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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Penny for Your Thoughts?

One of the books on the shelf in MLC’s reference department is The Value of a Dollar. I love thumbing through this volume, especially now that our country is facing uncertain economic times. It contains a ton of information about different time periods in America, from 1860-1999. Each time period has a historical snapshot and a list of the salaries for specified occupations. For example, in 1933, school teachers made $1300 annually. In 1984, the average was $20,031, and in 1996 it was $27,875. The U.S. President’s salary during Hoover’s time in office (1930) was $75,000, while Bill Clinton earned $200,000 in 1996.

In addition, the book lists prices for everyday items. For instance, you can use this book to find the price of bread, milk or butter during any given year. But, the genius of the book is that it also has the prices of other not so ordinary items. In 1933, you could go down to the corner store and get a Baby Ruth candy bar for one nickel and a bottle of Coca-Cola for another. A toaster was advertised for just a dollar. But this was not just any toaster! The ad noted that “it automatically turns the toast when doors are lowered.” Our toasters today don’t do that! (Do they?)

Here are some other interesting facts:
In 1933:
· Cigarettes were 15 cents per pack.
· A typewriter from Sears cost $45.00.
· A woman’s wool sweater was only $2.25.
· A full course meal at “Southern Hotel and Dining Room” in South Carolina was advertised as “the best meal 35 cents can buy!”

In 1940, movie lovers could see Gone with the Wind at Little Carnegie Theater (with air conditioning!) for $1.10.

In 1955, acne cream was advertised for .59 cents. The ad actually stated, “When acne strikes, heartache and loneliness often follow.”

In 1984:
· Microwave ovens were a hefty $539.99.
· A custom built home for sale in New York with 4 bedrooms & 3 baths was $156,000.
· Planning a vacation? A round trip flight to Alaska was only $135.
· Or, try Arizona. A night at the Ramada Inn at Lake Havasu City cost $27 per night.
· Maybe just stay home and read a good book. The average hardback fiction book was $14.74.

In 1997:
· You could fly one way from L.A. to Chicago for $198
· Or, buy the Lion King, new on VHS- just $29.97
· You could upgrade your PC with Microsoft Office 4.2. The price? $248.99
· Why not try another great book? The average price of a hardback fiction book rose to $21.40.
And finally,

In 2009:
· All this wonderful, entertaining information from your friendly librarian for FREE? Priceless.

Derks, Scott, ed. The Value of a Dollar. Lakeville, CT: Grey House Publishing , 1999.


  1. Look @ the early Mississippi living and working conditions for the state librarian or "keeper of the Capitol" as it was called. The exhibit might have disclosed the salary.

  2. An article earlier this week mentioned the sky high salary you had to make in New York to be considered middle class. Apparently! With home prices there already at such a price so early last century, no wonder!


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