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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.
Even though it might make it seem as if everything was cheaper back in the day, don’t forget about a little thing called inflation. In 1950, for example, a dollar was worth $10.63 in today’s money, and in 1980, it was worth $3.10. That said, it’s fascinating to see just how far $1 was once able to take you. Here’s what food a dollar could buy from 1937 until 2000.
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.
In 1937, you could buy a whole roast chicken at a New York restaurant called Yee Hop for a buck. Today, you can’t even buy the herbs to make your own roast chicken for that much, so make sure you know how to cook chicken (and other foods) the right way.
In 1938, a dollar could buy you one of the most expensive items on the menu at Paul’s Ship Ahoy seafood restaurant in Los Angeles: steamed clams with drawn butter.
In 1939, you could buy 4 pounds of butter at the grocery store for just one buck.
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. That would make massive amount of a great spread for the best burger recipes.
If you happened to find yourself at New York City’s Hotel New Yorker, which is right up there with the world's most spectacular hotels, with a dollar in your pocket in December 1943, you could enjoy a dinner of braised stuffed cabbage with rice and paprika sauce, bread and coffee or tea.
If you needed to make a whole bunch of sandwiches in 1945, you could buy five jars of grape jelly for a buck. And we all know that a homemade PB&J is right up there with the best sandwiches in every state.
You could buy a whopping 12 cans of Campbell’s tomato soup for a buck in 1946. Luckily, canned food is among the groceries with a very long shelf life.
In 1947, the average price for a 14-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup was 24 cents. Grab yourself some ground beef, buns and whatever toppings your heart desires, and you've got yourself the perfect recipe for a next-level burger.
Back in 1948, you could visit Pittsburgh’s legendary (but long-gone) restaurant Klein’s and order a dish of broiled oysters on toast for a dollar. And that's just one of many retro snacks primed for a comeback.
Smooth, creamy, cheesy Velveeta (which was once misleadingly 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. That adds up to a lot of healthy snacking, and enough leftover for a Waldorf salad — one of many salads that aren't actually salads.
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 all-you-can-eat rock lobster for two bucks.
Two pounds of grocery store-bought American cheese would have cost you a dollar in 1953. Now that's reason enough to eat more cheese.
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. If you have a pickle jar in your fridge, instead of throwing it out, you can repurpose it.
In 1956, Keebler coconut cookies were selling for 49 cents per pound. To no one's surprise, Keebler makes one of the top store-bought cookies today.
You could buy six lemons for 25 cents in 1958, so $1 would buy you 24. You could make a lot more than lemonade with that.
If you visited Castle Restaurant in North Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1959, you could have enjoyed a pastrami or hot corned beef sandwich for a dollar. All you'd be missing is a side of cabbage and popular Irish foods.
If you felt like heating up some frozen fish for dinner in 1960, you could get two 10-ounce packages of Cap’n John’s flounder fillet for just a buck. That's a better bargain that anything you might find at America's best seafood shacks.
You could buy 2 pounds of bacon — one of the most iconic breakfast foods in America — for a dollar in 1961.
If you were looking to stock up on broccoli in 1962, you could buy a large bunch for a quarter or get four for $1 and make chicken divan — a quick and easy childhood dinner you probably forgot existed.
In 1963, you could buy three 7-ounce cans of Planters peanuts for a buck. The brand spokeslegume, Mr. Peanut, is one of the most iconic food mascots of all time.
You could buy three 6.5-ounce cans of Chicken of the Sea tuna in 1964 for a dollar. Keeping a few in your pantry comes in handy for quick dinner dishes you can make completely out of cans.
If you stopped into Chicago’s Conrad Hilton hotel for lunch in 1965, you could fill up on a baked ham sandwich for $1.05. Today, you can try to recreate that at home with a few more dollars and some great ham recipes.
By 1966, it became tricky to find an entree for less than a buck at a sit-down restaurant, but in Savannah, Georgia, at Pirate’s 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.
