Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

A Few Prices From Years Past

I was perusing some old columns I had written a few years ago looking for something to write about in this post when I came across one I had written that featured consumer prices from years past. It was taken from an article I had read in Reminisce Magazine.Edited Photo 06

In looking at those prices one might get the idea that they may have been from the mid-nineteenth century (1850s), but they were actually from the 1930s, ‘40s, and  ‘50s.   One writer said he had his tonsils removed in 1933 when he was age four.  The operation cost five dollars, and the hospital room was four dollars and fifty cents. He said his dad owned a sawmill at the time and he paid himself a wage of 75cents a day for a ten-hour day and was still able to pay cash for the tonsil operation. (Now, that’s pretty good money management.)

The article featured another instance that told of a car salesman working for a dealership in Columbus, Ohio, who was laid off during the 1930s depression.  He found another job in Indianapolis, Indiana, which necessitated his taking temporary quarters in a hotel until he could find residence for his family.  A single room with bath had three different prices; $1.75, $2.00, and $2.50 per night. A double with bath cost $3.00 or $4.00 per night.  A single without bath, but had running water was $1.00 and $1.50 per night.  A double with running water was $2.50. The restaurant which touted well balanced, well-cooked meals, featured prices of  75 cents, 85 cents, and $1.00 respectively for a full dinner.   This salesman’s average commission for a car sale was $10.00.

(As a sidebar, I remember my wife and I were returning home from a trip to the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.  We stopped at a Travelodge motel in Boise, Idaho for the night.  The only room they had left was one with two double beds that rented for $25.00. I told him we didn’t need two beds, and I couldn’t afford $25.00 dollars, anyway. I said we’d have to try another motel.  I suppose he felt sorry for me because  he told me if we would only mess up one bed, he’d let us have it for $15.00. So that’s what we did.)

But I digress.  Back to my original story.  This same article spoke of a grocery store in Pennsylvania that sold in 1944 for the huge sum of  $1,873.06, lock, stock, and barrel.  The sale included inventory,  fixtures  a Bell Telephone Co. refund, (I’m stumped as to why the refund was included…oh well) postage stamps, and the store’s Ford panel truck  There was no mention of a price for the building, so I’m assuming that must have been a leased building.

The article also spoke of grocery store prices in Wyoming in 1952.   A #2 ½ size can of Standby Pumpkin 15cents.  Margarine 25 cents per lb. Heinz Catsup 19 cents per bottle. Sherbet 19 cents per pint.  And to top it all off, a free pound of coffee was offered on any purchase over $10.00.


Photo courtesy of Syria Anamwong/Freedigitalphotos.net

I rarely went with my mother to the grocery store when I was a kid, so I don’t remember being aware of those kinds of prices when I was growing up during the 1940s and ‘50s. I do remember 5 cent coffee with unlimited refills in the local restaurants during the 1950s, however.  The Idaho Café in Soda Springs, Idaho, featured homemade cinnamon rolls and coffee for 15 cents, and they offered a Tenderloin Steak dinner with all the trimmings—soup, salad, coffee, baked (or shoe string) potatoes, and dessert—for two bucks.

Paper Bag

Paper Bag photo courtesy Felixco/Freedigitalphotos.net

I remember my mother complaining one time about grocery prices. She said she could carry a five-dollar purchase home in a couple of paper bags.  If it were today, she might have carried a five-dollar purchase home in her purse.

It was common practice in those days to run a monthly grocery bill.  Mother used to send me to the store with the monthly check.  If memory serves, our bill for a family of five hardly reached a hundred bucks, and they gave stamps to boot!  I remember when the Missus and I were first married, we put together a full set of dishes with S&H Green Stamps.

Now we have to pay for all that fancy packaging and all those expensive bothersome commercials on TV which wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so darn many of ’em every five or six minutes .   But, alas, so much for progress, I guess (and inflation). 🙂

If you like to take another little journey back in time to the 1940s, you can do so by clicking on the free download button at upper right of this page and receive a free copy of my book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, and read about the adventures, or maybe misadventures, of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.  Happy reading.

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