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When a country’s petroleum supply gets cut off, shortages of gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oil and other fuels start to appear quickly. To state that normal life is affected is a bit of an understatement; scared might be a better representation. It happened in the U.S. in 1973.

The Background

It goes all the way back to post-WWII. In 1948, the Allied powers had sectioned off a section of British-controlled Palestine to create the state of Israel. Finally, Jews from all around the world had a homeland of their own. Problem was that the local Arab population refused to go along. The result was constant conflicts over land ownership in this region. In 1973, tensions boiled over and Egypt and Syria came to the aid of the Palestinians. During the conflict, the Soviet Union began sending arms to Egypt and Syria, and the United States sent arms to Israel.

In response to the supply of arms to the Israelis, the Arab members of the OPEC ceased shipments of oil to the United States and the Netherlands, the main supporters of Israel. This sparked an international energy crisis.

An Energy Crisis Begins

In the three months after the embargo was announced, the price of oil quadrupled in the United States. National leaders called for measures to conserve energy, such as homeowners to turn down their thermostats. The folks at Hiley Mazda of Arlington, a local Mazda dealer in Arlington, TX, say they remember it well. One of the first things that Richard Nixon did was lower the national maximum speed limit to 55 MPH (it used to be 70 MPH).

The Car Business is Affected

The energy crisis hit the American automotive industry hard. For decades, Detroit had turned out bigger and bigger cars and with cheap fuel available, it seemed a permanent trend. The embargo lead to the immediate desire to drive smaller vehicles with better gas mileage. Thus began the small car revolution where vehicles from Asian countries drew immediate interest for American car buyers.

The Long Term

The oil embargo was lifted in March 1974, but oil prices remained high, and the effects of the energy crisis continued throughout the decade. Environmentalism reached new heights during the crisis and as part of the movement toward energy reform, efforts were made to reduce American dependence on petroleum and find renewable energy sources.


Oil remained at high prices until the mid-1980s when abundant supplies from international markets caused the market to collapse. This caused gas prices to drop to more moderate levels and domestic oil production fell once again. Unfortunately, progress towards energy efficiency slowed down and our dependence on foreign oil imports increased.

The Great Oil Embargo