Popular fads from the year you were born
Whether through purchasing an Elvis Presley record, successfully completing a crossword puzzle (without cheating), or eating a Cronut, chances are you've jumped on a fad bandwagon at some point in your life.
Merriam-Webster defines fads as "practices or interests followed for a time with exaggerated zeal: craze." While some fads and trends do, indeed, fall into the temporary category (think goldfish swallowing), others, such as Barbie dolls, remain venerable icons to this day.
Stacker scoured historical accounts, company websites, news media, and other sources to find the most popular fads from 1920 to today. They range from the bizarre to the energetic; from pageants, games and toys, candy, books, and national heroes, to touch on just a few. Some you've never heard of, some are beyond outrageous, and others are mainstays of American life.
Maybe you've participated in, or still do, at least one of these. Perhaps your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents experienced these fads over the years, passing along their love for the longer-lasting crazes through the decades. And maybe, you and your kids are involved with one now or will pass them along to the next generation of eager youth and adults looking for pastimes and popular entertainment—or just plain silliness.
Read on to discover the most interesting fads from each year since the Roaring '20s.
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1920: Commercial radio
The first commercial radio station in the nation, Pittsburgh radio station KDKA, hit the airwaves in 1920 and started a wave of popularity. Five hundred stations hit the airwaves within the span of three years; by the end of the decade, 12 million households had radios. Although commercial radio remains relevant to this day, the growing popularity of television by the 1950s contributed to a decline in radio listeners.
1921: Miss America
The first Miss America Pageant was staged in Atlantic City, and it continues to this day. But reports of controversy, including allegations of sexual and sexist remarks, and only partial payments of scholarships by pageant organizers, could darken its future.
Self-defined flapper Ellen Welles Page wrote in 1922 of living the flapper lifestyle: a free-spirited, Charleston-dancing fad for young women who wore bobbed hair, powdered their noses, and wore fringed dresses and other striking styles. The Great Depression is blamed for the demise of that lifestyle and look.
1923: Dance marathons
This fad originated in Washington state when Alma Cummings danced for 27 straight hours with six different partners. Dance marathons involved couples who danced at local clubs for as long as their legs would hold them up, competing for money. The craze faded by the late 1930s as World War II loomed.
1924: Crossword puzzles
Richard Leo Simon and Max Lincoln Schuster comprised the team that published the first “Cross Word Puzzle Book,” and they remain one of the most popular puzzles on newsstands today. Simon and Schuster's book came complete with a pencil, which helped launch crossword puzzles into a national phenomenon.
1925: Flagpole sitting
This curious fad began after a friend dared actor Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly to sit on the top of a flagpole. He obliged—and remained up top for 13 hours and 13 minutes. Somehow it caught on, and soon sitters set records of 12 days, 17 days, and 21 days, until Kelly himself took the all-time record of 49 days in 1929. Like many on the list, flagpole sitting’s eventual fall from favor came around the same time as the start of the Great Depression.
1926: The Ionaco
Developed and used by Gaylord Wilshire a year earlier, the electric belt named the Ionaco reached peak sales in 1926. Supposedly a device to help magnetize the iron in the body and increase oxygen in the blood (thereby increasing health), the Ionaco sold about 50,000 units. But the American Medical Association criticized the inventor’s claims, and device sales declined by 1927.
Developed by Austrian candy executive Eduard Haas, Pez was a small mint candy named for a shortened German word for peppermint. First sold in small tins, the candy sold well for more than 20 years, until Pez dispensers came out in 1948. Pez's popularity continues to this day with the iconic Star Wars line and other character dispensers.
1928: Mickey Mouse
1929: Car radios
Although introduced years earlier, mass-produced car radios spread far and wide in the U.S. this year, and their popularity remains somewhat, with virtually every production vehicle featuring them as part of their stock equipment. But live streaming of music and other technologies are leading to a decline in the devices.2018 All rights reserved.