The Montopolis Bridge spanning the Colorado River in Austin
1971: Yesterday Once More
A look back at Austin and the world fifty years ago
In many ways, the transition from 1970 to 1971 recalls the transition from 2020 to 2021 (albeit without a pandemic). Politics in the beginning of the 1970s are in flux with President Richard Nixon in the middle of his crisis-riddled first term. By 1971, much of the hippie movement, lifestyle, and ethos that characterizes the country in the late-'60s is being absorbed into mainstream American life, and social "norms" are recalibrating to acknowledge and accept religious and cultural diversity. Activism, a fundamental characteristic of the hippie counterculture, resistance to military actions abroad, a call for racial equality, and advocacy of lenient drug policies, are among the artifacts of the '70s that have survived and thrived into the new century. As we look back 50 years, we can judge for ourselves how much has changed and how little has changed.
Sonobeat's only stereo 45 RPM singles of 1971 are recorded by Austin gospel group The Royal Light Singers
Although the Doonesbury daily comic strip, dishing out social and political commentary wrapped in wry humor, launches in 1970, it's not until March 21, 1971, that it adds a full-color Sunday strip.
Austin's population hits 263,000, growing 4.4% from 1970.
• The U.S. inflation rate is 4.3%; the unemployment rate is 4.9%.
• Average household income hits $10,600.
• Gasoline averages 40¢ per gallon.
• Buy a new Chevy Camero 2 door coupe from Capitol Chevrolet in downtown Austin for $2,879.
• In May, the price of a first class postage stamp jumps from 6¢ to 8¢.
• A movie ticket averages $1.50, equivalent to $9.65 today (a bargain).
• In February, the minimum wage rises to $1.60 an hour, up from $1.45 in 1970.
• The average price of a new home hovers around $25,250 with rentals about $150 a month.
• S&H Green Stamps are still the rage; collect 'em with purchases at grocery stores and gas stations, paste 'em in booklets, and redeem 'em for household goods.
The biggest rage on The University of Texas campus is the Evelyn Wood speed reading course.
Where you grocery shop in Austin: HEB, Minimax, Rylanders, Safeway, or Sage.
Westlake High School, in Austin but part of the Eanes Independent School District (rather than the Austin Independent School District), conducts classes in portable buildings during its first school year (1969-'70); by the 1970-'71 school year, classes move into Westlake's permanent physical plant. Built as a model school, Westlake's facilities are state-of-the-art in 1971. Today, Westlake High School is nationally recognized for its consistently highly ranked varsity football squad, which produces a significant percentage of star college (and NFL) quarterbacks, among them Drew Brees, Nick Foles, and Sam Ehlinger.
After years of fighting with the federal government over desegregation and, in 1971, being denied a portion of President Richard Nixon's $75,000,000 emergency desegregation fund, the Austin Independent School District adopts two alternative desegregation plans, both calling for the closing of Anderson High School and Kealing Junior High effective September 1st. Court battles continue through the rest of 1971.
Austin car dealer Roy Butler is elected Mayor and will serve into 1975.
The Aqua Festival, featuring over 40 events culminating with the colorful nighttime water parade and fireworks on Austin's Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake), celebrates its 10th anniversary. The 1971 Parade Marshal is Johnny Carson's Tonight Show sidekick Ed McMahon.
The City of Austin's Recreation Department puts on its annual summer musical at the Zilker Hillside Theater: in 1971 it's Peter Pan.
The Grateful Dead play the Austin Municipal Auditorium on November 15th, minus Pigpen (health issues), in a concert described as "focused raw energy", whatever that means.
The University of Texas Longhorn football team attempts to win a third consecutive national championship but losses to arch-rivals Oklahoma and Arkansas dash those hopes; nonetheless, the Longhorns survive to win their fourth consecutive Southwest Conference championship and play Penn State in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1972 (unfortunately losing in a 30 to 6 rout). Today the Southwest Conference is long gone; in 1994, when the conference collapses from too many defections to other conferences, The University of Texas becomes a founding member of the Big 12 Conference. The Big 12 officially launches play in 1996, today consists of ten preeminent institutions, and, for the 2020-'21 academic year, celebrates its 25th anniversary.
