This Is What Groceries Cost the Year You Were Born
Travel back to the time when a loaf of bread cost 20 cents. Oh, the times they are a-changin'!
Ah, the good old days, when you could step into a store and buy anything for a nickel… Or not. You might be surprised by how the price of groceries has changed over the years. It’s almost as surprising as the most popular food the year you were born. Like this? Pick up a copy of The Best of Reminisce ($21) to see magical moments of the past brought back to life.
When the Great Depression began in 1929, prices dropped as fewer people could afford milk and eggs, but farmers still had them to sell. From the 1920s to the 1930s, the price of a gallon of milk, for instance, dropped nearly 10¢ (a big percentage).
Milk: 26¢ per gallon
Eggs: 15¢ per dozen
Bacon: 21¢ for a half-pound
Chickens: 35¢ for a whole fryer
The Depression continued into the mid-1930s, with unemployment at about 20%. “Milk strikes” among farmers won the government’s support in raising milk prices. In Europe, a gathering war didn’t yet involve the U.S.
For reference, $1 in 1935 would be about $18.55 today.
Milk: 47¢ per gallon
Eggs: 36¢ per dozen
Ground beef: 25¢ for two pounds
With help from WWII, the U.S. economy was revived, and food rationing was underway on the home front. Demand for milk and other staple foods was fairly high.
Milk: 52¢ per gallon
Eggs: 33¢ per dozen
SPAM: 25¢ a can
The end of WWII brought soldiers back home. The end of wartime rationing made prices of many foods rise. Plus, a successful ad campaign led many Americans to view milk as a healthy part of a daily diet, which increased demand (and prices).
In the mid-1940s, $1 was more like $14.12 today.
Milk: 63¢ per gallon
Eggs: 58¢ per dozen
Chopped beef: 27¢ per pound
In the late ’40s, the National School Lunch Act required school lunches to include 1/2 to 2 pints of whole milk, causing the price of milk to leap. In the home kitchen, processed foods became more popular. For example, cake mix was introduced in 1950.
Back then, spending $1 would be more like spending $10.55 today.
Milk: 83¢ per gallon
Egg: 60¢ per dozen (about $6.40 in modern dollars)
Chopped beef: 53¢ per pound
The increased industrialization of food production brought along more changes. For example, glass milk bottles were largely replaced with disposable paper cartons. This was also the year the microwave oven was sold to consumers; at least, to people who could afford one—they cost the equivalent of $12,000 today!
Milk: 93¢ per gallon
Egg: 61¢ per dozen
SPAM: 39¢ per can
Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out in 1961, sparking a nationwide interest in French food and a retreat from some of the more processed foods that thrived in the ’50s.
Milk: $1 per gallon
Eggs: 57¢ per dozen
Bacon: 59¢ per pound
Every year, more and more processed foods were released. In 1965, Spaghetti-O’s and Cool Whip were born. Fondue was popular, and international-inspired cuisine continued to surge in popularity.
The inflation rate means $1 then is closer to $8.07 today.
Milk: $1.05 per gallon
Eggs: 53¢ per dozen
Swanson TV dinner: 65¢ each
With a recession in the mid-1970s (due in part to rising grain and oil prices), inflation surged, and many foods became more expensive. Home cooks of the ’70s were enamored of cheese logs, carrot cake and meat loaf.
For reference, $1 in 1970 would be about $6.55 today.
Milk: $1.32 per gallon
Eggs: 60¢ per dozen
Bacon: .85-.95¢ per pound
The ’70s saw the rise of vegetarian cooking, with the classic Moosewood Cookbook released in 1977. At the time, vegetables were often canned and rarely organic, but the revolution had already begun—Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse had been serving farm-to-table fare since 1971. In other health-minded news, the government began to require nutrition labels for food.
Milk: $1.57 per gallon
Eggs: 70¢ per dozen
Ground beef: 99¢ per pound
You could buy a Kenmore electric range for $299 and a Kenmore refrigerator for $449, but spending $1 at Sears would be like spending $3.10 today.
Milk: $2.18 per gallon
Eggs: 83¢ per dozen
Tuna: 99¢ per can
Bacon: $1.39/half pound
The famous ad campaign—”Milk. It Does a Body Good.”—was born. In some cities, bakers were rejecting quick-rise processed white breads in favor of “artisan breads,” usually made with whole grains, and often with traditional sourdough starters rather than commercial yeast. (Still, commercial bread was as cheap as ever.)
Other popular choices? Pesto anything, blackened anything (think chicken or fish) and creative pizzas, like pizza rolls and deep-dish pies.
Milk: $2.20 per gallon
Eggs: 80¢ per dozen
Ground beef: $1.47/pound
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit in 1990. Down on Earth, Campbell’s was introducing its Cream of Broccoli soup and Stouffers was marketing its frozen entrees to busy parents. If you purchased an item at the grocery store for $1 in 1990, it would cost about $1.96 today.
Milk: $2.78 per gallon
Eggs: 89¢ per dozen
Chicken: 79¢ per pound
America met the Food Pyramid, a federal recommendation for a healthy diet, which included a base of whole grains and two to three dairy products per day. Another iconic milk ad campaign—”Got Milk?”—came out in the mid-90s. Home cooks embraced making their own bread, with sales of bread machines increasing 320% between 1993 and 1997. Other food trends included fusion cuisine, molten cakes and way too many cosmos.
Milk: $2.50 per gallon
Eggs: 92¢ per dozen
Ground beef: $1.49 per pound
You might remember Starkist tuna in a pouch, Funky Purple ketchup and the introduction of all kinds of bars and bite-sized snacks.
Milk: $2.78 per gallon
Eggs: 96¢ per dozen
Ground beef: $2 per pound
Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock
After years of low-fat diets being common, more Americans turn to low-carb diets, thanks Atkins and South Beach, which focused on meats over carbs. The documentary Super Size Me, released in 2004, encouraged Americans to rethink the drive-thru. Other iconic foods of the aughts? Bacon in everything, cupcakes and food trucks.
Milk: $3.20 per gallon
Eggs: $1 per dozen
Ground beef: $3.29 per pound
Many foods are as cheap as they’ve ever been. As reported on NPR, Americans went from spending almost 18% of their income on food in 1960 to just 10% today, even though we spend more money at restaurants.
Milk: $2.90 per gallon
Eggs: $1.54 per dozen
Bread: $1.99 for a loaf
Ground beef: $6.29 per pound
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