The year 1976 suffered no shortage of historical events. Sylvester Stallone starred in Rocky, the Concorde entered service for British Airways, the U.S. Treasury introduced the $2 bill and Steve Jobs started a computer company in his California garage and called it Apple.
Lost in these history-making developments was a smaller but still seminal event in the world of shopping: appearing under the glass counters in pharmacies and Sears across America was a new watch from Timex with Snoopy on its dial.
In a sense, Snoopy (and the rest of the Peanuts gang) was as much a cultural totem of the 1970s as disco and flared slacks. While the newspaper cartoon strip by Charles M. Schulz had been syndicated as early as 1950, it was a series of TV specials—notably the 1965 classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in 1973—that allowed Charlie Brown’s perspicacious beagle to unseat Lassie as America’s dog.
Beget the Beagle
Even in a world of licensed characters dominated by heavyweights like Yoda, Minions and Spider-Man, 70-year-old Snoopy still holds his own as part of a franchise that cranks anywhere from $80 million to $1 billion annually.
But where did this beagle come from? Growing up in Minneapolis, young Charles Schulz had two dogs. Unfortunately, the family’s Boston bull terrier, Snooky, got hit by a taxicab when Schulz was 9. The family’s next dog was Spike of an unknown breed, but his appearance became the template for Snoopy.
The pooch first appeared on Oct. 4, 1950, two days after United Feature Syndicate began running Peanuts as a four-panel strip in a handful of newspapers. With his complex inner life and heedless regard of the adult world, Snoopy was a favorite from the start.
It was only logical, then, that Schulz, acting through United Feature Syndicate, would license his characters for products aimed at young fans.
And according to Timex’s design director Giorgio Galli, this is how the Snoopy watch both made its debut and achieved its national moment. “The collection was packaged for kids initially,” Galli told Adweek, “but then the watches became popular with grown-ups.”
So Timex started producing Snoopy watches with a larger dial size, new styles and a range of colors. And hence began a production run that’s never really ended.
Today, Timex’s Marlin collection features reissues of many of its classic designs, and they remain some of the company’s most popular watches. “I think it’s a little nostalgia, but Snoopy and Peanuts stay popular because of the culture—and they’re popular worldwide,” Galli said.
Timex hasn’t been the only watch brand to license Peanuts characters, either.
Armatron, Invicta Watch Group and Fossil Group have issued them, too. This year, Omega issued a Snoopy Speedmaster watch in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, during which the astronauts used their chronograph watches to time their reentry. But Timex was the most logical choice for the license since it had built a reputation for quality timepieces that average people could afford.
Putting on the Dog
Getty Images; Courtesy of Timex
Though he lamented that his life was “one of rejection,” Charles M. Schulz (1) created the most famous syndicated cartoon strip of all time. The Peanuts gang was a natural for product licensing, and Timex began selling Snoopy watches in 1976, using this doghouse display (2) to draw attention. After the watches proved unexpectedly popular, Timex began making them in a multitude of styles and colors (3), though the price always stayed reasonable at just $15 in 1977. Today’s top of the line Snoopy is this 40-millimeter M79 automatic with a 21-jewel mechanical movement, priced at $279.