The variety of Austin nightlife – where there's something for everyone – in 1971 portends the city's future as the Live Music Capital of the World:
Action Club (5500 North Lamar)
Armadillo World Headquarters (525½ Barton Springs Road)
Big Gil's Club (5200 South Congress Avenue)
Broken Spoke (3201 South Lamar)
Bucket, The (23rd and Pearl Streets)
Carousel Lounge (1110 East 52nd Street)
Chart Room, The (1605 East Avenue)
Club Caravan at the Villa Capri Motel (2300 North Interregional [I-35])
I L Club (1124 East 11th Street)
Jade Room, The (1501 San Jacinto)
New Orleans Club, The (12th Street and Red River)
Playboy Lounge, The (507 East Bee Cave Road)
Skyline Ballroom (11306 North Lamar)
Split Rail Inn (217 South Lamar)
Sportsmans Inn (Fredricksburg Highway)
Ted's Tagata Lounge (1115 East 53rd Street)
World population: 4.378 billion, just over half of today's 7.8 billion; U.S. population: 207.66 million compared to today's 331 million.
In January, the Apollo 14 mission is launched and on February 5th lands on the moon; Commander Alan Sheppard becomes the 4th human to walk on the moon's surface and practices his golf swing with a makeshift club. Later in the year, the Soviet Union launches the first space station, Salyut 1, into low earth orbit.
Perhaps the most notable event in the U.S. in 1971 is ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowers the voting age to 18, bringing an entirely new voting block – high school seniors and college students – to the polls.
On February 9th, a 6.6 pre-dawn earthquake hits the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, the biggest quake in the Los Angeles area in 80 years; the Sylmar quake results in 64 deaths and more than 2,500 injuries, dozens of collapsed freeway overpasses, and massive destruction to homes and buildings. The damage is estimated at over $550 million (approximately $3.534 billion in current dollars).
In February, the NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations) is founded.
Amtrak service begins on May 1st; the first train route is between Philadelphia and New York City.
In June, newly-formed Southwest Airlines begins a unique brand of low-cost, no-frills passenger air service. Its first flights connect Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.
On July 1st, New York City hosts the Concert for Bangladesh, attracting attendance of approximately 40,000.
The United Kingdom grants independence to seven Middle East emirates that band together as the United Arab Emirates, to Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula, and to Sierra Leone on the southwest coast of South Africa.
China is admitted to the United Nations.
Walt Disney World opens in Orlando, Florida, on October 1st. The only park on opening day is the Magic Kingdom, accompanied by several resort hotels. It will be 1982 before the first park expansion, EPCOT, opens.
On November 1, a tsunami spawned by a cyclone hits the Bay of Bengal in India, killing approximately 10,000.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers defeat The University of Alabama Crimson Tide to win the Orange Bowl and national college football championship; the Baltimore Colts defeat the Dallas Cowboys to win Super Bowl V; the Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series; the Milwaukee Bucks defeat the Baltimore Bullets to win the NBA World Championship; the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Chicago Black Hawks to win the Stanley Cup.
Canonera II wins the Kentucky Derby by 3 and 3/4 lengths, taking the first leg of the Triple Crown (Canonero also wins the second leg at the Preakness Stakes but loses the third leg at the Belmont Stakes).
FedEx (originally called Federal Express) begins parcel delivery service from its headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.
The New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers exposing secret U.S. military and political involvement in Viet Nam that the government has covered up.
In December, India invades East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), starting a war lasting less than two weeks, when Pakistan surrenders.
Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization focusing on environmentalism, is founded in Vancouver, Canada, by activists Irving and Dorothy Stowe.
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts opens in Washington, D.C.
Pulitzer Prizes (among the many categories) are awarded for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel (drama category); Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915 -1938 by Lawrence Thompson (biography category); and The Washington Post's Jimmie Lee Hoagland for his coverage of apartheid in the Republic of South Africa (international reporting category).
