Great Balls Almighty!
The year was 1967. The ‘Newlywed Game’ premiers on television, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys is indicted for draft evasion, Sonny and Cher have a hit with “The Beat Goes On”, the United States is still testing nuclear bombs in the Nevada desert, and the 76 Union Oil Company releases their first antenna topper.
By 1968, Union 76 had produced 350,000 of these antenna balls. They were all painstakingly made by hand. Each topper began life as a plain white Styrofoam ball. It was hand painted orange, then screen printed by hand with the blue 76 image. They continued to be made that way until 1977. The popularity of these balls grew to 1,500,000 being produced in 1985.
In the 90’s corporate America jumped on 76’s phenomenal advertising success. Disney began producing antenna balls in 1991, creating a “Mickey” antenna topper to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 20th anniversary. Today, Disney produces over 100 different antenna toppers.
In 1995, to stay hip in the movement they created, Union 76 released antenna toppers in the shape of a baseball, soccer ball, basketball, and a football. Over time other businesses got on the bandwagon of free advertising by developing antenna toppers related to an individual personality rather than a specific product or activity. The movie “Cast-Away” starring Tom Hanks, released in 2000, is responsible for the bestselling antenna ball to date. “Wilson”, the volleyball antenna topper, will go for over $50.00 if you can find one.
With the decline of antennas on vehicles made today, it seems inevitable that we will see a decrease in the creativity and volume of antenna toppers produced. In an attempt to keep the nostalgia alive, Union 76 now produces a rubber ball with a magnet on the bottom to hold it to the vehicle. Time will tell if it catches on, reaching the fame received by the original antenna topper of 1967.
Antenna balls provided courtesy of Toni Novogradac.