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.

Wheat flour — $7.14/barrel
Rice — 7 cents/pound
Granulated sugar — 8 cents/pound
Roasting beef — 11 cents/pound
Soup beef — 4 cents/pound
Cheese — 13 cents/pound
Eggs — 20 cents/dozen
Hard wood — $6.49/cord
Rent for 4 rooms — $4.45/month
Room and board for men — $2.79/month
Room and board for women — $1.79/month

I gathered this information and these prices from entries in a journal that my great-great (I’d have to figure it up to know exactly how many greats) grandfather kept in 1860. This man made a journal entry almost every day of his adult life and recorded family happenings and events around town, as well as prices for everything he purchased. I “inherited” many of these journals… lucky me… they make for some fun reading.

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Julia aka ghostfire

Fascinating look at costs back then. I really believe that one of the reasons we’re struggling so much in the US right now is that land prices have gotten totally out of sync with the average person’s income. It seems that a person could easily save up for a small farm in a few months. Now, your average person couldn’t afford a single acre without saving a year or more, and that’s worthless without endless permits and a house. If no one’s moving out of their parents’ houses before they’re 30, it’s because they can’t afford to.

Kristi G

I hope to find journals like that one day! I should start checking family information…what an excellent resource to have. (Sorry, I’m a budding historian/historical fiction writer…)

It does give you a good look back, just to get an idea of where we came from…thank you for posting this!

Angelena

Loved looking at the prices from that era. That is so neat that he kept record of all that and you inherited it. What a treasure!

Sybil

Have you ever thought of publishing your great great etc. Grandfather’s journal? I’d read it! Sounds fascinating.

David G.

I thought this article was interesting, so I ran the numbers through an inflation calculator to see the equivalent price in today’s dollars. Here’s what I found:

Barrel of wheat flour: $7.14 in 1860 = $162.95 in 2007
Rice/pound: $0.07 in 1860 = $1.60 in 2007
Granulated sugar/pound: $0.08 in 1860 = $1.83 in 2007
Roasting beef/pound: $0.11 in 1860 = $2.51 in 2007
Soup beef/pound: $0.04 in 1860 = $0.91 in 2007
Cheese/pound: $0.13 in 1860 = $2.97 in 2007
Eggs/dozen: $0.20 in 1860 = $4.56 in 2007
Hard wood/cord: $6.49 in 1860 = $148.11 in 2007
Rent/4 rooms/month: $4.45 in 1860 = $101.56 in 2007
Room and board for men/month: $2.79 in 1860 = $63.67 in 2007
Room and board for women/month: $1.79 in 1860 = $40.85 in 2007

So, the only thing I can see that actually costs less nowadays is eggs, with housing being the biggest difference.

trudi

this is a pretty good sight because i have been using it for my history project! :p

Eddy

David G,
Think about what you’re doing. Your inflation calculator isn’t taking into account that this was before the days of the Fed. The cost of basic goods like beef and rice that haven’t changed significantly in utility over time are excellent inflation calculation mechanisms. Rice is about $2 a pound right now, basic roasting beef is about $3 a pound. That gives us a multiplier of about 27 for both. That makes (rural undeveloped) land $80-$135 an acre. Obviously, land utility has changed a lot. Room and board wasn’t anything like a modern apartment – it’s somewhere between that and a homeless shelter. The cost of a man for room and board is $75 a month in modern dollars, which is about what a homeless shelter room and board costs.