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How much did things cost in the 1960s - USA?

House in Northlake, Seattle, 1962
House in Northlake, Seattle, 1962 Image by Seattle Municipal Archives licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).

Are things more expensive today than they were in the 1960s? We take a look at some everyday items in the USA.

Prices are not the whole story. You also have to think about how much people earned.

Average family income in the United States rose from $5,600 in 1960 to $9,400 in 1969. Prices also increased in this period, but less so than wages. So people were better off in 1969 than they were in 1960.

Housing

The median price for new homes in the USA was $19,000. By the end of the 1960s it was close to $24,000. General price inflation was the main reason for the increase of around 25%. Wage growth outstripped house price inflation. Most people were better off at the end of the 1960s than at the start of the decade.

1964 Ford Galaxie 500
1964 Ford Galaxie 500

Cars

Most cars sold in America in the 1960s were made by the big three manufacturers: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

These are the prices of some typical family cars from the 1960s:

Imported cars made a bigger dent in the US market than in the 1950s. At the start of the 1960s just 6.4% of cars sold in the USA were foreign. By 1969 the figure was 13.1%. [1]

You could buy these European cars in America in the 1960s:

Gasoline prices

The average price of a gallon of gas rose from 31c in 1960 to 34c in 1969.

1960 Princess Telephone
1960 Princess Telephone

Telephone calls

America led the world in number of telephones per head of population. In 1960 there were four hundred and eight telephones for every one thousand people. By 1969 there were five hundred and sixty-four. But how expensive was it to make a call?

In 1964 the average cost of annual telephone rental and one thousand local calls was $43. The total cost included nine hundred free calls and Federal Tax at 10%. [2]

Long distance calls were more expensive.

19601969
NY (New York) to Philadelphia$0.50$0.50
NY to Chicago$1.45$1.30
NY to Denver$1.80$1.55
NY to San Francisco$2.25$1.70

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1971

The cost of calls was coming down. In 1950 the cost of a call from New York to San Francisco was $2.50.

USA Chritmas stamps: 1968, 1962 and 1969
The cost of posting a letter increased from 4c in 1960 to 6c in 1968, as these Christmas stamps show

Fast food

A hamburger at McDonald's cost 15c from 1960 to 1967. Then the price rose to 18c.

'Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974' by James T Patterson, published by Oxford University Press in 1996

Posting letters

At the beginning of the 1960s, it cost 4c to post a letter up to 1 ounce in weight in the USA. The rate rose to 5c in 1963 and 6c 1968.

Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers in 1960s' USA were very cheap.

Television

Television ownership was almost universal in the United States in the 1960s. In 1960 87% of households had a television. In 1967 pop group, the Monkeys, sung about Mr Green with a TV in every room. By 1969 32% of the US population had a colour TV, although probably not in every room.

Other consumer goods

The 1960s' American kitchen was packed automatic devices for every conceivable task:

Magnavox AM/FM portable radio, late 1960s
Magnovox AM/FM pocket radio c1969. Shirt pocket-sized radios could be AM/FM by the late 1960s

Transistor radios

The transistor radio was the gadget of the 1960s. Every teenager had one. They were useful for grown-ups too. The price of a basic transistor radio dropped throughout the 1960s.

Many other electronic luxuries were available in the 1960s. By the end of the 1960s shirt pocket radios were available for FM as well as AM reception.

Record players

The 1960s was still the age of the console radiogram. But by the end of the decade stereo systems with separate components and speakers were more popular.

Cameras

At the basic end of the market, cameras and photography were cheap. Simple cameras started at $5. At the same time more sophisticated Japanese SLRs were available for the serious amateur photographer.

Making home movies was the latest craze.

Stationery

Ball point pens were commonplace in the 1960s. The Parker '45' was an innovative cartridge pen that was popular with schoolchildren and students.

Toys

A huge range of toys was available for boys and girls. One of the most disturbing was a doll that with a bib that said 'Spank me'. She cried if you did. There was also a model 'Strategic Air Base' complete with seven B52 bombers.

Throughout the 1960s there was a move away from war-inspired boys' toys. GI Joe action figures became astronauts and explorers by 1969, instead of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Groceries

West Seattle, Tradewell, 1966
West Seattle, Tradewell, 1966 Image by Seattle Municipal Archives licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Image cropped and retouched.

These are some typical groceries that people bought in the 1960s and the approximate prices.

Bread

Canned/bottled meat and fish

Canned food

Soups

Hot drinks

Cakes, biscuits and chocolates

Breakfast cereals

Convenience foods

Baking products

Fruit and vegetables

Dairy

Meat and fish

Frozen foods and drinks

Read more about historic prices and inflation

References

[1] 'Foreign automobile sales in the United States' published in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Monthly Review November 1970, page 9

[2] 'Telephones and the private subscriber' by Michael Dunne, published by The International Organization of Consumers Unions, page 11. [rate converted from £sd to $ using £1 = $2.40]

By Steven Braggs, April 2021

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ 20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectibles ★