Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World by Iain (CC BY-SA)
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World by Iain (CC BY-SA)

A Half-Century of Awesome

Walt Disney World turns 50 on Oct. 1 — and in true Disney fashion, a big bash will mark the milestone — but it's far from the only thing marking five decades this year. Some of the most prominent inventions, institutions, and pop-culture phenomena that we take for granted today came about back in 1971. From Starbucks to soft contacts and email to Uno, here are 50 things celebrating the big 5-0 this year.


Related: The Warning Signs You're Turning 50

Magic Kingdom
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Walt Disney World

Disneyland's younger, larger cousin officially marks its 50th anniversary this October, five decades after the Magic Kingdom hosted its first guests on Oct. 1, 1971. Back then, admission to the park was just $3.50 (about $24 in today's dollars), but most rides were an additional fee. (Today, a single day at Disney World will cost you somewhere between $109 and $159 — ouch.) The original park included favorite attractions like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Haunted Mansion, and It's a Small World. 


Related: Vintage Views of Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Make an Email Schedule
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Starbucks
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Starbucks

Java junkies don't have to go far to find a Starbucks these days, with more than 30,000 stores worldwide. But 50 years ago, there was just one: a small shop in Seattle's Pike Place Market. And it was more than a decade after opening that Starbucks began to sell brewed coffee — until then, you could only buy coffee beans, tea, and spices. 


Related: Things You Didn't Know About Starbucks

McDonald's Double Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese
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Lucasfilm
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Lucasfilm

The company that would spawn the "Star Wars" juggernaut was founded in 1971, the same year George Lucas released his first feature film, "THX 1138." The first official Lucasfilm movie, "American Graffiti," came in 1973, four years before the first of the original "Star Wars" trilogy. After years of blockbusters, Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 for a whopping $4 billion.


Related: How Disney Revolutionized Entertainment

FedEx Review
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FedEx

This shipping heavyweight was founded 50 years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, by a Yale grad who wanted to find a faster way to get time-sensitive packages to their destinations. Then known as Federal Express, the company wouldn't ship its first parcels until 1973. A decade later, it had over $1 billion in revenue, and in a little over another decade, it shortened its name to "FedEx" and adopted the hidden-arrow logo that's so familiar today. 


Related: Successful Businesses Launched During Economic Downturns

Pocket Calculator
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Pocket Calculators

Thanks to smartphones, it may have been a while since you carried a calculator, but it was in 1971 that the first one small enough to shove in your pocket hit the market. The Busicom LE-120A, also known as the "Handy," was also the first to use an LED display, according to the Vintage Calculators Web Museum. It cost $395, which in today's dollars would make it nearly $2,600. (Don't worry: It had a strap to keep you from accidentally dropping your big investment.)


Related: How Classrooms Have Changed Over the Past 50 Years

Amtrak
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A Nike storefront
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The Nike Swoosh

Nike was founded in the '60s, but its iconic logo didn't appear until 1971. That's when a graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson sold the swoosh to Nike founder Phil Knight, then an assistant professor at Portland State University, for $35 — about $227 in today's dollars. That's certainly a deal considering how ubiquitous the logo has become. (Davidson was eventually presented with a significant amount of Nike stock.)


Related: The Secret Histories of Popular Brands

Cup Noodles
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Arcade Games
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CT Scans
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Vote Counts
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The 26th Amendment

The second-most recent amendment to the Constitution isn't so recent anymore. In March of 1971, Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of a proposed amendment that would lower the voting age from 21 to 18 nationwide. Three-fourths of state legislatures ratified it within two months — the fastest that's ever happened, according to the National Constitution Center. President Richard Nixon signed it into law that July.

Related: Tricky Tactics That Could Cost You Your Vote

Athena
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Nasdaq

In 1971, the Nasdaq, short for National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, was created as a quicker way for investors to swap securities. As its name suggests, it initially only gave automated quotations, but eventually grew into a full-fledged electronic trading system. Today, 4,000 companies are listed on the Nasdaq, including tech heavyweights like Apple, which went public on Nasdaq in 1980. 


Related: Companies That Tried to Trick Consumers

Malibu Barbie
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Floppy Disks
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Floppy Disks

Computing has certainly changed in the last five decades, but there was a time when the floppy disk was revolutionary technology. Introduced by IBM, floppy disks computer users to take their data with them, freeing them from using just one machine. Of course, floppy disks were eventually overtaken by the likes of CDs, flash drives, and now, cloud storage. The last company to make them, Sony, stopped in 2011. 


