With movie tickets now $20 a pop and cocktails costing double digits, it seems nearly impossible to purchase anything substantial for a dollar. But there was a time when a few quarters could get you a lot. In fact, it could get you a lot of one very important thing: food.
“In the 1930s, spending a dollar was a splurge,” food historian and author of “A Square Meal” Jane Ziegelman told us. “You could get a romantic dinner for two at the nicest restaurant in town for a buck.”
As we enter into an era where the “dollar menu” often has items that cost more, we were curious how much a dollar could actually buy you over the decades. To do this, we relied on vintage menus and grocery store flyers, as well as historical data from the Morris County Library in New Jersey to get a sense of what you could get while dining out.
So, if you’re curious exactly what you (or your grandfather) were eating for a buck back in the day, click through the gallery to find out exactly what food you could buy for a dollar from 1937 until 2000.
The same year Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo, Yee Hop Chinese restaurant in New York served up a whole chicken dish for a dollar.
The same year the Nestle Crunch bar was invented, you could get two gallons of Vitamin D Milk for one dollar, or one for 50 cents each.
In 1939, you could get four pounds of butter for just one buck and nibble on seedless watermelon, which was developed during this time.
The York Peppermint Patty was introduced this year, but you could also pick up four cans of Spam (12 ounces each) at the supermarket for just one dollar.
You could get two gallons of sweet cider for just one buck during this time. It was also an exciting time: The first daily nutrition guide was published, making people aware of what exactly they were eating.
Neil Fletcher created the corn dog for the Texas State Fair this year, and you could grab four 1-pint jars of mayonnaise for just a dollar.
You could get the whole family a treat by only paying one dollar for five root beer floats at McDonald’s in 1943. It was also when the country started rationing canned food, butter, meat, cheese, and other cooking materials for World War II.
Beluga caviar is the most expensive type of caviar today, with prices ranging from $3,200 to $4,500 a pound. But you could get some at Mike’s Ship-A-Hoy restaurant in New York for a dollar.
Everyone loves a PB&J sandwich, but what was even better was the price for jelly! For just one dollar, you could get five 1-pound grape jelly jars.
If you were feeling sick, don’t fret, because you could get twelve 10.5-ounce cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup in 1946 — or it was just 25 cents for three 10.5-ounce cans.
While popcorn was being sold on a mass scale for the first time, you could order
French toast with a strip of bacon and marmalade for a dollar at Lark on the Southern Lines Pacific, a California-based train.
In 1949, you could eat all the chips you wanted. It was just a dollar for four 5-ounce bags of potato chips.
It was easy to stock up on grapes in 1950: You could get 8 pounds of grapes for a dollar, or 25 cents for two pounds.
If you had a dollar, you could get four servings of French fried potatoes, or if you weren’t super hungry, it was just 25 cents for one order.
At Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, you could get one melted cheese sandwich (30 cents), one bacon or ham and egg sandwich (50 cents), and a side of French fried potatoes (20 cents) all for just one dollar.
For just one buck, you could purchase four 32-ounce jars of pickles at the local store.
An exciting time in the United States: Disneyland in California is open and selling amusement park food. You could also get 8 pounds of bananas for a dollar in 1956, or 25 cents for 2 pounds of bananas.
Tuna noodle casserole and creamed beef on toast were common dinner foods during this year, but you could also grab four 8-ounce boxes of Nestle’s cocoa.
You could grab 24 lemons on your way home from work, or if that was too much, you could get six lemons for 25 cents. The hula hoop became a national craze this year.
The Barbie Doll was launched in 1959 and you could also get five 6-ounce packages of American cheese slices.
It was an exciting time in New York: The first Teflon nonstick cookware went on sale at Macy’s. If you craved fish for dinner, you could get two 10-ounce packages of Cap’n John’s Flounder fillet for just a buck.
Fritos corn chips appeared during this time, and you could also get four cantaloupes for a dollar.
If you took a trip to the store, you could grab four large bunches of broccoli for a healthy dinner, all for a dollar. Diet Rite, the first sugar-free soda, was introduced this year.
While some people danced at the first disco in the United States (called “Whiskey a Go-Go”) you could buy three 7-ounce cans of Planter’s Peanuts for a buck.
You could grab three 6.5-ounce cans of Chicken of the Sea tuna while you listened to the Beatles, who were rapidly taking over America.
A dollar could get you five 14-ounce bottles of Heinz ketchup. Also, General Foods introduced Cool Whip, and within three months it was the top selling whipped topping product.
