Back in Time: 1972

A look back at Austin and the world fifty years ago
Back in Time: 1972

Looking back 50 years, to 1972, we find as much political, social, and economic upheaval around the world then as today. 1972 is remembered for the Watergate Scandal that eventually was U.S. president Richard Nixon's downfall, the murders of Israeli athletes at the summer Olympics in Munich, and other terrorist attacks and plane and ship disasters. But 1972 was also a year of significant firsts and lasts, including the birth of home console video games (not so important in the context of the events of 1972 but that, nonetheless, would change the world) and the final manned moon landing. Let's dive into an extraordinary year... 1972.

The Godfather
The story of a fictional Mafia family, The Godfather is a box-office blockbuster and winner of the Oscars® Best Picture of the year.
1972 VW Beetle
The VW Beetle is the world's bestselling car in 1972.
1972 in and around Austin

Austin's population hits 275,900, growing 4.9% from 1971.

Money matters:
   • The U.S. inflation rate (12 month average) is 3.3%; the unemployment rate is 5.9%
   • Average household income rises to $11,800.
   • Gasoline averages 55¢ per gallon.
   • Buy a new Ford Pinto for $2,078.
   • U.S. minimum wage is $1.60, the same as in 1971.
   • A first class postage stamp is 8¢.
   • A movie ticket averages $1.75, equivalent to just over $9.00 today (a bargain).
   • The average price of a new home is about $27,500; townhouse rentals range from $175 to $225 a month, all bills paid.
   • Where you shopped for groceries in Austin: A&P, Gulf Mart, Handy Andy, H.E.B., Kroger, Minimax, Rylanders, Safeway, Sage.

Favorite Austin music venues

The variety of Austin nightlife – where there's something for everyone – in 1972 helps cement the city's growing reputation as Live Music Capital of the World:
   Arkie's Dessau (North Interstate 35 [I-35] at Dessau Road)
   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)
   Castle Creek (1411 Lavaca)
   Carousel Lounge (1110 East 52nd Street)
   Eli's Club (6208 North Lamar)
   Hungry Horse (1809 San Jacinto)
   InnTrigue, The (1112 West 6th Street)
   Jade Room, The (1501 San Jacinto)
   Nero's Nook (629 West Ben White)
   Saddle Club, The (5420 Airport)
   Saxon Pub (38th and Interregional [I-35])
   Skyline Ballroom (11306 North Lamar)
   Split Rail Inn (217 South Lamar)
   Sportsmans Inn (Fredricksburg Highway)
   Torch, The (3615 South Congress)

As the world turns...

World population in 1972: 3,851,650,245 (that's billions), increasing 2.01% over 1971; U.S. population increases to 209,274,882, with females outnumbering males by 3,289,042.

January news highlights: The Dallas Cowboys defeat the Miami Dolphins 24–3 in Super Bowl VI played in New Orleans; Hewlett-Packard introduces the first handheld electronic calculator, the HP-35 (at a hefty price of $395, which equates to $2,625 in current dollars).

February news highlights: The final lottery is held for involuntary induction into the U.S. Army, which is still in the midst of the Viet Nam conflict; Sapporo, Japan, hosts the Winter Olympics; the unmanned Mariner 9 spacecraft sends back pictures of the surface of Mars; phonograms (phonograph records and audio tapes) finally are entitled to copyright protection in the U.S.; the California Supreme Court declares the state's death penalty unconstitutional; U.S. president Richard Nixon makes an historic visit to China.

March news highlights: The U.S. Congress sends the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the states for ratification (um, it's 2022, and we're still waiting for ratification); Jethro Tull releases its concept album parody Thick As A Brick; Pioneer 10 spacecraft launches from Cape Kennedy in Florida and will become the first man-made spacecraft to leave the solar system.

April news highlights: The Biological Weapons Convention, banning all biological warfare, is ratified by 70 countries, including the U.S. and Russia; the manned Apollo 16 mission lands on the moon; women are allowed to compete (finally) in the Boston Marathon; Iran suffers a massive 6.7 earthquake that kills over 5,300 people.

May news highlights: After almost 30 years of occupation, the U.S. returns Okinawa to Japan; Alabama governor George Wallace is shot (leaving him paralyzed from the waist down) during a political rally; Ceylon becomes the republic of Sri Lanka.

