In April 1975, Gary Dahl was in a bar listening to his friends complain about their pets, and this gave him the idea for the perfect “pet”: a rock. A rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, or groomed, and it would not die, become sick, or be disobedient. Dahl said that they were to be the perfect pets and joked about it with his friends. He took his idea seriously, however, and drafted an “instruction manual” for a pet rock.
The 32 page training manual titled The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock was included, with instructions on how to properly raise and care for one’s new Pet Rock. (notably lacking instructions for feeding, bathing, and so on). The instruction manual was the real product, full of gags, puns and jokes, and contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet. While “sit” and “stay” were effortless to accomplish, “roll over” usually required a little extra help from the trainer. “Come,” “stand” and “shake hands” were found to be near-impossible to teach; however, “attack” was fairly simple (also with some additional help from the owner).
Here’s an opening line from the pun-filled instruction manual:
“Your PET ROCK will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come,” stated Dahl’s booklet, which featured illustrations of the rocks in inaction. “Rocks enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part — at least not on your PET ROCK’s account. Once you have transcended the awkward training stage your rock will mature into a faithful, obedient, loving pet with but one purpose in life — to be at your side when you want it to, and to go lie down when you don’t.”
The other 32 pages are equally tongue-in-cheek.
“Your PET ROCK will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come,” states the manual, which features diagrams of your rock in action. “Rocks enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part — at least not on your PET ROCK’s account. Once you have transcended the awkward training stage your rock will mature into a faithful, obedient, loving pet with but one purpose in life — to be at your side when you want it to, and to go lie down when you don’t.” So you went to the store to purchase a gray stone packaged in a cardboard box with breathing holes cut-out, and straw. It even came with a booklet with gags, and play on words that referred to these inanimate rocks as actual pets. Pet Rock could even learn to sit, stay, and rollover (thought the last one required some help from the trainer).
For six months in 1975 Pet Rock was one of the biggest fads in America, eventually selling over 1.5 million units, making creator Gary Dahl a millionaire virtually overnight. Though the product made Dahl wealthy, it also made him wary, for he was sought after for quite a while by hordes of would-be inventors, seeking his input on their next big product. “There’s a bizarre lunatic fringe who feel I owe them a living,” Mr. Dahl told The Associated Press in 1988. “Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn’t have been simpler if I hadn’t done it.”