What Was the Deal with Antenna Balls?

Fads come and go, yet they seem to have affected almost everything. And they spare nothing – not even the world of automobiles. Along with the latest automobile innovations of the time comes a history of curious fads and bizarre inventions.

It’s amusing to think that many people will do anything for their vehicles because they believe they’re “progressive” or “stylish.” The things that most of us once considered as “cool” become silly and laughable now if we come to think of it. They were so ridiculous that we wished they had never started.

But despite the ludicrous nature of those fads, a lot of people cannot help feeling a rush of nostalgia whenever they think of them, so they try to bring these “retro” automobile fads into the new millennium. As a result, some of them are making a comeback, including the antenna balls. They are variations of antenna toppers that became a hot fad some decades ago. In fact, the antenna balls were the ones that started it all.

Where did the antenna ball originate?

The origins of the antenna ball began at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, where Union 76 (also known as 76, named after “1776”, the year of the American independence) introduced a brand-new sign for their gas stations. Nowadays, it is called as just 76.

The sign consisted of an orange ball with “76” written on it in blue with white borders. Many of the Union 76 stations had the balls rotate when the signs lit up during the evening.

Since then, the 76 orange signs had become recognizable sights on the road. In 1967, Union 76 began giving away tens of millions of orange plastic foam balls that bore their iconic logo as giveaways to their customers along the West Coast. And the antenna ball, or antenna topper, was born.

On the ball

Almost immediately, people found these balls quite appealing. They were easy to install, too. Soon after, these simple novelty items became a hot fad that lasted from the late 1960s up to the early 1980s. If you lived during this era, you probably decked your cars with those antenna balls.

The popularity of the orange Union 76 antenna balls actually started the antenna toppers craze. Soon, several manufacturers came up with their own versions of the antenna toppers of different designs and colors. They distributed these antenna toppers across the US and even in other parts of the world.

During the peak of the toppers’ popularity, car antennas were decked by foam balls of different designs – yellow smiley faces, animal shapes, company brand logos, business logos, sports team logos, and many more. These antenna toppers became so wildly popular, they were even stolen from parked cars while the owners were away.

The return of the balls

The popularity of these antenna balls faded out during the early 1980s. However, they made a resurgence in the mid-1990s when fast-food chain Jack in the Box launched a line of antenna balls designed to resemble Jack Box’s head.

Although antenna balls are not as hot as they used to be, they still make good conversation starters! They are a simple, inexpensive, but whimsical way to add a touch of your personality to your vehicle.