Then and Now

It starts off with a tilt of the head.  At the same exact moment there is just the tiniest narrowing of the eyes and slight wrinkle of the nose as a jaw drops in what is universally recognized as the ‘huh?’ look.

That is an expression you will see on my face on a fairly regular basis as my son asks questions like, “Did they have TV when you were little?”  Or, “Were there cars when you were a kid?”

The most recent jaw dropping question came as I was going through my research for the book I’m editing.  CJ shows a surprising interest in my writing and wanted to know what the book was about.  So I explained to him that it takes place in 1918, during World War 1, and told him some of the things that happened during that time.

“And you survived all that?”he asked in a stunned tone of voice.

What?!

Just exactly how old do you think I am, son?

To clarify, 1918 was ninety-four years ago!  Even the guys in this video weren’t born then…

Apparently he doesn’t realize that there’s a big difference between loving history and actually being a part of history.  If I know about it, obviously I must have lived it, right?

So anyway…

While I know that wages were much lower back then, it never ceases to amaze me when I see the prices those people paid for food and other things.  And so I thought I’d share just some of that information with you.

The current prices are in this week’s sale ad from a grocery store I shop at, as well as the Monthly Labor Review of 1919:

                               1918                             Today

Sirloin steak…40 cents / lb                       2.09

chuck roast .27.8 cents                              3.99

pork chops 36.7 cents                                1.99

bacon 50.5 cents                                        2.50 (12 oz)

hens 37.9 cents                                           2.99 lb (breast filets)

quart milk…13.2 cents                                2.99 gallon (.75 per quart)

butter (1 lb) .51 cents                                  2.99

cheese…33.4 cents                                      4.99 and 6.99 lb

eggs…42.4 cents dozen                               1.50+ per dozen

1 pound bread 9.8 cents                             1.50 loaf

1 pound flour 6.6 cents                               1.59 (30+ cents per pound)

coffee 30.1  per pound                                 7.99 (store brand $4.00 pound)

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see price tags like the ones from 1918?

It was more fun looking through the copies of the newspapers I have from that time though.  Store owners announced sales – and sometimes even listed the exact number of each item available.  Definitely a ‘while supplies last’ thing there.

50 Coats — 11 Suits –35 Wool Skirts

On October 17, 1918, ladies ‘White Milan Hats’ were advertised at $1.75 – $5.00.  Unless they wanted ‘plain shapes,’ and those were going for $1.00 – $4.00.  In this same ad silk hose was listed at .50 – $1.25, and ‘Bungalow Aprons’ from $1 – 2.00.

Nu Bru‘ was $1.75 per case…delivered, or $1.60 ‘Kash & Karry.’  The ad claims that it is ‘just fine for ladies.’  As far as I can tell, Nu Bru was considered a ‘near beer,’ and made right here in Michigan…thanks to Prohibition.

That year, to help the war effort, there were no ‘big’ fireworks going on around the country.  In fact, one local businessman understood that it could be rough on the guys and suggested that if they really felt the need to light something, he would be selling ‘good cigars’ for a nickle.  I imagine that really made up for missing out on a spectacular fireworks display.  Wonder if their families sat close to watch the burning end of the cheroots?

No, they weren’t completely without options.  Another ad promised small fireworks for no more than a dime apiece.  Small crackers, torpedos (their spelling, not mine), snakes, sparklers, Roman candles, and small rockets.  So the kiddos were able to enjoy those…while their daddies puffed away on five cent smokes.

The thing that I am most impressed with, however, is the ad for an Electric Ambulance Service.  ‘Prompt, careful service with the minimum of noise and jar.  Careful trained attendants who know how to care for all cases.’  Day Calls…$3.00, Night Calls…$5.00.  One article I found, dated June 2011, stated that an ambulance for uninsured people could cost up to $1,200.00.  A bit of a price increase, hmm?