July news highlights: Chess world champion Boris Spassky of Russia and U.S. champion Bobby Fischer begin a chess match of the decades; George McGovern is nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate.

June news highlights: Magnavox begins selling its Odyssey, the first home video game system and precursor to Atari's Pong, which will debut later in the year; the world sees Nick Ut's heartbreaking photo of a naked Vietnamese child running after suffering napalm burns; the Watergate scandal breaks when five White House staff are arrested for burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Convention and, later, president Richard Nixon and White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman's discussions of using the CIA to block FBI investigatino of the breakin are recorded; Hurricane Agnes kills 117 on the U.S. east coast; the Atari video game company is co-founded by Nolan Bushnell, who later will found the Chuck E. Cheese kids' playground/restaurant venues; the first Popeyes fried chicken restaurant opens in New Orleans; the U.S. Supreme Court rules that capital punishment is unconstitutional.

August news highlights: George McGovern's vice presidential running mate, Thomas Eagleton, drops out because of prior treatments for mental illness; Earth gets a close call from an Apollo meteor that, fortunately, deflects off the atmosphere; a huge solar flare cripples communications during a weeklong period; Richard Nixon is nominated for a second term at the Republican National Convention; the summer Olympics are held in Munich, West Germany.

September news highlights: OK, back to that chess match: Bobby Fischer defeats Boris Spassky to become the first American winner of the classic tournament; OK, back to the Munich Olympics: 11 Israeli athletes are murdered by the Arab Black September terrorist group, and a hostage rescue mission fails with further deaths; the TV series Maude, an All In The Family spin-off, and M*A*S*H premiere on American television.

October news highlights: The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort is published; Sargent Shriver replaces Thomas Eagleton as vice presidential candidate on George McGovern's Democratic ticket; Denmark joins the EU; the FBI begins (finally) to hire women agents.

November news highlights: The Dow Jones average cross 1000 for the first time; HBO (then known by its full name, Home Box Office) launches; incumbent president Richard Nixon defeats Democratic challenger George McGovern to win a second term (it will be short lived, as Nixon will be forced to resign in 1974 because of fallout from the Watergate scandal); Atari releases its Pong home video game; Mellow Yellow (named for Donovan's 1960s hit record) opens in the Netherlands, ushering in an era of legalized marijuana consumption there.

December news highlights: The final manned moon mission of the '60s and '70s era, Apollo 17, launches, and Eugene Cernan will be the last human to walk on the moon; East Germany and West Germany recognize each other; the U.S. bans the pesticide DDT, which had been widely used in the '50s and '60s to control mosquitos.

Famous U.S. companies formed in 1972: Atari, Bass Pro Shops, Carnival Cruise Line, Hobby Lobby, IHeartMedia, Popeyes, and Public Storage.

Notable products and services first introduced in 1972: Atari's Pong videogame, McDonald's Egg McMuffin, the Honda Civic, Snapple tea and juice drinks, United's Frequent Flyer program (the first of its kind), and the C computer programming language.

Notable losses in 1972: Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks); Dan Blocker ("Hoss" on the TV series Bonanza); gospel singer Mahalia Jackson; American journalist Walter Winchell; American composer Ferde Grofé (best known for the Grand Canyon Suite); J. Edgar Hoover (first director of the FBI); Jackie Robinson (first African-American Major League Baseball player); Howard Deering Johnson (founder of the Howard Johnson's hotel and motel chain); Carl Stalling (composer of the evocative musical scores for Disney's Silly Symphony cartoons and the musically punny scores for hundreds of Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons); expatriate American poet Ezra Pound; and former U.S. president Harry S Truman.

Among future celebrities born in 1972 are actors Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Idris Elba, Jennifer Garner, Dwayne “The Rock“ Johnson, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rain Phoenix, Octavia Spencer, Gabrielle Union, and Wil Wheaton; singers, songwriters, and musicians Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Carmen Electra, Joey McIntyre (New Kids on the Block), rapper Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace), country superstar Brad Paisley, rapper Busta Rhymes (Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr.), The (Dixie) Chicks‘ Emily Robison, Rob Thomas (Matchbox Twenty), producer and rapper Timbaland, and Dave Williams (Drowning Pool); entrepreneurs Kevin Plank (founder of Under Armour) and Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter, among other tech platforms); politicians Nikki Haley (former South Carolina governor and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) and Texas‘ own Beto O'Rourke; U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Amy Coney Barrett; and sports stars Drew Bledsoe (football), Mia Hamm (soccer), Chipper Jones and Manny Ramírez (baseball), and Shaquille O'Neal (basketball).

