Today, you can buy a one-liter bottle of Coca-Cola for $1, but back in 1900, you could get an entire case. Considering that you can get a huge case of coca-cola at big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, spending the equivalent of $30 for a case of Coke is very expensive, compared to today. As time went on, the company became much more efficient at making their products, and plastic bottles were cheaper than glass.
Instead of the little one-pound paper bags we get in the grocery store today, people purchased huge 5-pound burlap sacks full of flour in the year 1900. Flour was considered to be an essential part of anyone’s kitchen, because it was used to make bread and dumplings. So, when a housewife had to choose between flour or sugar, she always went for the flour first.
There are hundreds of ads from the 1800s to 1900s that have been saved over the years, and prices of clothing began at $1 and went up, depending on how many embellishments a blouse had. For most women, it was more affordable to sew their own clothes. Store-bought clothes was a sort of status symbol, and some lower-class women only bought a few items for special occasions.
In 1900, it was very popular for women to wear hats. Simple berets were only a dollar, and fancy Sunday hats were roughly $3. Women would blush to imagine themselves showing up to Sunday service without one. Because of this, hats became a symbol of affluence. The bigger variety of hats a woman-owned, the more money her husband must make. Millinery shops were a staple part of every town in America. But as time went on, these became less and less popular.
Years before television, people loved to read novels and magazines to help pass the time. Magazines were usually 5 to 10 cents each, depending on the company that printed them. Many of these were printed in black and white, except for the cover, which was usually in color.
Similar to flour, sugar also came in huge five-pound bags, because women were cooking the majority of their food at home. Sugar was considered to be very expensive, and it was hard to keep for a long time because bugs could easily invade the bags. Because of this, most people reserved buying sugar for special occasions or went to a baker for their cakes.
Lipton tea has been around since the 1800s, and it is still going strong today. You could buy an entire pound of their tea for just a dollar. Even though coffee and tea were the same price-per-pound, many Americans opted to go with coffee. Of course, this originated from the Boston Tea Party. However, there were immigrants coming from Europe all the time, and people still continued to drink like their ancestors did. In the south, iced tea became a staple for every summer get-together.
In 1900, sour balls were some of the most popular hard candies in the United States. For a dollar, kids could get a huge 5-pound box. However, it is not very likely that children were given an entire dollar by their parents to get a sugary treat after school. Most general stores had penny candies, which meant that were kids could get 100 pieces of whatever variety they wanted for just $1.
In 1900, most women sewed their own clothes, so they needed to buy sewing patterns to help them. Sewing patterns range from basic dresses and shirts to complex patterns of the newest designs. At that time, it was cheaper to buy your own fabric and patterns than it was to go to the store and buy clothes. Today, with the dawn of “fast fashion”, it’s so much cheaper to just buy our clothes, instead. But in 1900, sewing patterns were typically around 15 cents each, but changed in price depending on how fancy or complicated a garment might be.
In the year 1900, professional milk men would go door-to-door delivering glass bottles of fresh milk to people’s homes. Since it was years before every person had a refrigerator in their house, this was completely necessary. People typically only purchased what they needed on a daily basis, instead of buying one gallon to last the week. Today, a gallon of milk is almost $4, but back in 1900, it was just a dollar.
Steak is one of the most expensive types of meat people can buy, but back in 1900, it was only $1 for seven and a half pounds. Even better, it was all organic, because this was years before factory farms. Despite its affordable price, the portion sizes of meat in the past were much smaller than the standard American diet of today. So, most families would not be spending an entire dollar at the butcher in one trip.
Today, it’s one dollar for a can of sweet corn that is just a few ounces. But in 1900, you could get a whopping 12 cans of corn that weighed 2 pounds each! This is an example of a really amazing deal that you cannot really come by today, after inflation. However, you would need to eat sweet corn all day, every day to finish that dollar’s worth.
There is a stereotype that potatoes are popular among poor people, and that’s for good reason. Back in 1900, you could buy 70 pounds of potatoes for $1. That’s a lot of potatoes! Since they can be mashed, fried, put into soups and so much more, potatoes are delicious and versatile food. They became a must-have in the standard American diet, and when you think about how much we still love french fries, things haven’t changed very much.
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