I just love this stuff, don’t you?  Some of the things I’ve read kind of make me wish I could have lived back then.  On the other hand, when I saw the sale ad for a Mola Electric Washer, I’m just as glad to be alive in this century.  (Fortunately I was able to find a website that shows just how ‘easy’ housewives had it with this invention.)

I couldn’t find a song about life that long ago, but this is a favorite of mine about life a couple of decades ago.

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13 Comments

Filed under Romance

13 responses to “Then and Now

  1. Fun post, Kristy. When I taught second grade, one of our math lessons each year was always comparing a “then and now” price list of items, just like you posted here.

    It was REALLY hard for second graders to understand how much different income was, and why these things would be so cheap (for the ones who had any point of reference at all, lol).

    The most interesting thing, though, was always to calculate the percentage of price increase, instead of looking at just the straight prices. For a lot of things, you realize how much relatively cheaper they are now (a bicycle for instance). Or like in your example above … butter has actually “gone up” more than bacon. 🙂

    • Sounds like you were a really fun teacher, Breeana! Maybe if I’d had someone like you I wouldn’t be mathematically challenged today. After multiplication and division, I’m sunk. But glad your students got to see some of this stuff. I love it! In fact, I just finished reading another really old book (more research) and in this story a family rented a 2 story house for $15.00 a month. Whoa! Can you imagine? In our area you can’t touch a 2 bedroom apartment for less than $700 a month…so THAT price has gone up a LOT!

  2. “And you survived all that?” Classic! I just laughed out loud.

  3. aren’t kids grand? my son is settling into his 40’s…and shuffling along the way. it’s funny.

  4. Love this stuff! Early 20th century is my favorite. Part of my book is set in the 1930s so I looked at old newspapers too. The ads are the best! Not just for the prices and what was popular, fashion-wise, but just the terminology and slang. Priceless!

    • Me, too, Jennette! So much changed in the first twenty years of the 19th century (even the last decade or so of the 1800s). But yes, some of those ads… I also love their idea of news. Visits from out of town relatives, local residents sick or recovering, even bridal shower guest lists and what refreshments were served. It’s no wonder that there was such a sense of community back then. 🙂

  5. Love this Kristy, enjoy reading old papers and ads also. Did you know that Grandpa and Grandma rented their house on Harton St. for $25.00 a mo. I’m not sure how long that lasted. It was 2 bedrooms and a path at first, but eventually an inside bathroom was added. Still can’t believe that they lived and raised 8 children there for a short while. I guess some of the “good old days” were a little overrated.

  6. I didn’t know that, Aunt Donna. Wow! Twenty-five a MONTH? And no…I can’t imagine all ten of you in a two-bedroom house! The house on Dunlap is the only one I recall, and it was what? Three bedrooms? Although I almost think I remember someone saying that that the tiny space at the top of the stairs was also used for sleeping. Of course my perspective of that little space is probably not accurate. As far as all of us kids were concerned, it was just another fun place to explore.

    And you are right about the ‘good old days’ being overrated in some ways. Be nice if some of the things from back then had moved forward…like honesty, respect, lack of greed, less crime, etc… 🙂

  7. What a fun post, Kristy! I love the comparisons across time. And especially your aunt’s comment on the house w/ 2 bedrooms and a path!

    The first house my husband and I bought (in 1995) was on a big lot, but had 1 bedroom, 1 small bathroom, 2 tiny spare rooms, a very narrow garage taken in to make a living room, and virutally NO closets. It was built in the 1940s like so many starter homes for GIs coming back from WW II. And that was a step up from WW I buildings. More than prices has risen–also our minimum expectations for standard of living.

    Our current home was built in the 1960’s with multiple closets and *2* bathrooms–such a difference. 🙂

    • I love to hear stories about my aunts, uncles and grandparents. The only house I remember them living in was also small (for 10 people), but you’re right about our expectations for a standard of living. My office alone is bigger than two of their bedrooms were. Maybe progress brings with it feelings of claustrophobia. 🙂

      And I have to say…two bathrooms… Yeah! 🙂

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