In 1968, you could buy three 2-pound bags of frozen french fries for a dollar. We bet there's a lot you don't know about America's favorite spud.
If you visited New Orleans’ famed Court of Two Sisters in 1969, you could have sampled the classic Creole dish shrimp remoulade for a dollar.
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 1971, Kraft was just 19 cents for one 7.5-ounce package. So, $1 could get you five boxes, and you could spruce it up with any of these unexpected ingredients that go great with mac and cheese.
In 1972, you could buy a pound of Fleischmann’s margarine for 49 cents. Today, that margarine would likely end up front and center on Instagram now that everyone's making their own bread and posting about it.
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. Today, a little extra can get you one of the best chicken sandwiches in America.
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 hotcakes with butter and maple syrup for breakfast for a dollar. Then, you could go home and make your own taste even better by adding these unsuspecting ingredients.
A 1-pound can of Chock full o’Nuts coffee would have cost you a buck in 1975. Just add creamer.
In 1976, you could buy five cucumbers for a dollar, and make a salad for all seasons.
In 1977, two 1-pound boxes of Mueller’s spaghetti would have cost $1. The ability to cook it perfectly? Priceless.
Don’t cry: You could buy 5 pounds of onions for a dollar in 1978.
An 18-ounce jar of Skippy peanut butter would have set you back just 99 cents in 1979. We bet you didn't know peanut butter can boost your immune system.
You could buy three 6-ounce containers of the trendy food La Yogurt for a dollar in 1980.
You could get a whopping 3 pounds of bananas for just $1 in 1981. Now, if you want to find them for cheap, you’ll have to go to Trader Joe’s.
A 1-pound package of Keebler crackers would have cost you a buck in 1982. That would've made a killer charcuterie board in tandem with meats and cheeses from around the world everyone needs to try.
A gallon of from-concentrate orange juice from the now-defunct brand Sealtest cost a dollar in 1983. Orange juice is typically high in sugar, but did you know it could help lower your blood pressure?
The price of a dozen eggs was 89 cents in 1984. Here's the real question: Are brown or white eggs better for you? Here's your answer.
In 1985, you could grab a 5-pound bag of potatoes for 99 cents. Just think of all the munchies you could make with that many spuds.
In 1986, a can of StarKist white tuna would have set you back a dollar. You'd need a little more than that to make a comforting casserole.
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. The snack remains a staple at the best Chinese restaurants today.
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 legendary breakfast cereal Kellogg’s corn flakes cost 99 cents.
Two 6-ounce containers of Yoplait yogurt would have cost a dollar in 1990. As long as you skip unhealthy toppings, yogurt can be a fantastic addition to a thyroid-happy diet.
Calling all bakers: A 5-pound bag of Domino sugar would have cost a dollar in 1991. Use these genius baking hacks to make it go all the way.
A pound of Red Delicious apples cost 99 cents in 1992. But what are all those little dots for?
In 1993, you could have bought a 2-liter bottle of Coke for a dollar. The world's favorite soft drink has a long and occassionally bizarre history.
In 1994, you could buy a pound of Armour hot dogs at the grocery store for 99 cents at the grocery store.
It took 35 years for the price of bacon to double; you could buy a pound of Farmland bacon for 99 cents in 1995.
In 1996, six 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola were being sold for 99 cents. Diet Coke was around then too, but you might want to take a look at these facts about diet soda before cracking a can.
A fresh 10-ounce package of mushrooms went for just 99 cents in 1997. Get yourself some red wine and you're on your way to making a five-star steak dinner.
A cantaloupe would have set you back 99 cents in 1998. Looking for something more exotic? Check the produce section for these fruits you've never heard of, but need to try.
In 1999, you could buy 10 ears of yellow or white corn at the supermarket for just 99 cents. Throw that on the grill with chicken that isn't boring, and you've got yourself a meal.
A 16-ounce jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce cost 99 cents in the year 2000. If you think that’s cheap, wait until you see how much a dozen eggs cost the year you were born.
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