The Energy Crisis Started Forty Years Ago: How Did You Survive It?

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CC reader Sam P. sent me a link to a photo essay at Business Insider about the first energy crisis, which started in October of 1973. In response to the Yom Kippur War, in which Israel pushed back incursions from Egypt and Syria, OPEC halted all oil exports to America. At that time, OPEC was the source of two-thirds of all oil imports. The results were mayhem: gas lines, closed stations, odd-even days, 5 and 10 gallons limits (enough to fill up a VW but not so much a big car). I’ve picked a couple of the best gas-line shots, and maybe some of you who lived through it will share your experiences.

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Gas stations bravely tried to stay open despite being out of gas. But that’s all folks had on their minds, especially if they were driving a big Cadillac.

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I had this shot in my files, and I find it particularly poignant. Personally, the energy crisis didn’t affect me much, as I was living in Iowa City at the time, and it was very easy to just mostly give up driving. I had a nice Belgian ten speed bike (Vainqueur), and just rolled by the gas lines. And although biking got a huge boost from the energy crisis, it wasn’t a realistic option for many.

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Oil prices quadrupled by January of 1974, and gas prices almost doubled. No wonder the Vega and Pinto had their best years ever in 1974, along with a whole lot of imports, especially Japanese. The Energy Crisis was a turning point; even though oil supplies came back, gas prices never returned to their previous levels (at least not until the late 1990’s, when they hit all-time inflation adjusted lows). And although many folks soon shed their uncomfortably tight Pintos and such, big car sales never recovered either, and the biggest selling cars would be mid-sized ones, like the Olds Cutlass.

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The national 55 mph speed limit was bad enough, but some states went even further, like Washington State’s 50 mph limit on all highways. The only PAC I ever gave money to (National Motorist’s Association or something like that) was the one that finally helped get the double-nickle overturned. It sure took way too long, though.

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Unlike today, a substantial percentage of electric power was generated by oil, so the energy crisis wasn’t just about gasoline, but cutting back on electricity use. Here’s Oregon governor Tom McCall working by lamplight. Whale oil?

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The final shot. Since that’s a Peugeot 404 wagon, I can’t not use it. So how did you survive the Energy Crisis?