Notable losses in 1971: Trumpeter and raspy-voiced vocalist Louis Armstrong and saxophonist King Curtis, rock singer Jim Morrison (The Doors), rock guitarist Duane Allman (Allman Brother Band), and '60s pop singer and heartthrob Gene Vincent; classical composer Igor Stravinsky (The Firebird and The Rite of Spring); comic Joe E. Lewis; Disney legends Ub Iwerks (cartoonist) and Roy O. Disney (Walt's brother and the financial genius behind Walt's successes); film score composer Max Steiner (Gone With The Wind and Casablanca, among his 300+ films); Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev; fashionista Coco Chanel; silent picture star Harold Lloyd and actors Cliff Edwards, Van Hefflin, Audie Murphy, and Michael Rennie; Random House founder and publisher Bennett Cerf; and JCPenny founder James C. Penny.
Among future celebrities born in 1971 are actors Sean Astin, Paul Bettany, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sofia Coppola, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jon Hamm, Jared Leto, Ewan McGregor, Idina Menzel, Sandra Oh, Jeremy Renner, Winona Ryder, Peter Sarsgaard, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Tennant (Dr. Who), and Mark Wahlberg; singers Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Alison Krauss, Ricky Martin, Kid Rock, and Selena; rappers Snoop Dog, Lil Jon, Lisa Lopes, and Tupac Shakur; serial entrepreneur Elon Musk; and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Best Pictures of 1971 (Oscars®; awarded in 1972): The French Connection, a thriller starring Gene Hackman, wins "Best Picture - Drama", and Fiddler On The Roof, a musical starring Chaim Topol, wins "Best Picture - Comedy or Musical"; the films also produce wins for Hackman (Best Actor - Drama) and Topol (Best Actor - Comedy or Musical).
Best Actress of 1971 (Oscars®; awarded in 1972): Jane Fonda wins in the drama category for her performance in Klute, and Twiggy wins in the comedy or musical category for her role in The Boy Friend.
Outstanding Drama Series for the 1970-'71 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1972): Elizabeth R, starring Glenda Jackson and featured on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.
Outstanding Comedy Series for the 1970-'71 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1972): All In The Family, starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker (O'Connor also wins Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series [boy, that's a mouthful]) and Jean Stapleton as Archie's wife Edith (Stapleton also wins Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series).
Outstanding Musical or Variety Series for the 1970-'71 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1972): The Carol Burnett Show, a sketch comedy featuring an all-star ensemble cast including Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway, and Dick Van Dyke.
Notable TV series premieres: All In The Family and The Waltons.
Top Hot 100 Single of the Year (Billboard Magazine): Joy To The World • Three Dog Night; the song holds the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 consecutive weeks.
Record of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1972): It's Too Late • performed and written by Carole King.
Album of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1972): Tapestry • all songs on the album performed and written or co-written by Carole King).
Best Song of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1972): You've Got A Friend • performed by James Taylor (who also wins in the category of Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male); written by Carole King (we're seeing a trend here).
Best Country Song (Grammys®; awarded in 1972): Help Me Make It Through The Night • performed by Sammi Smith and written by Kris Kristofferson.
Best New Artist of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1972): Carly Simon.
Best-Selling Books (New York Times Best Seller lists): Wheels by Arthur Hailey takes #1 in the fiction category, followed closely by The Exorcist by William Blatty; top selling non-fiction book is The Sensuous Man by "M" (later revealed to be collaborators Joan Garrity, John Garrity and Len Forman) with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown coming in second.
Fashion trends: for women, it's either glamour (A-line shift, pinafores, and shirtwaist styled dresses, flared skirts, and, at extremes, hot pants and long maxi dresses) or hippie (bell bottoms, gauchos, frayed jeans, peasant blouses, and Birkenstocks); for men, the hippie look holds over, featuring tie die T-shirts, frayed jeans, and military surplus clothing and boots.
Best selling automobile: Chrysler New Yorker.
Miss America: Phyllis Ann George of Denton, Texas.
Hottest toys: Hot Wheels miniature toy cars, Malibu Barbie, Weebles (famous for the advertising tag line "Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down"), the Battleship board game, and Etch-A-Sketch top the list.
Favorite newborn boy's name: Michael, which took the top spot beginning in 1961, and still holds it in 1971.
Favorite newborn girl's name: Jennifer holds the top spot for the second straight year.