Responding to Crisis

Due to geopolitical events during the 1970's, the U.S. and other major industrialized nations experienced shortages in petroleum. In October, 1973, members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) raised prices and cut production of oil largely in response to U.S. support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In 1979, unrest in the Middle East took the form of the Iranian Revolution. Exports from Iran were inconsistent as the new regime took over.

Throughout the 1970's, Americans were forced to grapple with the complexities of energy on both a personal and national scale. There was a desire to limit our dependence on foreign sources of oil, but a stubborn persistence to largely maintain a lifestyle afforded by the luxury of cheap energy. The following gallery touches on some of these responses to the energy crises of the 1970's.

GAS PRICES (1919-2007)


Gas rationing was implemented in the US in 1974 as a response to the Oil Embargo by OAPEC in response to the US support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war fought against Egypt & Syria. (Source: Wikipedia "1973 Oil Crisis")


Reminding drivers not to speed, this Wisconsin billboard depicts a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution who came to power in 1979. By linking the speed limit with the Iranian leader, this sign illustrates the way in which the national speed limit was created as a security measure, not as an energy saving device. (Source: Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID 41022)

Number of black skyscrapers constructed in North America since 1950. Buildings over 100 m in height and located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco considered.

Oldfield, P., D. Trabucco, and A. Wood. "Five Energy Generations of Tall Buildings: An Historical Analysis of Energy Consumption of High-Rise Buildings." The Journal of Architecture 14, no. 5 (October, 2009),

The energy crises of the 1970's changed the look of our cities' skylines. Modernist architects, whose style gained popularity through the 1950's and 1960's, sought to engage the public by exposing the internal steel structure of buildings. To accomplish this, architects called for non-structural walls of glass, often glazed with a bronze or dark tint, to hang from the steel framework. The modernist style came at a price.

Walls of windows allowed excessive heat loss in colder months and excessive heat gain in warmer months, and the glaze on the windows diminished the amount of natural light able to penetrate into the building. These hermetically sealed buildings required a massive amount of energy to constantly run the ventilation systems necessary to regulate temperature and to artificially illuminate inner workspaces. Compounding the problem, architects influenced by the “International Style” clad their buildings in black or other dark colors that absorbed the sun's energy.

Architects took heed after the energy crises of the 1970's. In 1971, 17 black skyscrapers were completed in the U.S. By 1976 only 3 were completed, and none were completed in 1977. Furthermore, architects moved away from dark tinted glass in order to increase natural light levels within the building. These changes have resulted in decidedly lighter skylines.


U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Petroleum Navigator,” (accessed April 26, 2010)

Woolley, J.T. and Peters, G. “The American Presidency Project” (accessed April 26, 2010).