Larry Dimarzio started his career in the early 70s. He had a nose for guitar part demand and soon he was manufacturing the first replaceable pickup - the Dimarzio Super Distortion. Since guitar players increasingly demanded distortion, which could only achieved by blasting the non-volume-controlled tube amps to the limit, his high gain mid-boosted pickup became extremely sought after. Other companies measured up to Dimarzio, and so today there is an almost unimaginable variety of replacement pickups available.
In the meantime things are less about distortion and more about creating as many different nuances as possible. This gives every guitarist the opportunity to create his very own desired sound nowadays. Making the right choice has become a comparatively minor issue.
In the early 80s Eddie Van Halen caused a furore with his famous whammy bar orgies which made more tuning-stable vibrato units necessary. German brand Rockinger marketed their really superb True Tune Vibrato (even Eddie had one of these on one of his countless guitars) and the Americans took the basic concept and improved it. Today practically all modern vibratos are manufactured under the license of Floyd Rose.
The Superstrat traces its origins back to Eddie as well. You can find out more about it in the paragraph on basic models.
Diversity is more hip than ever. Vintage-style, all-rounders and almost futuristic-looking models are being produced and they continue to sell very well. Even the beginners department contains high quality instruments, so you don't necessarily need to be a lawyer or a stockbroker to purchase a fine instrument!