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What Would Have Been On Your Gift List?

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
December 08, 2020
Posted in: History

What would have been on your Christmas or Hanukkah gift list in 1978?

This week 42 years ago, McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. was offering a Radio Flyer wagon for $7.77, a Polaroid “One-Step” Instant Camera for $29.94, and boys’ jeans — in Murphy’s own “Big Murph” brand name — for $5.97.

The five-and-10 chain had more than 500 stores that year, including locations at 315 Fifth Ave. in Downtown, Olympia Shopping Center in Versailles, 559 Miller Ave. in Clairton, 108 South Second St. in Elizabeth and 129-131 East Main St. in West Newton.

More than 1,000 people worked at Murphy’s corporate headquarters, or “home office” on Fifth Avenue—part of the 500 block now targeted for demolition and redevelopment—and hundreds more were employed at Murphy’s giant distribution center, which stretched from 28th Avenue to 35th Avenue in Christy Park.

Less than eight years after this ad appeared, Murphy’s was being swept away in an unwanted corporate takeover by Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores, and by 1990, the home office in McKeesport and many of the stores had been closed.

But Murphy’s was riding high during the Christmas shopping season in 1978. Slow-cookers, which have recently had a big resurgence, were popular in the mid-1970s. Murphy’s had one made by the Magic Hostess Corp. of Kansas City, Mo.—on sale this week for $7.66.

There was no PlayStation or Xbox, not even any Candy Crush for your smartphone (which didn’t exist yet, anyway). However, Murphy’s was offering the “Volley X” TV game system for $29.94.

The system, imported from Korea by the Roberts company of California, hooked to the antenna terminals of any TV set (black-and-white or color), and allowed you to play 10 games, including variations on ping-pong, tennis, hockey and skeet-shooting. (The graphics were very primitive and all of the games looked pretty much the same.)

The Volley X video game system is apparently now rare, and what would have cost you $30 at Murphy’s in 1978 will cost you between $60 and $200 on eBay today.

Murphy’s also had young ladies’ double-knit polyester slacks for $4.99. Unlike slow-cookers, those haven’t made a comeback—yet.

And you could buy a complete kit to make your own afghan from Murphy’s-brand acrylic yarn for just $5.94.

Based on the number of those cozy afghans that can still be found draped over the backs of sofas and neatly stacked in closets in the Mon-Yough area, G.C. Murphy Co. must have sold tens of thousands of those kits.

Or are you looking for something for dad or your older brother? How about an eight-track tape player for installation in their car? Just $19.94, with wiring included.

What would have been on your gift list? Click the image to open a larger version of this ad, which ran in the Pittsburgh Press, McKeesport Daily News and other newspapers this week in 1978.

(Correction: I originally thought this ad was from 1975, but then I started doing some web-searches for the news stories on the back of it. It looks to me like it’s from 1978, and a check of the 1978 calendar confirms that Dec. 9 was a Saturday that year.

Also on the back of the Murphy’s ad: According to an article called “Monroeville Mall Your Holiday Spot,” a hot gift idea at Cox’s was a personalized scarf embroidered with someone’s name or initials. It was $16 but needed to be special-ordered. Cox’s also was featuring Polynesian swimwear “for the man lucky enough to be going on a cruise.” The complete outfit, according to the news item, included a top, shorts and drawstring pants to be worn over the shorts. —JT)

Originally published December 08, 2020.

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