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The Streaking fad of the 1970’s (and the history of running nude for grins).

streaker at the SCG during the first final between India and Australia March 2, 2008

Who was the first streaker?

A streaker in Amsterdam January 1941

On July 5, 1799, a Friday evening at 7 o’clock, a naked man was arrested at the Mansion House in London. He was promptly arrested and upon questioning, admitted to the authorities that he had accepted a wager of 10 guineas to run naked from Cornhill to Cheapside. The challenge he met is one of the earliest documented cases of “streaking” – running naked in a public place to shock, or more commonly, amuse others.

Streaking was by no means a novel idea when it became a fad in the 1970’s. In fact, a notable historical event from 1025 A.D. involved a form of streaking when Lady Godiva rode atop her horse naked. According to lore, Godiva’s husband had told her the only way he would lower their taxes would be if she were to ride through town naked. Much to his dismay, she gallantly rode into town in the nude. True to his word, taxes were promptly lowered.

The first recorded incident of streaking in the United States occurred in 1804 by a college student at Washington and Lee University. Senior George William Crump was arrested for running nude through the city of Lexington, Virginia, where the university is located. Crump was suspended for the remainder of the academic semester, but later went on to become a U.S. Congressman and Ambassador to Chile.

Streaking gains momentum

Streaking at the Harvard/Yale game November 18, 2006

By the mid-1960’s, streaking was beginning to gain momentum. As Time Magazine quoted in 1973, “running nude is a growing Los Angeles-area fad that is catching on among college students and other groups.”

As the activity spread across the United States, media coverage increased and the term “streaking” was introduced to the public by a local Washington, D.C. news station reporter. As he watched a “mass nude run”, which had 533 participants, take place at the University of Maryland in 1973, he broadcast the event live over the TV station. When the collected mass of nude students exited Bel Air dorm, the reporter, whose was broadcasting via a pay phone connection exclaimed, “They are streaking past me right now. It’s an incredible sight!” The next day the news story hit the Associated Press wire as “streaking” and saw nationwide coverage in the media outlets.

Streakers began appearing at all sorts of public gatherings. On April 28th, 1974, five streakers calling for Richard Nixon’s impeachment ran through the crowd donning Richard Nixon masks. Streakers appeared at Super Bowls, Olympics, political events, and anywhere a crowd had gathered. 34-year-old Robert Opel streaked across the stage flashing a peace sign at the 46th Academy Awards presentation (Opel’s run across the stage occurred when host David Niven was between him and the camera so nothing below the waist was visible to the TV audience). Appearing to recover quickly, the bemused host quipped, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Streaking becomes a fad

Twenty-five-year-old Australian Michael O’Brien was the first known streaker at a major sporting event when on April 20, 1974, he ran out naked onto the ground of an England vs. France Rugby Union match at Twickenham. He was captured by a policeman who covered his genitals with his police helmet. The iconic photograph of O’Brien under arrest became one of the most reproduced photographs of a streaker. It has a Biblical quality, O’Brien, long-haired, bearded and naked in front of a jeering and cheering crowd is surrounded and supported by bobbies as he is arrested. The policeman’s helmet is on display in the museum at Twickenham.

The high point of streaking’s pop culture significance was in 1974, when thousands of streaks took place around the world. A wide range of novelty products were produced to cash in on the fad, from buttons and patches to a wristwatch featuring a streaking Richard Nixon to pink underwear that said, “Too shy to streak.”

In May of 1974, Ray Steven’s novelty hit “The Steak” surged to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The cultural impact was profound. Many have linked the prominence of streaking in the 1970’s to the onset of the sexual revolution. However, social conventions soon changed, and the fad leveled off when the punishment for streaking became more severe. Today, depending on the location, streaking is now considered a “sex crime”.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

A streaker in Amsterdam January 1941 via Wikipedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain
Streaking at the Harvard/Yale game November 18, 2006 via Wikipedia Commons by Alex Kehr with usage type - Creative Commons License
streaker at the SCG during the first final between India and Australia March 2, 2008 via Wikipedia Commons by Duncan Yoyos with usage type - Creative Commons License. March 2, 2008

Featured Image Credit

streaker at the SCG during the first final between India and Australia March 2, 2008 via Wikipedia Commons by Duncan Yoyos with usage type - Creative Commons License. March 2, 2008


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