Related: Products You Never Thought Would be Obsolete

Cuisinart Electric Fondue Maker
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Cuisinart

You've officially been slicing, dicing, baking, and cooking with this iconic brand of kitchenware and accessories for half a decade. The company, founded by a physicist and avid cook who was inspired by a food-prep demonstration he observed in France, started out selling stainless steel cookware. It sold its first food processor two years later, in 1973, and has since expanded into everything from flatware to grilling.


Related: Grilling Accessories You Didn't Know You Needed

uno game
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Uno

Chances are good that this classic card game, with its dreaded "Draw 4" and coveted wild cards, is still in rotation in your house. Invented by an Ohio man who risked his house to print the first 5,000 decks, the game went on to truly catch fire in the '80s. Today, you can buy more than 470 varieties of Uno, from Disney-themed decks to versions meant for kids to Uno Attack, which comes with a machine that spews cards at unlucky players. 


Related: Fun Family Games to Keep You Entertained at Home

Hard Rock Hotels, Cafes and Rock Shops
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Hard Rock Cafe

In the early '70s, it was hard to come by a decent burger in London — or so the origin story of the Hard Rock Cafe goes. That led two Americans to establish the first outpost of what would become one of the world's most recognizable restaurant chains. Hard Rock would host its first live music act two years later: Paul McCartney and Wings. 


Related: 17 Restaurant Chains We Miss

A processor Intel C4004 with grey traces (no gray trace version).
A processor Intel C4004 with grey traces (no gray trace version). by Thomas Nguyen (CC BY-SA)

Microprocessors

These tiny gizmos, essentially the brains of modern-day computers, date to 1971, when a little-known company named Intel released the 4004 microprocessor. Interestingly, the 4004 was not a major priority for Intel, but an "understaffed side project … one simply intended to drum up some cash" as Intel focused on memory chips, according to IEEE Spectrum. It was supposed to be used exclusively in calculators, but Intel realized its potential and began marketing it for other uses later that year.


Related: Events That Made Retail History Before the Pandemic

Hamburger Helper, 1994
Hamburger Helper, 1994 by Roadsidepictures (CC BY-NC-ND)

Hamburger Helper

In the early '70s, families were looking for ways to stretch a pound of ground beef, and the one-pot wonder that was Hamburger Helper proved to be a big success. The Betty Crocker brand was introduced with five flavors, and has grown to more than 50 today. It wouldn't get its cheerful mascot, the helping hand known as "Lefty," until 1977. 


Related: Foods We Miss From the '70s and '80s

: A young boy receives a immunization jab at a health centre in Glasgow September 3, 2007 in Glasgow, Scotland
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NPR
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NPR

National Public Radio was incorporated in 1970, but it wasn't until the following year that it went on air. The very first broadcast, in April 1971, covered Senate hearings on the Vietnam War. The next month, "All Things Considered" hit the airwaves with its original host, Robert Conley. In 1972, Susan Stamberg joined as host, becoming the first female anchor of a national nightly news program. 

The Oregon Trail Handheld Game
The Oregon Trail Handheld Game by James Case (CC BY)

'The Oregon Trail'

"Dying of dysentery" has a completely different meaning to schoolkids of the '80s and early '90s, when "The Oregon Trail" was an inescapable part of the classroom experience. The iconic video game was invented by three student teachers, and started spreading to computers nationwide by the end of the decade. According to the World Video Game Hall of Fame, a staggering 65 million copies have been sold, teaching history every step of players' arduous journey.


Related: Cool Gifts for Old School Gamers Who Miss the '80s

'A Clockwork Orange'
United Archives / Contributor / Hulton Archive

'A Clockwork Orange'

Stanley Kubrick's famous — and infamous — dystopian film premiered at the tail end of 1971. It received an X rating, so Kubrick replaced some explicit footage the following year to get an R rating that would allow a wider release. In 2020, the movie became a part of the Library of Congress' National Film Registry thanks to its enduring cultural significance. 

Fighting The War on Drugs
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The War on Drugs

Though many people may associate this famous federal initiative with President Ronald Reagan, it was actually Nixon who declared the "war" 50 years ago, saying drug abuse was "public enemy number one." The Drug Enforcement Administration was founded in 1973, but it wasn't until the '80s that high-profile campaigns like "Just Say No" and increased arrests brought the issue to the forefront.


Related: Facts You Learned in School That Are Actually Lies

Count Chocula
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Monster Cereals

General Mills' Monster Cereals started scaring up sales in 1971, when Count Chocula and Franken Berry hit store shelves. They were the first chocolate- and strawberry-flavored cereals, respectively. Boo Berry didn't join the spooky soiree until 1972. About a decade ago, General Mills stopped making the cereals year round, but it does bring them back to stores every fall, in time for Halloween. 


Related: Childhood Cereals We Wish They'd Bring Back

Fruity Pebbles Had A Cringe-worthy Precursor
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Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles

Apparently, 1971 was a big year for fruity cereal. While General Mills gave us the Monster Cereals, Post unleashed its own iconic brands nationwide: Fruity Pebbles, then known simply as "Pebbles," and Cocoa Pebbles. Released in partnership with Hanna-Barbera with "The Flintstones" as their mascots, the cereals are still widely available today, with the same smiling cartoon characters on the boxes.

Greenpeace
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Greenpeace

A group of environmental activists hatched an ambitious plan in 1971: They would board a small fishing boat and sail to Alaska's Amchitka Island to disrupt U.S. nuclear tests there. They were arrested by the Coast Guard, but the activists, who dubbed their group Greenpeace, succeeded in stirring up enough protests that further tests on the island were canceled. Today, the organization has 2.8 million members worldwide and offices in 50 countries.

John Lennon And Yoko Ono
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R&B singer Marvin Gaye poses for a portrait session for his album "What's Going On" which was released on May 21. 1971
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'What's Going On'

Marvin Gaye's most famous song, ranked just behind "Imagine" on Rolling Stone's list of the Greatest Songs of All Time, first hit airwaves in 1971. That was after Motown refused to release it for several months, unsure how listeners would react to such an overtly political song. Of course, the rest is history: The song was a smash, and emerged as one of the most important of the era. 


Related: Stars Who Died Penniless 

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Moisturizing Shampoo
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Herbal Essences

When the first bottles of Herbal Essences hit shelves 50 years ago, there was just one scent: "a bold blend of green herbaceous notes with a big white floral middle and a balsamic musky background," according to Southern Living. Today, there are more than 30 varieties of shampoo alone in the Procter & Gamble-owned brand, which arguably became a household name with its steamy commercials from the '90s that made lathering up look like an enjoyable experience, indeed.

Bed Bath & Beyond
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Bed Bath & Beyond

When this ubiquitous chain's first store opened in New Jersey in 1971, there was no "beyond." The store was simply Bed 'n Bath, focusing on items for those rooms only. But as anyone who has been inside a Bed Bath & Beyond lately can attest, the limited focus didn't last long, and the store's name changed in 1987. Today, it carries everything from cookware to pet products to "as seen on TV" gadgets. 

American Libertarian Party
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American Libertarian Party

It hasn't exactly cracked open America's red-blue stranglehold, but the Libertarian Party has grown into one of the nation's most notable third-party options after its founding in the early '70s. As of August 2020, Libertarians held 232 offices across the country, according to Ballotpedia. Gary Johnson, the party's presidential candidate in 2016, managed to notch nearly 4.5 million votes. 

'All in the Family'
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'All in the Family'

"All in the Family" premiered on CBS in January 1971, with "lovable bigot" Archie Bunker lashing out at everything from feminism to homosexuality. Though controversial, the sitcom steadily gained viewers, ran for nine seasons, and was a No. 1 show in the Nielsen Ratings for five years. It also spawned several spin-offs, including "Maude" and "The Jeffersons."

Chat Rooms
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Chat Rooms

AOL's chat rooms were the hot place to digitally mix and mingle in the late '90s, but their origins in 1971 were wonkier than their slightly sketchy reputation might suggest. Murray Turoff, a computer scientist at Berkeley, was charged by the federal Office of Emergency Preparedness to find a new way for offices to communicate. The result, the Emergency Management Information System and Reference Index, allowed chatter in real time and was even nicknamed "the party line."  

Kevlar
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Kevlar

DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar in the 1960s, but this revolutionary, heat-resistant fiber didn't hit the market until 1971, when it was first used in place of steel in racing tires. In the years since, it has been used in everything from cookware to boats to the Ove Glove, but its most well-known use might be in protective gear including bulletproof vests and combat helmets. 

