against the rules. Then again, this determined slouch is definitely the best way to flaunt the rules inside the house.
Just four guys hanging out in a field
Hanging out has been an integral part of life since the dawn of time, there were probably young cave people shooting the breeze instead of doing their chores; by the 1970s kids had perfected hanging out to a science. Whether they were loud and raucous or just keeping to themselves, young people in the ’70s did their best to retreat from the real world, classrooms, and domestic routines and make their own fun. Whether they were kicking it in a field behind their suburban homes, in an arcade, or a pizzeria, kids were marking their own territory and getting up to no good.
Taken in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, 1973
The 1970s was an especially rad time in American history, but we mostly think of the dystopian cityscape of New York or the rock scene of Los Angeles. However, there was a lot happening in the midwest at the same time even as its residents fled to the suburbs - especially in the music scene. Bands like Devo, the Dead Boys, and the Cramps all came from Cleveland, which puts a unique spin on the scene. Charlotte Pressler explained the disparity between Cleveland's economic downturn and its killer music scene:
In Cleveland like New York, there was a group of artists on the margins that were dealing with what seemed like a slow-moving apocalypse going on in America. You had the cities crumbling, the civil rights movement falling apart, Kent State, Watergate and just basically a kind of deep numbness and despair that settled over people - and you had music and art, which was the response.
It wasn't the 70s without a banana seat and ape hangers
The wind whipping through your hair, the sound of rubber against pavement, your arms hanging from your handlebars, riding bikes in the ’70s was all about looking as laid back as possible while kicking back on a banana seat and letting your arms drape off a set of curved handlebars. When the Stones were on the radio these bikes were the coolest thing that you could own. Did they make our arms hurt? Totally. But the weirder the bikes looked the better. Schwinn was one of the most ardent manufacturers of these bikes, with the Sting-Ray being one of their best selling models.
A girl and her van
Check out this awesome ‘70s chick working on a van and drinking a Coke. She’s basically the poster girl for the DIY lifestyle. Vans of the 1970s were all big husks of metal that tended to mirror the driver’s personality. If they liked dragons you could be sure that there was a dragon painted on the side, and anyone who wanted to catch a ride better get used to it. Having a van in the ‘70s meant having something to take care of, the upkeep made you feel good and made you feel like you were accomplishing something. This is one cool ride, and one cool gal.
Thanks mom. These homemade outfits are pure '70s
When was the last time your mom sewed a groovy outfit like this for you? Probably the ‘70s, when fashion was exploding and patterns were all over the place. Were these designs the best? Maybe not, but look at the way these girls are absolutely owning their outfits. The fresh colors, the high shoulders, these jackets and skirt combos couldn’t exist in any other era. Hopefully this look makes a comeback in some way, because it’s genuinely really cool. Sure, the jackets aren’t something that you’d wear to work but they’d definitely be a conversation starter at a party.
It's starting to feel a lot like the '70s
There’s something soothing about this photo of a woman clad in a massive bronze robe trimming a skeletal, fake Christmas tree. Christmas today just isn’t the same as it was back in the ‘70s when trees were loud, bright, and begging to be puffed up with presents. Silver trees, no matter the size, bring to mind Christmas Day in a recessed living room. The size of the tree doesn’t really matter, it’s the warmth of the family that sits around it. There’s something that was so fun about Christmas in the 1970s, with everyone digging into aspics, sipping cocoa, and maybe even opening a brand new Atari.
Hanging with the girls on a Harlem fire escape, 1978
Middle class families fled Harlem in the 1960s, leaving people who could only afford cheap apartments and lower income housing in the area. Violence and drugs took over the burrow, but the residents who stayed managed to make the small area their own, filling it with character, and doing their best to be resilient in the face of disheartening loss. According to the New York Times, the area had one of the highest crime rates of New York City, and many of the buildings were abandoned and desolate. Despite all of that, families continued to live in the area, small business thrived, and there was an artistic boom. It was impossible to keep Harlem down.
