How much did things cost in the 1960s - USA?
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.
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.
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:
- 1968 Chrysler Valiant 100 2-door sedan - $2248
- 1968 Chevrolet Chevy II - $2261
- 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 2-door hardtop - $2796
- 1961 Ford Fairline 2-door sedan - $2150
- 1964 Chevrolet Cheville range - $2230 to $2760
- 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado - $6277
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%. 
You could buy these European cars in America in the 1960s:
- 1968 Volkswagen Beetle (German import) - $1695
- 1967 Fiat 600D (Italian import) - $1359
- 1967 Renault Dauphine (French import) - $1399
- 1967 Opal Kadett (German import) - $1695
- 1968 MGB sports car (UK import) - $2670
- 1964 MG sports sedan (UK import) - $1898
The average price of a gallon of gas rose from 31c in 1960 to 34c in 1969.
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%. 
Long distance calls were more expensive.
|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.
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
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.
- New York Times - 1960-1962 - 5c, 1962-1969 - 10c
- New York Amsterdam News 1964 - 15c
- Sunset - The Magazine of Western Living - 25-35c
- Playboy (1968) - 75c
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.
- 1964 - Silvertone Entertainment Center including colour TV, phonograph, and radio - $749.95 to $799.95 (Sears)
- 1964 - 16-inch compact portable TV - $112.50 (Sears)
- 1966 - 25-inch color TV - - $649.95 (Sears)
- 1966 - 19-inch color TV - - $349.95 (Sears)
- 1966 - 9-inch solid state (transistor) portable TV - - $94.95 (Sears)
- 1969 - 20-inch color TV - $389.95 (Sears)
- 1969 - 23-inch color TV in choice of period style cabinet - $629.95 (Sears)
Other consumer goods
The 1960s' American kitchen was packed automatic devices for every conceivable task:
- Fully automatic 2½ quart Popcorn Popper - $6.88 (Sears 1964)
- Super-powerful juicer - $48.95 (Sears 1964)
- Electric can opener - $12.97 (Sears 1964)
- Grill-Waffler - $23.95 (Sears 1964)
- Kenmore blender - $24.95 (Sears 1964)
- Electric knife - $23.99 (Sears 1964)
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.
- Six transistor shirt pocket radio 1964 - $5.88 (Sears)
- Six transistor shirt pocket radio 1966 - $4.88 (Sears)
- AM pocket radio 1969 - $3.88 (Sears)
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.
- AM/FM clock radio 1969 -$19.50 (Sears)
- Walkie-talkies (pair) 1966 -$19.50 (Sears)
- AM/FM portable radio 1966 -$42.95 (Sears)
- AM/FM and shortwave portable radio in briefcase-style case 1969 -$42.95 (Sears)
- AM/FM portable radio in shirt pocket size 1969 -$12.99 (Sears)
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.
- FM/AM Stereophonic radio phonograph (Radiogram) - $479.95 (Sears 1966)
- Complete stereo system with record player, cassette tape, radio and separate speakers - $349.50 (Sears 1969)
- Portable stereo record player - $48.95 (Sears 1969)
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.
- 127 camera with flash cubes - $5.45 (Sears 1966)
- Super 8 home movie camera and kit - $238.50 (Sears 1966)
- Kodak Electric 8 Zoom cine camera - $150 (1964)
- 35mm SLR camera $197.50 (Sears 1966)
- Polaroid Swinger II camera with case and flash cubes - $24.88 (Sears 1966)
Ball point pens were commonplace in the 1960s. The Parker '45' was an innovative cartridge pen that was popular with schoolchildren and students.
- Parker '45' fountain pen and ball point pen - $8.95 (Sears 1964)
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.
- Tiny Tears doll - $9.89 (Sears 1964)
- Sears 'Spank me' doll - $5.99 (Sears 1964)
- Barbie doll - $1.92 (Sears 1964)
- Children's record players - $9.99 to $19.99 (Sears 1964)
- Fully-furnished, split-level dolls' house - $7.99 (Sears 1964)
- Mouse-trap game by Ideal - $3.87 (Sears 1964)
- Scrabble - $2.44 (Sears 1964)
- Pedal car - $9.47 (Sears 1964)
- GI Joe (12" soldier doll) - $2.32 (Sears 1964)
- Allstate 9 unit electric train set - $29.89 (Sears 1964)
- Corgi 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' toy car - $4.99 (Sears 1969)
- Revell's 1/96 scale Apollo-Saturn rocket - $10.49 (Sears 1969)
- Strategic Air Command Base complete with model B52 bombers - $8.99 (Sears 1964)
These are some typical groceries that people bought in the 1960s and the approximate prices.
- Oven Joy sliced loaf (1lb) (Safeway 1960) - 35c for two
- Ballerina bread loaf (1lb) (Safeway 1960) - 19c
Canned/bottled meat and fish
- Vita Gefilte fish 22oz jar (Safeway 1960) - 99c
- Corned beef 12oz can (Safeway 1960) - 59c
- Finast solid white tuna in brine 3 x 7oz cans - $1 (Finast 1967)
- Chun King chow mein (mushroom or chicken) 1lb can - 87c (Finast 1969)
- Cambell's soup 6 x 10oz cans - 95c
- Nescafé instant coffee 8oz jar (Safeway 1960) - $1.23
- Red Circle ground coffee 1lb pack - 59c (A&P 1962)
- Nestles' instant chocolate Red Can 8oz (Safeway 1961) - 29c
- Liptons tea bags (48) (Finast 1964) - 59c
Cakes, biscuits and chocolates
- Nabisco Ritz crackers 1lb pack (Safeway 1960) - 29c
- Angel food cake (Safeway 1960) - 39c
- Finast Pecan Crunch coffee cake - 33c
- Finast crisp rice 10oz pack - 29c (1969)
- Finast corn flakes 2 x 8oz packs - 37c (1969)
- Uncle Ben's long grain white rice 28oz pack (Safeway 1960) - 39c
- Carnation instant milk 9oz can (Safeway 1961) - 29c
- Roman Pizzarettes 10z pack - 39c (Finast 1964)
- Haddock dinner - 2 x 8oz packs - 99c (Finast 1964)
- Birds Eye crinkle cut French fries 2 x 9oz packs - 33c (Finast 1969)
- Pilsbury's gingerbread mix (Safeway 1961) - 29c
Fruit and vegetables
- "Your Garden" - peas 6oz - $1 (Finast 1964)(
- "Your Garden" - carrots 6oz - $1 (Finast 1964)
- Large size California nectarines 1lb - 23c (Finast 1964)
- Iceberg lettuce - 19c (Finast 1967)
- Baking potatoes 5lb bag - 29c (Finast 1967)
- Washington State apples (Golden Delicious) 2lbs - 35c (Finast 1967)
- Finast cream cheese 2 x 3oz packs - 23c (1969)
- Buko cheese spread 4 x 3½oz packs - $1 (Finast 1969)
- Dairylea whipped cream 7oz can - 43c (Finast 1969)
- Fleischmann's margarine 1lb - 45c (Finast 1969)
Meat and fish
- Steak (Safeway 1960) - 59c-89c per lb depending on cut
- Turkey (Finast 1967) - 35c per lb
- Fresh grade A frying chickens (Safeway 1953) - 52c per lb
- Ribs of beef (Finast 1967) - 55c per lb
- Corned beef ½lb -95c (Finast 1969)
Frozen foods and drinks
- Party Pride ice cream (Safeway 1960) - 89c per half gallon
Read more about historic prices and inflation
 'Foreign automobile sales in the United States' published in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Monthly Review November 1970, page 9
 '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