The illusion of money and the price of goods has always been fascinating to me. I was sifting the internet this morning and came upon this great website. http://www.gti.net/mocolib1//prices/1901.html
I am still trying to figure out how it became so expensive to buy land.. or a bag of beans.. (Yes I really do know the answer is supply and demand) It makes me angry have been born in a generation when it is so hard to prepare for the future because greatly of the cost of goods..
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I always think there is great value in teacher resources..
Historic prices, Morris County, NJ
The prices listed in this survey were published in the Daily Record [Morristown, New Jersey] newspaper, the first fifteen days of selected months each decade. Staple items in several popular consumer categories were selected: automobiles, clothing, food & beverages, furniture, household goods, newspapers, personal care & health, real estate and recreation. Special categories include garden equipment (1902-2002 & 1903-2003), professional services (1902-2002), school supplies (1909-1999), tobacco & alcohol (1901-2001) and tools (1905-2005). Whenever possible, we selected items/brands (men’s suits, garden hoses, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes) found in today’s stores. This makes it possible to take a 1925 “shopping list” to your local supermarket or department store and compare prices.
Items differ between decades because some were not advertised or were advertised without prices (20% off). Some things were invented along the way (televisions, microwave ovens) and others were selected because they illustrate significant items from a specific decade (cashmere sweaters, food processors). What is NOT advertised, as in NO new car ads in 1944 (World War II, gas rationing and metal going to defense industries), can be as important as what is. The problems of quantity and quality also figure prominently in any price comparison project. That’s why we included unit sizes and brand names when listed.
Finding prices in your area
Check with you local library to see what old newspaper files are available for your area. Please note: with the exception of selected papers serving major cities New York, Boston, Hartford, Washington DC., old newspapers are generally stored on microfilm. If you are researching prices in a different part of the country, your librarian may be able to borrow reels of microfilm for you.
Finding local historic prices is a great project, as long as you can be flexible with the items. Why? Prices in newspaper ads reflect seasonal availability, popular demand, company promotion, and product surplus. Some products rarely go on sale (a bag of Hershey’s Kisses), making their prices almost impossible to track. If you want your students to compare prices based on newspapers ads you will have the most success if you stick with the basics: bread, soap, shampoo, mattresses, movie tickets, automobiles. Don’t waste your student’s time scanning through weeks of microfilm looking for one specific product or brand. Pricing is competitive; store/generic brands are always a little cheaper than national brands. It also makes sense to pick a week (first week in May?) to deflect the seasonal nature of pricing. Some items are best found in specific seasons (school supplies in September, toys in December, garden supplies in June). Before assigning this project, contact your public library and ask if it owns the old papers on microfilm. If not, the librarians can direct you to the closest holding library. Also ask about microfilm reader-printer availability & costs.
AVERAGE U.S. PRICE DATA
The U.S. Dept. of Labor, U.S. Dept. of Energy, and other federal agencies track retail prices for various items throughout the country. Historical data varies by commodity (sugar 1890+, gasoline 1919+) and is NOT brand-specific. Some commodity prices are also reported by region. Some retail prices (furniture, lawn mowers, sneakers) are NOT tracked by the federal government. Use these sources:Web sources
- Average wholesale prices of selected commodities in Philadelphia [1720-1775] (see p. 46)
…corn, rice, flour, bread, molasses, rum, beef, pork, sugar
- Food [1890-1970] (see p. 31)
…flour, bread, meat, dairy products, fruits & vegetables, coffee, margarine and sugar
- Food [1980-present], U.S. Dept. of Labor
…dozens of items including peanut butter, applesauce, potato chips & ice cream
…selected periods & popular items Coca Cola, Hershey Bars & McDonald’s Hamburgers from product launch to present times
- Food & fuel: 12 staple commodities, U.S. Dept. of Labor, [1980-present]
- Gasoline: national averages, [1919-2004] & 1949-2008 (leaded, unleaded, premium, etc.). See also regional prices, [1949-present]
- Gold [1833-2005] & silver [1900-1998] [1975-2007]
- Postage rates: first class stamps & postcards.
- Utilities & energy (see p. 32) Electricity, Gas, and Fuels for Residential Use [1913-1970]Database source
- New York Times Historic (Proquest) [1851-present]database is useful for articles (gas prices in the 1920s, subway fare increases) and advertisements (box of candy in the 1930s, New Year’s Eve dinner at a hotel).Print sources
- Value of a Dollar: Colonial Era to the Civil War 1600-1865
- Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States 1860-2004 (both by Greyhouse Publishing)
Excellent compendiums of prices for popular items extracted from federal statistical sources, advertisements, company catalogs (Sears, Montgomery Ward) and other primary sources. Prices are provided for food, clothing, furniture, household goods, medical items, personal care, automobiles, amusements and more. Data also extends to consumer expenditures, average salaries, selected stock prices, gasoline prices, telephone rates and U.S. postage. NOTE: These books are available in many public libraries.
- Standard Catalog of American Cars (1805-1942) & other old car catalogs…also includes specs and options.
- Western Prices Before 1861: A Study of the Cincinnati Market, Thomas Senior Berry, [Cambridge MA:Harvard University Press] 1943
Selected food and commodity prices (hogs, salt), 1827-1861.
A note about wartime prices:
Food, gasoline and other essential items are often precious commodities during wartime. Prices are determined by availability and governmental regulation. In World War I our federal government established the U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover. During World War II the Office of Price Administration (1942-1945) set the prices of various consumer goods to stabilize the economy in the United States. War ration books were required to purchase some items.
If a man’s suit cost $30.00 in 1934, how much would that be in “today’s” dollars?
You can use
- Purchasing power of the U.S. dollar…1774-2007
- Inflation calculator, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics…1913-present.