Glimpse into the Past

What Did People Earn in 1860?

Reader question… “I found your site searching for information about prices in 1860. I find your posts about the past to be extremely interesting and I envy your access to the old journals and newspaper clippings. I wonder — do you perhaps have anything relating to wages around the time of the Civil War that you would be willing to share?”

Prices for 1860, 1872, 1878 and 1882 — Groceries, Provisions, Dry Goods & More

Many people have asked if I would post more prices from these years from the old family journals. So here are prices for 1860, 1872, 1878, and 1882… for “groceries, provisions, fuel, dry goods, rents, and boards.”

New England’s Dark Day — May 19, 1780

An area of New England as far south as New Jersey and as far north as Maine experienced an event that has come to be known as “New England’s Dark Day”… before noontime on that day it had become as dark as early evening… people gathered in panicked groups, fearing that perhaps the world was coming to an end.

How To Boil a Potato Perfectly, Circa 1880

These instructions on how to boil the perfect potato are from an old book on housekeeping that was written in 1880 especially for a new bride or beginning cook.

“To be able to boil a potato perfectly is one of the tests of a good cook, there being nothing in the whole range of vegetables which is apparently so difficult to accomplish. Like the making of good bread, nothing is simpler when once learned. A good boiled potato should be white, mealy, and served very hot…

Prices from the 1899 Sears, Roebuck Grocery Lists

Another of the old family journals… this one for the year 1899… seems to be mostly an accounting of what the weather was like on a given day, when animals on the farm were born or sold, crop information, and prices for various items… including many references to the subscription-only Sears, Roebuck multi-page grocery list. Apparently a yearly subscription to this list cost 13¢ and six updated lists were sent out to subscribers every year.

What Did Things Cost in 1860?

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for President, home canning jars and the Winchester rifle had just been invented, and the Pony Express was beginning its mail delivery service. The latest census showed that the United States had 31 million people, 77 of whom were killed that year in the country’s first factory disaster. Land was selling for $3 to $5 an acre, and a laborer’s wage without board was 90 cents a day.

The Year Without a Summer

My great great… grandfather was extremely interested in weather patterns and always kept a detailed daily record of weather conditions at his farm. The strange weather this area experienced during the years of 1888-1889 was of great concern to him and featured prominently in his diary entries for those years. It is easy to understand why he saved this particular newspaper article about another year with no summer… a previous equally strange… but thankfully only temporary… year of weather anomalies.

“Any Citizen of the United States Has the Recognized Right of Paying His Respects to the President”

I came across an amazing old book about culture and manners this weekend, and I found the tutorial on how to act when meeting the President especially interesting.

“It is customary for the President to give several state dinners and official receptions during each session of Congress. Besides these, there are also general receptions, at which time the White House is open to the public and any citizen of the United States has the recognized right of paying his respects to the President…”

A Little Book About Law and Life, Circa 1881

This little book started life as a leather covered textbook that was written by a man named Walter S. Cox. He led an interesting life… he was one of several lawyers who defended the group of people who were accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. After he became a judge and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, he presided over the trial of the man who assassinated President James Garfield.

What Did Things Cost in 1872?

In 1872, the U.S. population had grown to over 38 million people, and Ulysses S. Grant had just been re-elected for a second term as President. Luther Burbank developed the Idaho potato from a single seed ball, much of Boston burned during a three-day fire, and an American cargo ship called the Mary Celeste was found drifting in the Atlantic Ocean with no crew aboard. On average, horses cost $60, pigs $5, milking cows just over $20, and goats only $2. A farm worker earned $23 per month, a place to sleep, and meals.