Put 'em in the high, this is a stick up
Throughout the middle of the century it’s as if the boys of America were gripped with an insatiable urge to play like they were cowboys. Some of them had the whole outfit, while others simply had the guns and holsters, aside from a trusty horse what else does a cowboy need? The ‘70s were a time when kids could play in the street, long after the sun was setting without their parents worrying about where they were. The most trouble that anyone was up to was getting caught in a hold up by a couple of bandits. Thankfully, we could always just go home for dinner and get back to the old west the next day.
A female skater letting her hair flow as she rips up the concrete
When we think about skateboarding in the 1970s most of the stories and legends that we hear concern the young men who brought the underground sport out of Southern California and took it to the mainstream. However, there were plenty of young women who were shredding the concrete right along side the boys, and many of them helped shape the sport into what it is today. Whether they were going downhill, shredding in a pool, or just ripping it up on the street, young women were playing a major part in the founding of a sport that’s become one of the most lucrative forms of entertainment.
When all else fails, hang out on the sidewalk
Summer nights belonged to the kids in the ‘70s. With little to no supervision, it was no big deal to get out of the house and hang out around the neighborhood long after the sun went down. Even if your parents were still up there was often no one to bother you while you talked about your dreams, girls you had a crush on, or just what kind of trouble you were getting into over the weekend. In an era before cell phones and the internet, there was nothing to do but go outside and hang with your friends, especially if you’d read through all of your comics and didn’t have anything else to do. You’ve got to miss those long summer nights.
Get a look at that wood paneling, 1977
Was there any better status symbol to say you’ve made it than the RV? With their roomy interiors begging for personalization, you could really make an RV your own with only a few flourishes, or you could trick it out and turn it into a groovy paradise. For families who liked to travel, these rolling homes were the dream. Mom, dad, and the kids could pile into an RV and spend all summer out on the road, exploring every nook and cranny of the United States. RVS came in all shapes and sizes, which means there was one of these bad boys for every kind of traveler, whether you liked to go solo or bring the whole brood.
Hanging with Ari from the Slits in the recording studio
The 1970s saw the music world expanding until it blew wide open. The price of instruments dropped, meaning that more people could get their hands on them, and bands like the New York Dolls and The Stooges showed kids that they didn’t have to be virtuosos to strap on a guitar. The Slits, an all girl post punk band from London were one of those burgeoning groups who formed out of a sense to blow things up. Ari Up, the group’s vocalist captivated audiences with her wild hair, crazy vocals and extravagant performances. The band was chaotic, loud, and sloppy, everything that a good punk band should be.
Brooklyn in the 70s was a beautiful wasteland
The late ‘70s in Brooklyn were an amazing time to be a young person living in the city, even if things could get a little scary. The summer of ’77 saw a set of lightning strikes hit an electrical substation in Buchanan, New York, and knock out the power across New York City, plunging the city into darkness. Brooklyn lost its mind, and kids like this were forced to stay inside just in case they got swept up in the looting and the violence. Still, the next day everyone must have had a pretty crazy story to tell their kids. That, or they were able to get their hands on the new Atari everyone was talking so much about.
A young karate master or just someone who's great at striking a pose?
In the 1970s it seemed like everyone and their dog was practicing karate, kung fu, and whatever form of martial arts they could get their hands on. The origins of the fad are in the movies from the ‘60s like The Manchurian Candidate and Goldfinger, but the fad didn’t really explode until 1972 when Kung Fu premiered on ABC - that series broke the dam and suddenly everyone wanted to learn how to break boards with the palm of their hands. As soon as kids started watching Kung Fu and its bevy of copycats they not only started taking classes, but they began adopting the poses, stances, and sounds of the martial arts they saw on TV. After all, who needs a class when you look cool playing pretend?
A cool couple beats the heat in the city
In the ‘70s there was a massive difference between city living, and all the people mowing their lawns in the suburbs. At the time many major cities fell into disrepair and decline thanks to a nationwide economic downturn, but the people living in the did their best to thrive in the harrowing conditions. After all, regular life has to go on even in places like New York City that were bedraggled with arson and crime. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for a walk with your best girl. In the ‘70s it doesn’t matter the color, shape, or size, people were just trying to live their lives, and they’re the reason that big cities made a come back.
