Historic Prices

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.

1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909
1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919
1920 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929
1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949
1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Items differ between decades because some things were not advertised or were advertised without prices. Some things were invented along the way (such as televisions) and others were selected because they illustrate significant items from a specific decade (cashmere sweaters, food processors). What is not advertised can be as important as what is (for example, no new car ads in 1944 because gas rationing and metal were going to defense industries for World War II). 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? Links include popular foods, recipes & local history snippets.

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

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 and is not brand-specific. Some commodity prices are also reported by region.

Useful sources include:

Measuring value

If a man’s suit cost $30.00 in 1934, how much would that be in “today’s” dollars? You can use:

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.

Teacher tips

Finding local historic prices is a great project, as long as you can be flexible with the items.

  • Contact your local public library before assigning this project and ask if it owns historic local papers on microfilm. If not, the librarians can direct you to the closest holding library.
  • Stick with the basics: bread, soap, shampoo, mattresses, movie tickets, automobiles. Specific brands can be difficult, if not impossible, to find.
  • Pick a specific week of the year to deflect the seasonal nature of pricing. Some items are best found in specific seasons (for example, school supplies in September, or toys in December).