Left: Jonathan Weiss/Dreamstime.com; Right: Christie L./Yelp
You can still get a slice of pizza for 99 cents in New York City. But, back in 1967 you could get a whole small pie for just under a buck. The first handheld calculator was also introduced this year.
If you wanted your salt fix, you could head over to a Shop Rite supermarket and get three 2-pound bags of their french fries for just a buck. More exciting news: The Apollo 7 mission was launched by NASA this year.
The first Wendy’s opened, introducing the Wendy’s Frosty, which has seen a relatively stable price for some time. In 1969, this dessert cost just $0.35; for your dollar plus a nickel, you could get three.
At the A&W Root Beer Drive-In, you could grab two chili dogs for just a buck.
For just 98 cents, you could grab 1 pound of ground coffee. People ate homemade Chex Mix during this time, which wouldn’t be sold in stores for another 15 years.
While Marlon Brando made his appearance in “The Godfather” movie, you could pick up four large heads of iceberg lettuce for a dollar.
Secretariat was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 25 years. Meanwhile, you could fill up on five sodas from McDonald’s while watching the famous horse races.
While America was fascinated by quiche, carrot cake and reading Stephen King’s novel “Carrie,” there was still nothing better than getting two bowls of Miracle Margarine at the local grocery store for a dollar.
Ten navel oranges would cost you a buck, or 10 cents each, at the store.
The world got smarter: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple Computer Company in 1976. You could also get five cucumbers for a dollar.
Louise Brown, the very first test tube baby, was born. You could also pick up 5 pounds of onions for a dollar, enough to make onion rings for a crowd.
Ring Pops came out in 1979 and you could get a jar of Skippy peanut butter for 99 cents.
Times were changing in the ‘80s, when a dollar could you get three 6-ounce containers of La Yogurt. The newest sandwich craze in 1980 was the sloppy Joe.
The Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered a tossed garden greens salad for one dollar. The latest candy trend this year was Skittles.
Technology was ascendant in 1982: “The Computer” is named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. You could also get a 1-pound package of Keebler crackers for a buck.
Nerds candy made a scene in 1983. If you stopped to get dinner, you could take home a pound of duck for just 99 cents.
If you were hungry, you could grab four 14.5-ounce cans of Hanover baked beans for 99 cents in 1984. The famous “Where’s the Beef?” Wendy’s ad campaign came out this year.
If you took a road trip, the iconic Route 66 would be gone because it was removed from the highway system during 1985. However, you could still grab a 5-pound bag of potatoes for 99 cents, enough to make enough french fries for a party.
While the Fox Television network was being founded, kids could get a Kids Fiesta Meal at Taco Bell for only 99 cents.
Due to the stock market plummeting in 1987, pot pies, chili, and other comfort foods appealed to many, which is why three 1-pound cans of Van Camp’s Pork & Beans were so popular and were only sold for a dollar.
Kids broke their teeth on jawbreakers, which is why a 12-ounce box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Cereal was a good idea in 1989. It only cost 99 cents.
A dozen eggs were just buck in 1990, the same year that “Home Alone” debuted in theaters.
Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed its name to KFC this year. You could also choose a healthy option and get three kiwis at the market for 99 cents.
McDonald’s definitively became a worldwide brand when the chain’s largest location opened in Beijing. A pound of Red Delicious apples was available for 99 cents.
For just 99 cents, you could get a junior bacon cheeseburger, baked potato, soft drink, or Frosty by ordering off the Wendy’s 99-Cent Super Value Menu. It was a big year for women too: They are allowed to wear pantsuits on the U.S. Senate floor.
You could get a pound of Armour Hot Dogs for 99 cents at the grocery store — or, for the first time, you could order a pizza online from Pizza Hut for quite a bit more.
People said goodbye to tan M&M’s, but you could still get a pound of Farmland bacon for 99 cents.
Bill Clinton was elected for a second term this year, and six 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola were being sold for 99 cents.
A fresh 10-ounce package of mushrooms went for just 99 cents in 1997.
To get a pound of fresh eggplant it would only cost you 99 cents.
Technology kept changing the country, as MySpace and Bluetooth were both introduced. You could get 10 ears of yellow or white corn for your barbecue for just 99 cents.
If you wanted to enjoy some pasta, you could pick up three 16-ounce boxes of Ronzoni macaroni for just a buck. If all of this is making you hungry for pasta but you don’t feel like cooking, head out to the best restaurants in America for spaghetti and meatballs.
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