Who needs the school bus when you can walk to class with mom?
It’s not that kid don’t wan to go to school, but if given the choice to horse around all day or go sit in a stodgy classroom they’re going to choose horsing around every single time. But if you have to go to school nothing beats a walk with mom to start the day. Before cellphones and instant messages, this was likely one of the only times that a mom and her child could touch base about what was going on in their lives. Early morning walks like this could help new families grow together and form strong bonds.
Ripping it up in an empty swimming pool
The California drought of 1976 and ’77 had adverse effects on the state, but this two year hydration downturn was a boon in the world of skateboarding. Suburban families had to empty out their swimming pools in order to conserve water, which gave skaters a veritable never ending buffet of killer places to perfect a new style of skating. Even though it was illegal to pop into someone’s back yard and start shredding it up, skaters like Tony Alva and Jay Adams did it anyway. Thanks to their ingenuity a whole new brand of skateboarding was born out of a lack of natural resources.
Making a fast break, two boys on the city streets
Being young is all about making your own fun, no matter whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or the middle of nowhere. These two young lads are taking part of that time old tradition of goofing off and making the best out of adverse situation. Even though they don’t have a hoop or a court, these kids have made the city their playground, which was one of the best things about growing up without any technological devices attached to the hip. Who needs an app when you’ve got a ball, a buddy, and the city streets at your disposal?
Punk fashion designers pose on Staple Street in Tribeca, N.Y, 1977
The 1970s in New York City gave rise to punk rock, a vibrant music scene filled with fast songs full of aggression and the need to pop off like a shaken up bottle of soda. The Ramones and the New York Dolls were the soundtrack to the city, and fashion designers inspired by the music they heard on every corner created clothes to match the way the music made them feel. Punk designers at the time wanted to express their freakish authenticity which led them to creating designs that looking nothing like the bell bottoms that every other square bought at the mall. They made use of vibrant colors, wild designs, and even ideas held over from the space age.
Stop the presses, we may have found the coolest guy of the 1970s
Take a look at those tattooed hands, that was something people saw on an everyday basis in the ‘70s. Every where you look today you’re likely to see someone with tattoos, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your boss, but tattoos have only become a part of every day life since the 1970s. At that time more and more people started showing off their ink. Janis Joplin was one of the first rock stars to show off their tattoos, and she was quickly followed members of the art world getting inked up as well. What was once a space for tattoo artists who specifically worked on sailors and marines, was soon filled by people with a fine art background which changed the game completely.
We call this look "mountain man meets librarian"
Today when you go camping there are hundreds of modern ways to stay warm and fed while crashing in the woods. There are ways to charge your phone and cook your favorite meal, but that wasn’t as easy back in the ‘70s. People had to know how to chop wood, start a fire, and most importantly set up a place to sleep. If you couldn’t do that then you were out of luck. Without someone like this guy in your crew the best you could hope for was sleeping on the ground under the stars. This fellow obviously knows what he’s doing, look at the way he’s gripping that axe, look at all that wood. This fellow definitely knows what he’s doing.
The famous Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip, 1975
Everyone knows about the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the famous club on the Sunset Strip that’s played host to everyone from Alice Cooper to Cream, but in 1974 the bar closed down because of a lack of business. The club’s former owner Elmer Valentine once said that “you could roll a bowling ball down Sunset Strip and not hit anybody,” but with the influx of Los Angeles punk bands like X and The Screamers the club reopened to full houses ever night. Some of the club’s biggest nights were ran by Kim Fowley, the manager of the Runaways, started booking “New Wave Nights” in 1977.
Do you think she likes yellow?
Is there a more amazing ‘70s design aesthetic than making everything the same color? This bedroom’s vibes seem like something that could drive a person crazy, who could put up with this much yellow? It seems closer to a modern art installation than an actual bedroom, but people were experimenting with all kinds of things in this groovy era; from clothing, to music, and even design. Even though carpeting in kind of gross (that is, if you’re a particularly messy person), the floor in this room looks like a rippling ocean of custard and that’s something we can get behind.