Some of 1972's most interesting, best, and most popular

Chinese Zodiac: 1972 is the Year of the Water Rat; those born under this sign tend to be charming, charismatic, even persuasive, adaptable and innovative, and up for new challenges. Does that describe you?

Best Picture of 1972 (Oscars®; awarded in 1973): The Godfather, following a fictional Mafia family headed by Don Vito Corleone, which also garners a Best Actor win for Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone.

Best Actress of 1972 (Oscars®; awarded in 1973): Liza Minnelli for her performance in Cabaret.

Outstanding Drama Series for the 1971-'72 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1973): The Waltons, based on the 1961 book Spencer‘s Mountain, starring Michael Learned as Olivia Walton and Richard Thomas as John-Boy Walton. Learned wins Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Role (Drama) and Thomas wins Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Role (Drama).

Outstanding Comedy Series for the 1971-'72 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1973): winning for the second straight season, All In The Family, starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as Archie's wife Edith.

Outstanding Musical or Variety Series for the 1971-'72 season (Emmys®; awarded in 1973): The Julie Andrews Hour, a musical variety series produced by ITC in the U.K. and broadcast on ABC in the U.S.

Top Hot 100 Single of the Year (Billboard Magazine): The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face • Roberta Flack.

Record of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1973): Killing Me Softly With His Song • performed by Roberta Flack.

Album of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1973): Innervisions • performed by Stevie Wonder.

Best Song of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1973): Killing Me Softly With His Song • performed by Roberta Flack, which also wins Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Best Country Song (Grammys®; awarded in 1973): Behind Closed Doors • performed by Kenny O'Dell and written by Charlie Rich.

Best New Artist of the Year (Grammys®; awarded in 1973): Bette Midler.

Best-Selling Books (based on Publisher's Weekly sales reports): Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach takes #1 in the fiction category, followed by August, 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; top selling non-fiction book is The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor with I‘m OK, You‘re OK by Thomas Harris coming in second.

Fashion trends: for women, it's platform sandals, wide flared plaid and checkered pants, funky leggings, miniskirts, and ankle-length dresses; for men, it's striped and floral print shirts, low-rise bell bottoms, platform shoes, and suede-trim cardigans. Really, in 1972, anything goes!

Automobiles: Motor Trend's "Overall Car of the Year" is the imported Citroën SM; the bestselling car of 1972 is the VW Beetle (in fact, in 1972, it becomes the all-time bestselling car in the world, crossing 15,000,000 cars sold); the least expensive car in the U.S. is the 2-door Ford Pinto, with a base sticker price of about $2,160.

Miss America: Laurie Lea Schaefer, representing the State of Ohio.

Miss Universe: Australia‘s Kerry Anne Wells.

Hottest holiday season toys: Easy-Bake Oven, Ouija boards, skateboards, Big Wheel tricycles, Malibu Barbie and Friends, and the addicting card game Uno.

Favorite newborn boy's name: Michael holds the top spot in 1972, in its 11th straight year at #1.

Favorite newborn girl's name: Jennifer holds the top spot for the third straight year.

Sonobeat in '72

1972 is a tough year for Sonobeat, which has no commercial releases but records several promising acts at its new studios on North Lamar in Austin.

Hello Dolly at the Zilker Hillside Theater
The annual summer musical at Zilker Hillside Theater in 1972 is Hello Dolly, which has among its cast Karol Phelan (center), who provides harmony vocals on Sonobeat's Herman Nelson demo album in 1968
Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. Original in black & white; colorized by Sonobeat Historical Archives.
Luke Cage: Hero for Hire
Marvel introduces its first Black superhero, Luke Cage, billed as "Hero for Hire" in his first comic book outing in June 1972. Decades later, he'll have his own Marvel Universe live action TV series on Netflix.