What Cost One Dollar in 1900?



The turn of the 20th century – 1900 – in America, one can be quite surprised what cost $1.00 (one dollar). This would be what your grandparents or great grandparents paid then, but the big difference – $1.00 was a fair amount to pay for anything, especially for a working family. First, consider that $1 back in 1900 was equal to about $30 today.

Men could buy in 1900 a nice dress shirt for $1.00. To add to the shirt would be a necktie which cost 10 cents, so for $1 you got 10 ties. A family could go even cheaper, by having a lady or man sew a shirt because fabric and patterns were much cheaper.

For children, a favorite was tin or small box of cookies. Each box was 5 cents, so with $1.00 some twenty boxes of cookies could be purchased. For a small child, a tricycle was nice and that only cost $1.00. A special treat for children and adults alike was a piece of candy or chocolate. Such a treat from a local bakery cost a penny, so if one spent $1 it was an entire pound worth of chocolate.

Cans of soups from Campbell’s Soup cost 12 cents a can, so 9-10 cans could be purchased for one dollar.

The mailing of letters and cards was very popular. The postage cost was one penny in 1900. So 100 letters could be sent for $1. Writing letters, not even long ones, was the thing to do, especially if there was no telephone available.

Many people are surprised by the cost of the first hand-held camera—the Kodak Brownie camera. Yes, the Eastman Kodak Brownie camera debuted in 1900 at the cost of $1.00. For such a price and t have a very unique item, a camera to take photos, some 10 million were sold in five years. True there was still the cost of film and to have the film developed. But check and see if a family member has one of those vintage cameras and look at the old family photos..

An important ingredient in the kitchen in 1900 was flour to make pies, bread, cakes, etc. A 5-pound sack of flour cost $1.00 in 1900.

Everyone, young and old, enjoyed reading a magazine or a novel. The cost in 1900 for a magazine was either 5 or 10 cents.

A staple food item was potatoes. If a family didn’t grow their own potatoes they could purchase 70 pounds of potatoes for $1.00.

Beef steaks today are expensive but in 1900 a family could purchase 7 ½ pounds of steak meat for $1.00.

To get an idea of how much money people made in 1900 – here are some wages:

The average U.S. wage from 1900 to 1910 was 22 cents per hour. The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

So always look at one’s wages when looking at the cost of goods, food and other items in 1900.

Photo: 1900 Kodak Brownie Camera

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Vintage Cameras

The 1900 Federal Census

Life of Your Ancestors 1900-1910

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