The 1970s Energy Crisis Timeline: 1970, 1973 & 1979

Instructor: Eve Levinson

Eve has taught various courses of high school history and has a master's degree in education.

During the 1970s, the United States and other major industrialized nations experienced energy crises in which the cost and supply of oil prohibited purchasing and economic growth.

Background to Crisis

Have you ever heard the expression that someone took their toys and went home? It's when someone doesn't like the rules, or thinks you're being mean, and rather than stay to work it out and keep playing, ruins the game for everyone. What would make someone act this way? What do you think might happen if countries act this way? One such series of instances led to major energy crises around the world in the 1970s.

After World War II, the world map and power dynamics had changed dramatically. In 1948, the Allied powers, who had won the war, designated a stretch of land in the Middle East as Israel to be a homeland for Jews. Unfortunately, the Arab population in the region so hated this action that they initiated repeated attacks against the developing nation.

On the energy side, by the 1960s, oil producers around the world were hitting their peaks in production. This means that they had reached a maximum point of discovering oil resources and thus were at a maximum point of processing and producing oil products, like petroleum. Since that time, the discovery and production rates have been in decline.

Also in 1960, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC was founded. The five original members, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, came together to create a collective vision and unite in their control of the natural resources in their countries. That meant they also had a significant say in production, distribution and pricing.

1970s Energy Crisis Timeline

1970: United States oil production peaked. Additionally, the Clean Air Act began to institute regulations to protect the environment, including altering allowances for what could be in gasoline. Because OPEC gasoline contained fewer of the pollution-causing particles, the demand for their product increased.

1973: OPEC Oil Embargo and energy crisis. A number of events occurred to cause these events,

  • Yom Kippur War - Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the holiest Jewish day, Yom Kippur. As the war continued, the Soviet Union sent weapons to Egypt and Syria, and the US resupplied the Israelis.
  • OPEC countries initiated an embargo on oil shipments to the United States and the Netherlands, because of their support of Israel. The embargo limited oil production and sales.
  • American politicians believed that the country's demand for oil was great enough that the embargo would have a financial effect on the OPEC countries. In fact, the embargo raised the price of oil from $3 to $12 per barrel, which led to the reduced purchasing having much less of an impact.

As a result of the embargo, many European countries limited activities like driving and boating to conserve gas, and Great Britain even encouraged people to limit winter heating to only one room of the house. In the U.S., gas stations were asked to close on Sundays and people waited in long lines to purchase limited fuel on their assigned day. American muscle cars had become costly, and Japanese cars, which were more efficient, started to sell in higher numbers.

Gas Shortage
Gas Shortage

1974: Embargo lifted, but rationing continued. A national speed limit of 55 miles per hour was instituted so that people would burn less fuel while driving.

1977: U.S. Department of Energy was created to oversee energy and environmental concerns.

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