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Inflation Since Civil War, Cost of Goods & Average Income in 1860

Inflation Since Civil War, Cost of Goods &
Average Incomes in 1860.

Inflation Since Civil War, Cost of Goods &
Average Incomes in 1860.


Here’s a look at inflation since the civil war & how much money Americans made in the year just before the Civil War…and what they had to spend that money on.

First I’ll list the most common trades of the time period along with the Average Income of each profession in the year 1860.

The following section will list the cost of everyday goods in 1860. The items listed are the necessities they would’ve needed to survive.

Average income in 1860. Hourly, Weekly & Yearly Salaries of The Most Common Trades in 1860.

Inflation since Civil War.

There were few labor laws in the United States at the time. The average work week was 60 hours (10 hours a day, six days a week, with Sundays off). Some common occupations and how much they earned:

Masons

  • $0.22 cents an hour
  • $13.50 a week
  • $700 per year

Blacksmiths

  • $0.18 cents an hour
  • $10.80 a week
  • $560 per year

Machinists

  • $0.16 cents an hour
  • $9.60 a week
  • $500 per year

Laborers

  • $0.10 cents an hour
  • $6 a week
  • $300 per year

Privates in the Union army

  • $11 a week
  • $572 per year

Firemen

  • $0.15 cents an hour
  • $9.00 a week
  • $468 per year

Carpenters

  • $0.14 cents an hour
  • $8.40 a week
  • $436 per year

Farmhands

  • $0.08 cents an hour
  • $4.80 a week
  • $250 per year

The President of the United States

  • $25,000 per year
42 Unusually Interesting FACTS about MONEY

What did they spend all that money on? Cost of Goods in 1860.

Inflation Since Civil War.

Cost of goods in 1860

The people of 1860 didn’t have the newest iphone to buy. There wasn’t a hot new clothing brand to own before your neighbor, no video streaming subscription to pay every month. So, what did they spend their money on? The Essentials.

Below is a list of those essentials and how much each one cost.


CLOTHES

Fancy, store-bought clothes were out of the question for all but the wealthiest Americans. There were no mail-order companies, either. (Chicago merchant Montgomery Ward started his catalog business in 1872.)

Instead, women would buy cotton and make their own clothes. A yard of fabric cost about 10 cents; it took around five yards to make a “day dress.”

WOOD

A cord of wood in 1860, Inflation since civil war

A cord of firewood, still the primary method of heating a home, cost around $7. How much wood is a cord? A lot. It’s 128 cubic feet. Enough to heat a home for about a month.

GUNS

1860 henry rifle

The Henry rifle, the first repeating rifle, was brand new in 1860. It cost $20, but quickly paid for itself with all the free meat it could generate.

WHISKEY

Old Tub, a cheap brand produced by Jim Beam, cost just 25 cents a gallon in 1860. (When the Civil War started, demand increased and supply decreased. Result: By 1863, the price of whiskey had risen 14,000 percent, to $35 a gallon.)

MAIL

The Pony Express was only in service from 1860 to 1861. The original cost of the service: $5 per ounce of mail…payable in gold.

DOCTORS

A standard fee for seeing the town doctor was about $2.00. This price didn’t include any medicine or surgeries.

MUSIC

There was no recorded sound yet, so if you wanted music in your home, you’d have to buy a piano for around $200.

Which was completely out of the range of average people. Around this time many people made their own string instruments.

MEDICINE

Laudanum, Inflation since civil war

Laudanum, a patent medicine consisting primarily of alcohol, with 10 percent opium by weight, was prescribed for almost anything.

You didn’t technically need a prescription for Laudanum. You could go into a general store and buy a three-ounce bottle for 25 cents.

SLAVES

In 1863, one-third of the South’s population was still slaves, and only the wealthy could afford to own them. Starting price: $800 minimum. A male field hand in his 20s would run about $1,500, and a skilled laborer, such as a blacksmith, would be about $2,500.

HOUSING

Paying $2,500 for rent on an apartment may be considered reasonable in Brooklyn today, but in 1860 that same amount would buy you a two-bedroom house in the same location

If you were looking to rent instead? A four-room house in most eastern cities ran about $4.50 per month. Outside of the city, land cost around $3 to $5 an acre.

GROCERIES

Then, as now, a lot of a household’s budget went to food. Here are the costs of some dietary staples of the 1860s:

  • Rice: 6 cents a pound
  • Beans: 6 cents for a dry quart
  • Sugar: 8 cents a pound
  • Beef: 9 cents a pound
  • Cheese: 10 cents a pound
  • Bacon: 12 cents a pound
  • Butter: 16 cents a pound
  • Eggs: 20 cents a dozen
  • Potatoes: 40 cents a bushel
  • Coffee: $1.20 a pound

If you do the math, you’ll see the average person had very little or no money left at the end of the week. Most people lived hard lives, probably more difficult than we could ever imagine.

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