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The Bicentennial Madness of July 1976

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Let’s face it, in the 1970s patriotism in the U.S. wasn’t what it was in previous decades; Vietnam, Watergate, etc. had eroded much of the American spirit.  Yet, for some reason, the nation went freaking buck-wild over the Bicentennial.

The “Spirit of ’76” was everywhere.  Any Americans old enough to remember will recall the inexplicable Bicentennial hype that permeated the country.  Everything from sugar packets to license plates commemorated the event, and every classroom was bedecked in red, white & blue.  It’s simply impossible to exaggerate this phenomenon.

On the one hand, it’s nice to be proud of your country and celebrate its birthday.  On the other hand, this became so over-hyped and marketed to such an extreme that it was…. well, let’s just say it was more than a little overboard.

Here are some examples from magazine covers, T-shirt iron-ons, cigarette lighters and other ephemera to give you an idea of how prevalent the Bicentennial fad was.  Just know, this is just the tip of the iceberg – those that actually lived it were marinated in the stars and stripes from every direction;  and it’s impossible to fully convey the true madness that was America’s 200th birthday.

1776 makeup

Bicentennial inspired makeup and cigarette lighter.

bicentennial condom and chainsaw

Bicentennial condom and chainsaw (hopefully not to be used together)

travel 1976

sears 1976 cover

The Sears catalog actually offered Bicentennial clothing in their Summer 1976 catalog including these nifty sneakers…

sears 1976 shoes

sears 1976 shirt

Of course, T-shirts emblazoned with 1776 were omnipresent.

27_Todd Bridges in a T shirt ad

You may recognize the fella on the right; Todd Bridges from “Diff’rent Strokes”.

Pizza-Box-bicentennial

From the back of a pizza box…. are you beginning to see how prevalent this was?

bicentennial

People magazine has celebs dress up as Independence Day heroes, and Gottlieb unveils their Bicentennial pinball machine.

radio shack bicentennial issue

Radio Shack’s Bicentennial “Everything System”.  You can begin to see how the Bicentennial was perhaps less about celebrating a nation’s birthday than a slick marketing tactic.  Label it with a Bicentennial brand, and sales magically increase.

1776 fashion advertising

I’m not so keen on wrapping my ice cream cone in aluminum foil, but Reynolds smartly cashes in on the Bicentennial boom.

1776 girl scouts

Girl Scout and American Camping Association’s Bicentennial advertisement.

July 1976

You know a fad has truly permeated pop culture when both Penthouse and TV Guide pay tribute.

Here’s another example of how broad the Bicentennial mania spread…

Kiss world tour 1976

Both Women’s Circle and KISS embrace The Spirit of ’76.

Newsweek-Cover-July-4-1976-min-768x1031

March1976PeterbiltAdBackCover

Peterbuilt truck ad from a 1976 issue of Overdrive magazine.

The-New-York-Times-Magazine-Cover-July-4-1976

bicentennial pez

From sexy tops to PEZ dispensers… to be honest, it makes me a bit sad to think that we Americans could never muster this level of patriotism today.  Yes, PEZ dispensers are a far cry from “true patriotism” (i.e. serving in the military)… but even this superficial level of national pride wouldn’t fly these days on this scale. (sigh)

bicentennial playboy

Ameristar and bar guide 1976

Marvel Calender 1976

053_Tractor Queen

Bicentennial-Toilet-Paper-Wrapping-1976-min

This one has me conflicted.  If you use this toilet paper for its intended purpose… are you being patriotic or anti-American? I’ll leave for that one for you to ponder.

  • njguy54

    Like so many fads in the 70s, the Bicentennial hype was done to death and became just another marketing blitz. Some people were truly into it; for an entire year, my elementary school principal would wear a Colonial costume. I myself even had a small role in a local theater group’s production of the musical “1776.” But by the time it was over, there was a sense of “good riddance.”

    As for whether this level of patriotism could be sustained today, the answer is probably not, largely because notions of patriotism have become so politicized. The one exception is the period immediately following 9/11… though national tragedy is not the price anyone wants to pay for a little flag waving.

  • Daniel Longcore

    I was born in 1976, and oddly enough, my younger brother and I had a twin bunk bed growing up that had mattresses that, I don’t know if they were Bicentennial, were at least patriotic-themed (images of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, etc.). Must’ve been a holdover from that.

  • timdub70

    Tyco made a Bicentennial locomotive for their train sets. I had one.

  • Haga Akane ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    “to be honest, it makes me a bit sad to think that we Americans could never muster this level of patriotism today.”

    I’d hardly call what happened then patriotism. At best it was just a balm to soothe some scars from bad behavior over the past 15 years, but mostly it was just a vehicle for the hedonism of the time. I recall there being a burst of red, white and blue stuff everywhere starting in the summer of 1975 but come July 5, 1976 it was abruptly over. About the only thing that survived by the end of the year was the occasional sighting of pillow cases with flag designs and bicentennial coins!

  • mournblade1066

    Even Smash-Up Derby, my favorite toy as a kid, had a bicentennial edition.

  • BOB®

    Two-hundred years put some much-needed context to what had been happening for the previous 15 years or so.

  • Freakanatcha

    i had a serving tray with the Bicentennial bison

  • StandingTallAsAnAmerican

    Remember when Time and TV Guide were relevant?

  • Steve Mills

    I still have my Bicentennial Tyco locomotive.

    1976 was one of the best times in America. And who cares if it was just a lot of hype? Because it actually DID bring the country together. Even our puny town had a fire hydrant painting contest. It was great. It would be hard to do the whole Bicentennial thing these days because all the fucking liberal hippies and fascists would march and promote violence against patriots and people enjoying a nice parade.

    • Dave McDougall

      >>It would be hard to do the whole Bicentennial thing these days because all the fucking liberal hippies and fascists would march and promote violence against patriots and people enjoying a nice parade

      I’d say you’re a living example of why a bicentennary wouldn’t work in America today if the above hate spouting (not to mention bizarre – lumping liberals and fascists together!) sentence is any example! You sound quite a bit facsistic yourself…

      • Steve Mills

        I guess you haven’t been paying attention to the most vocal liberals out there today. They call themselves ANTIFA (Anti-Fascists). They protest by smashing property, inciting violence, and burning buildings. If that’s not fascism, I don’t know what is. What’s not to hate about them? Any good citizen and patriot *should* hate them.

    • rlenahbo

      You’re an asshole. Please climb back under the rock from where you came.

      • Steve Mills

        Look! There’s a commie now!

  • AlanOne7
  • Voiceofthe70s

    I’m surprised to see that the pizza box has a bar code. I don’t remember bar codes being in use as far back as 1976, but I guess they were.

  • SkeptiGal

    Oh I remember the barrage of red, white, and blue that year! It was nauseating after the third ad, but then you would have had to hide under a rock in order to get away from them.