Weebles
Weebles by Steven Tom (CC BY-ND)

Weebles

Quick: What's the toy that wobbles but won't fall down? Weebles, of course, which made their debut in 1971 under Hasbro's Romper Room label. The egg-shaped toys, weighted so that they would return to an upright position after being bumped, pushed, or even thrown, were a big seller for the next decade, coming in sets including a haunted house, a circus tent, and even the Magic Kingdom castle.

Sunglass Hut
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Doctors Without Borders
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Doctors Without Borders

Established as Medecins Sans Frontieres at the end of 1971, Doctors Without Borders aims to bring medical professionals to people suffering from humanitarian disasters around the world. The initial group included 13 founding doctors and journalists, plus nurses and other volunteers. Their first mission was to Managua, Nicaragua, where a massive earthquake killed up to 30,000 people in 1972.

Mr. Yuk
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Mr. Yuk

This frowny green symbol was a common sight on everything from drain cleaner to bleach in households of the '70s and '80s. Mr. Yuk, created by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, was meant to be a skull-and-crossbones alternative that warned young children of poisons. Though not as common today, you can still get sheets of Mr. Yuk stickers or even Mr. Yuk on a T-shirt

'Jesus Christ Superstar'
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'Jesus Christ Superstar'

Andrew Lloyd Weber's eponymous rock opera premiered on Broadway in October 1971 and ran for close to two years, stirring up plenty of controversy among religious groups along the way. That didn't stop it from opening in London's West End in 1972, where it ran for eight years. It has been revived several times since then, and was made into an NBC television special starring John Legend in 2018.  

McDonalds McDonaldland mini-puzzle - Ronald waving burger alarm - 1973
McDonalds McDonaldland mini-puzzle - Ronald waving burger alarm - 1973 by Jason Liebig (CC BY-NC)

McDonaldland

Today, there's little trace of Ronald McDonald's crazy companions at McDonald's restaurants, but children of the '70s, '80s, and even '90s fondly remember Grimace, the Hamburglar, and others. The gang was all part of "McDonaldland," which started as a TV campaign 50 years ago to appeal to children. Of course, the wacky characters ended up taking many forms: They were made into Happy Meal toys, at-home play sets, and playground equipment for McDonald's PlayPlaces.


Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Apollo 14
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Ms. Magazine
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Ms. Magazine

This iconic magazine began its five-decade run as a modest insert in New York magazine in December 1971. Articles didn't shy away from controversial topics, tackling everything from abortion to "raising kids without sex roles." Today, Ms. is published quarterly by the Feminist Majority Foundation, and co-founder Gloria Steinem remains a consulting editor. 

contact lenses in a case
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Soft Contact Lenses

1971 was a pivotal year for those of us with bad eyesight. That's when the FDA approved Bausch & Lomb's revolutionary soft contact lenses, Soflens, the first of their kind to hit the U.S. market. They quickly notched $1 million in sales as buyers sought a more comfortable alternative to hard lenses. Disposable soft contacts followed 16 years later. 


Related: Products You Should Always Buy Online

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum
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'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'

This whimsical classic starring Gene Wilder has left a mark on kids and grownups alike, but it wasn't an immediate smash after its debut 50 years ago. In fact, as Mental Floss notes, it made only $4 million at the box office, and cost $3 million to make. However, it later found plenty more viewers during repeated television broadcasts.

Laffy Taffy
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Witness Security Program
Wikimedia Commons

Witness Security Program

Is it time to disappear? The Witness Security Program (also known as the Witness Protection Program) has been making it happen for 50 years. Administered by the U.S. Marshals Service, the program has protected more than 19,000 people whose lives have been threatened because of their testimony in major criminal trials. Impressively, no one following the program's guidelines has ever been harmed or killed, the marshals say. 


Related: Surprising Facts About the Secret Service

'Masterpiece Theatre'
'Masterpiece Theatre' by Blake Patterson (CC BY)

'Masterpiece Theatre'

Long before Netflix brought us "The Crown" and other period dramas, PBS had "Masterpiece Theatre." It debuted five decades ago with the witty, well-read Alistair Cooke at the helm; he would remain host for two decades. Today, the show is simply known as "Masterpiece," and it's the longest-running weekly primetime drama on TV. It scored a recent hit with "Downton Abbey," which also spawned a feature film.