7 things you could buy for $1 in 1950

Megan Elliott, The Cheat Sheet

Living the good life didn’t cost a lot in 1950, at least at first glance.

The average home was worth $7,354, a new Volkswagen Beetle could be yours for $1,280, and tuition at the University of Pennsylvania was $600.

All that sounds like a bargain until you realize the average family took home just $4,237 per year. Minimum wage was 75 cents an hour, and those with jobs in industries like manufacturing, finance, and government had an average hourly wage of $1.50. When you look at those numbers, $1,200 cars and college tuition doesn’t sound like such a bargain.

In hindsight, 1950s-era prices look low, but things even out quite a bit once you account for inflation. A dollar in 1950 gives you the same spending power as $10 today. So, yes, you may have been able to buy a cup of coffee for a nickel in 1950, but a nickel was worth considerably more back then (about 50 cents in today’s dollars). But that’s not to say some things haven’t gotten more expensive in the intervening 60-plus years.

If tuition prices at Penn had risen in line with inflation, undergrads would be paying $6,000 to attend; instead, the sticker price for an Ivy League education has ballooned to $42,176. The MSRP for a new Beetle is just under $20,000; the inflation-adjusted price of the 1950 car would be about $13,000. Real wages for American workers, meanwhile, have stagnated. Is it any wonder people are nostalgic for the good old days, when a dollar could buy you more than a cup of coffee at McDonald’s? To get a sense of how far $1 really used to go, check out this list of seven things you could get for a buck back in 1950.

Seattle Municipal Archives

1. Four gallons of gas


2. A pound of coffee

Shane Snow

3. Four books

Wikimedia Commons

4. Two movie tickets


5. A week’s worth of subway fares

In 1950, a dime got you a ride on the New York City subway . Commuters who made one round-trip every weekday would have spent $1 every week on subway fares. Today, a single ride subway ticket is $3, the equivalent of 30 cents in 1950. (Per-ride fares are slightly less if you buy a MetroCard, which didn’t exist in 1950.)
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6. Half-a-dozen packs of cigarettes


7. A ticket to the MLB All-Star Game

In 1950, you didn’t have to spend a small fortune to see baseball legends Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, and Ted Williams play in the MLB All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Bleacher tickets for the big event sold for $1 – or about $10 in 2016 dollars. In comparison, tickets to the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego went for an average of $506 on the resale market .