Spend enough time chatting with someone who’s been around for a while, and the conversation can quickly turn to how much less expensive everything used to be. Penny candy used to actually cost a penny, the five-and-dime actually used to sell items that cost 5 and 10 cents, a dozen eggs set you back less than a dollar and a McDonald’s burger cost just 15 cents. So it goes without saying that once upon a time, a dollar could go a lot further than it currently does.
In order to learn just how far a dollar could take you at both the grocery store and at the restaurant back in the day, we consulted a couple great resources: the New York Public Library’s extensive database of menus from around the country and the Morris County Library’s meticulous record of staple food and drink prices.
Even though this trip down memory lane might make it seem like everything was cheaper back in the day, don’t forget about a little thing called inflation. In 1950, for example, a dollar was worth $10.65 in today’s money, and in 1980, it was worth $3.11. That said, it’s fascinating to see just how far $1 was once able to take you.
In 1938, a dollar could buy you one of the most expensive items on the menu at Paul’s Ship Ahoy restaurant in Los Angeles: steamed clams with drawn butter.
If you were hosting a dinner party in 1941, you could pick up 3 pounds of top sirloin at the butcher shop for a buck.
You could stock up on four 1-pint jars of mayonnaise for just a dollar in 1942.
If you needed to make a whole bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 1945, you could buy five jars of grape jelly for a buck.
Back in 1948, you could visit Pittsburgh’s legendary (but long-gone) restaurant Klein’s and order a dish of oh-so-retro broiled oysters on toast for a dollar. Something called Jim’s Special Stew was also on offer for a buck, but we’re a bit wary.
Smooth, creamy, cheesy Velveeta (which was once advertised as a health food) cost 25 cents for an 8-ounce package in 1949.
Grapes were about 12 cents a pound in 1950, so you could get 8 pounds of grapes for a dollar.
If you visited Boston’s Athens-Olympia Cafe in 1951, you could start your meal with a Greek salad for the table for a dollar.
If you decided to vacation in Miami Beach in 1952 and visit the Sherry Normandie restaurant, you could order a garlicky knackwurst sausage for $1.10. Diners who spent a little more got the all-you-can-eat rock lobster for two bucks.
In 1954, a classic club sandwich would have only set you back a buck at the River View Inn in Delawanna, New Jersey.
For just one buck, you could purchase four 32-ounce jars of pickles at your local grocery store in 1955.
In 1956, Keebler’s coconut cookies were selling for 49 cents per pound.
8-ounce boxes of Nestle cocoa sold for just 25 cents in 1957.
You could buy six lemons for 25 cents in 1958.
If you visited Castle Restaurant in North Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1959, you could have enjoyed a hot corned beef or pastrami sandwich for a dollar.
If you felt like heating up some frozen fish for dinner in 1969, you could get two 10-ounce packages of Cap’n John’s Flounder Fillet for just a buck.
If you were looking to stock up on broccoli in 1962, you could buy a large bunch for a quarter.
In 1963, you could buy three 7-ounce cans of Planters peanuts for a buck.
You could buy three 6.5-ounce cans of Chicken of the Sea tuna in 1964 for a dollar.
If you stopped into Chicago’s Conrad Hilton for lunch in 1965, you could fill up on a ham sandwich for $1.05.
By 1965, it became tricky to find an entree for less than a buck at a sit-down restaurant, but at Savannah’s Pirates’ House (which still exists, and is one of America’s oldest restaurants), you could start your meal with a shrimp or oyster cocktail for $1.10.
Haussner’s, one of Baltimore’s most legendary restaurants, was in business from 1926 to 1999. If you paid it a visit in 1967 with just a dollar in your pocket, however, Roquefort cheese-stuffed celery would have been one of the only things on the menu you could have afforded.
At the historic Colonial Inn in Concord, Massachusetts, you could have bought a toasted bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich for $1.10 in 1970.
In 1972, you could buy a pound of Fleischmann’s margarine for 49 cents.
If you’d stopped in for lunch at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel in 1973, you could have purchased a chicken salad sandwich for a dollar.
After spending the night at the Lake McDonald Lodge in Montana’s Glacier National Park in 1974, you could treat yourself to a plate of hot cakes with butter and maple syrup for breakfast for a dollar.
A one-pound can of the “Heavenly Coffee” would have cost you a buck in 1975.
In 1976, you could buy five cucumbers for a dollar.
In 1977, two 1-pound boxes of Mueller’s spaghetti would have cost $1.
You could buy 5 pounds of onions for a dollar in 1978.
You could buy three 6-ounce containers of trendy La Yogurt for a dollar in 1980.
The Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered a tossed garden greens salad for $1 in 1981.
A 1-pound package of Keebler crackers would have cost you a buck in 1982.
A gallon of from-concentrate orange juice from the now-defunct brand Sealtest cost a dollar in 1983.
The price of a dozen eggs hit $1 for the first time in 1984.
In 1985, you could grab a 5-pound bag of potatoes for 99 cents.
In 1986, a can of StarKist white tuna would have set you back a dollar.
By 1987, the most you could expect to get from a non-fast food restaurant for a buck was an egg roll, like the one offered at China Regency in New York City.
In 1988, three 1-pound cans of Van Camp’s pork and beans could be bought at the supermarket for a dollar.
In 1989, a 12-ounce box of Kellogg’s corn flakes cost 99 cents.
Two 6-ounce containers of Yoplait yogurt would have cost a dollar in 1990.
A 5-pound bag of Domino sugar would have cost a dollar in 1991.
A pound of Red Delicious apples cost 99 cents in 1992.
In 1993, you could have bought a 2-liter bottle of Coke for a dollar.
In 1994, you could buy a pound of Armour hot dogs for 99 cents at the grocery store.
It took 25 years for the price of bacon to double; you could buy a pound of Farmland bacon for 99 cents in 1995.
A fresh 10-ounce package of mushrooms went for just 99 cents in 1997.
A cantaloupe would have set you back 99 cents in 1998.
In 1999, you could buy 10 ears of yellow or white corn at the supermarket for just 99 cents.
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