Inflation Since Civil War, Cost of Goods &
Average Incomes in 1860.
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:
- $0.22 cents an hour
- $13.50 a week
- $700 per year
- $0.18 cents an hour
- $10.80 a week
- $560 per year
- $0.16 cents an hour
- $9.60 a week
- $500 per year
- $0.10 cents an hour
- $6 a week
- $300 per year
Privates in the Union army
- $11 a week
- $572 per year
- $0.15 cents an hour
- $9.00 a week
- $468 per year
- $0.14 cents an hour
- $8.40 a week
- $436 per year
- $0.08 cents an hour
- $4.80 a week
- $250 per year
The President of the United States
- $25,000 per year
What did they spend all that money on? Cost of Goods in 1860.
Inflation Since Civil War.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
A standard fee for seeing the town doctor was about $2.00. This price didn’t include any medicine or surgeries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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