People love to talk about how great things used to be and in many ways, I’m no different. Several conversations recently have me thinking about those good old days. So, I decided to make a list of what we used to pay for things. Feel free to add to it.
Prices in the 1950s:
- Gasoline – 25 cents a gallon
- Beer – $1 a six-pack from the carry-out and .25 cents a bottle in a bar
- Bread – 30 cents a loaf
- A gallon of milk was 27 cents
- Eggs were around 50 cents a dozen
- A bottle of pop was a nickel
- A candy bar cost a nickel
- Onions were less than a nickel a pound
- Lunch at Penny’s was a quarter and included a hamburger, small fountain Coke, and a bag of potato chips
- In the mid-1950s a quarter would get you into the Saturday movie matinee and let you enjoy a Coke and a box of popcorn.
- The cost of a college education at Ohio State University was about $1,000 a year and included tuition, room, and board. Add a little more for books and supplies.
- Rent on our 2-bedroom apartment, with utilities, was no more than $25 a month.
During the 1960s things didn’t increase that much but by the ’70s we all began to learn what inflation was. For example
- In 1965 a brand new VW Beetle could be had for around $1,800 in Southern California and a new Chevy 1/2 ton pickup truck for less than $2,000. In 1975 I bought a new VW Rabbit in Wilmington. It cost me $5,500.
- In 1970 I purchase a newly remodeled 2-bedroom home in Greenfield for $15,000 and people told me I paid too much. By the end of the decade that $15k seemed like a bargain.
- In the spring of 1973, a gallon of gas was about 35 cents. A year later it was 55 cents and because of the OPEC oil embargo, you were at times, lucky to find any for sale.
- In 1960 NYC a slice of deluxe pizza was 15 cents. By 1970 it had more than doubled.
- Interest rates on housing loans were in the 4% range in the 1960s but soared into the double-digit range during periods of the 1970s and 80s.
Yeah, these prices all sound like the good old days and many of us long for such times. But, what we often lose sight of is what wages were and how much of our wages was disposable income. In 1957 my mother worked at the shoe factory in Greenfield and after taxes brought home $36 a week. My father was a union journeyman sheet metal worker and made substantially more. But, he had to work in the city and much of his earnings went to paying room and board during the workweek.
My first real job paid 50 cents an hour and in 1964 I tended bar for a few months for $1 an hour. I worked at Westinghouse in Columbus in 1963 and earned $2.10 an hour including a night shift bonus. When I started college in 1965 I was making $2.50 an hour or $5,000 a year before taxes. When I graduated in 1969 and got my first full-time teaching job I was paid $5,000 a year before taxes.
In those good old days, people didn’t have bass boats sitting in their drives or $50,000 4×4 trucks to pull them with. They also didn’t have RV campers at Long’s Retreat or swimming pools in the back yard. A telephone was a few bucks a month and nobody was paying $300 a month for a family cellphone plan with unlimited data. We had a $300 16″ black and white TV and three channels to watch. Only three channels but they were free. We didn’t have much money but the lifestyle didn’t demand much money.
In today’s America people, such as ourselves, often spend more on communications than they spend on groceries. When we add together our cell phone bills, our satellite TV bill, and our Satellite Internet and we’re surprised we have money left to eat.
You know, I like to talk about the old days but honestly, I don’t give a damn about going back to them for real. I like my life today, I like my TV with 1000 channels (Caveat, I’d rather pay for only those channels I watch). I like having instant communications capability via my cellphone. I love having the world’s information at my beck and call via the Internet. I wouldn’t give any of up for all the cheap pizza slices in the world.
NOTE: Since I wrote this I’ve taken a trip using the WV Turnpike. Fourteen months ago it cost $2.25 at each of the three toll gates. Last week the cost was up to $4 a gate.