Morris County Library > Reference > Historic prices

What did
it cost?


Thanksgiving prices

US retail averages

Prices in
today's dollars?


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. Whenever possible, we selected items/brands (televisions, garden hoses, breakfast cereal) found in today's stores. This makes it possible to take a 1945 "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.

Thanksgiving prices
How much did it cost to stock Thanksgiving tables in Morris County, NJ? Popular foods, recipes & local history snippets.

1903.....1913.....1923.....1933..... 1943.....1953.....1963.....1973..... 1983.....1993.....2003.....2013

Teacher tips
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:
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?
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5 May 2014