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How much did things cost in the 1970s - USA?

Houses in Judkins Park, Seattle, 1974
Houses in Judkins Park, Seattle, 1974
Image by Seattle Municipal Archives licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).

Are things more expensive today than they were in the 1970s? We look at some everyday items in the USA.

Prices are not the whole story. We must also think about how much people earned.

Average family income in the United States rose from $9,867 in 1970 to $19,684 in 1979. In the 1970s price increases almost wiped out the increase in incomes. The overall increase in real terms was only 7%. [1]

Housing

In 1970 most new houses sold for less than $30,000. By 1979 the median house price was between $60,000 and $75,000.

Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto
Image by Brian Teutsch licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped).

Cars

The auto industry in the USA in the 1970s was not having a great time. Imports were rising and the 1973/4 oil crisis did not help.

Manufacturers responded with some new small cars, such as the Chevrolet Vega and the Ford Pinto.

These are the prices of some typical family cars from the 1970s:

You could buy these European cars in America in the 1970s:

Gasoline prices

The average price of a gallon of gas rose from 36c in 1970 to 86c in 1979.

What could you get for a nickel in the 1970s?
What could you get for a nickel in the 1970s? In 1974, a telephone call in a handful of booths.

Telephone calls

In 1974 Harold Faber mourned the age when hotdogs, cigars and cans of beer cost 5c each. It used to cost a nickel to make a call from a public phone booth. In 1974 that came to an end. Some of the last 5c phone booths were the fifty-seven operated by the Taconic Telephone Company in New York State. Taconic was one of a handful of privately-owned telephone companies. The booths were in north-eastern Columbia County and south-eastern Rensselaer County. The company converted them to take dimes as the smallest unit of currency. Others had already increased the minimum cost to 15c. [2]

Fast food

A hamburger at McDonald's cost 20c in 1971. In 1979 a hamburger cost 38c and a cheeseburger 43c.

Posting letters

At the beginning of the 1970s, it cost 6c to post a letter in the USA. In 1979 it cost 15c.

Source: www.johnstonsarchive.net/other/postage.html

Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers in 1970s' USA were still cheap, but prices were rising.

Television

Television ownership was almost universal in the 1970s in the USA. How much did a TV cost?

Other consumer goods

The 1970s' American kitchen was packed automatic devices for every conceivable task:

Novelty transistor radio in the form of a vintage Rolls Royce and shirt pocket radio, 1970s
Novelty transistor radio in the form of a vintage Rolls Royce car and shirt pocket radio, 1970s

Transistor radios

Transistor radios were still popular in the 1970s. With the technology much cheaper, novelty and fun radios were common. Transistor radios came in a multitude of guises from Spanish galleons, Campbell's soup cans (as painted by Andy Warhol), vintage cars and toilet roll holders.

Technology

Digital watches

At the beginning of the 1970s digital watches were an expensive luxury, by the middle of the decade prices had come down.

Electronic calculators

One of the first electronic devices you could buy in the 1970s was the pocket calculator.

Video recorders

Video recorders were exciting new technology in the 1970s. They were at eye-watering prices:

Toys

A huge range of toys was available for boys and girls.

Exercise equipment

Everyone was worried about their health in the 1970s and sales of exercise bikes and other fitness equipment boomed.

Groceries

Alpha Beta No. 126, Brookhurst and Hamilton, Huntington Beach, Nov. 28, 1972
Alpha Beta No. 126, Brookhurst and Hamilton, Huntington Beach, November 28, 1972 Image by Orange County Archives licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Image cropped and retouched.

These are some typical groceries that people bought in the 1970s and the approximate prices.

Bread

Canned food

Hot drinks

Cakes, biscuits and chocolates

Baking products

Fruit and vegetables

Dairy

Meat and fish

Frozen foods and drinks

Read more about historic prices and inflation

References

[1] 'Statistical Abstract of the United States 1980'

[2] 'Telephone calls for 5c betoken bygone era upstate' by Harold Faber, published in the New York Times March 2, 1974, page 41

By Steven Braggs, September 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 ★