Household costs in Denver’s past

Originally Published July 30, 2009

While searching the newspaper archives at the Denver Public Library yesterday, I noticed, as I paged through, the prices of common items and thought you might like to see what the differences were.

 The years I randomly chose (because those were the years I had the microfiche for) are 1893 and 1947 – both could be seen as years of growth for Denver, as people come west, and as soldiers who have returned from WWII are setting up households and starting their families.
Costs for 1893
The stores with their advertisements in the paper were well known stores for the time; in 1893, there was Appel and Co, Golden Eagle, McNamara Dry Goods and others.
  • Toothbrush – 3 cents
  • Four bars of bath soap – 7 cents
  • Socks – three pairs for $1.00
  • Boys cotton shirt – 12 ½ cents
  • Ladies Tea Gown – $5.48
  • Man’s Suit – depending on quality, anywhere from $8.50 to $18.00
  • Cotton fabric – 5 cents a yard
  • Eggs – 3 cents a dozen
  • Full set of Curtains – $4.55
  • New Iron bed frame and mattress set – $3.25
Denver Dry Goods on 16th St. - courtesy Denver Public LIbraryCosts for 1947
In 1947, the stores had changed a bit, becoming more specialized, though a few dry goods stores still existed. Groceries, furniture, clothing stores were all becoming individualized. Stores I found in Denver in 1947 were Denver Dry Goods, Save-A-Nickel, Millers Markets, Piggly Wiggly, Sunshine Jewelers and more. Some of these goods are directly relatable to today, since many of us still use them.
  • Large eggs, one dozen – 51 cents
  • Kraft Miracle Whip – 37 cents
  • Northern Bathroom Tissue – 7 cents a roll
  • Campbell’s Soup – vegetable based – 12 cents a can, meat based – 15 cents a can. Interesting varieties that no longer exist.
  • Velveeta Cheese – 79 cents a block
  • Hot Dogs – 45 cents a pound.
  • Peanut Butter – 42 cents a pound
  • Diamond wedding set – engagement and wedding ring – $49.50
  • Complete bedroom Set (double bed frame and mattress, vanity table and chair, dresser) – $189.00

Out of curiosity, I also checked the wages for 1947- secretaries could earn $140-$170 per week, and a college educated executive could earn a salary comparable to today. Of course, there were ads, just like today, in sales positions, promising an income up to $250,000 a year. I’m betting the likelihood of that being reality was just as plausible then as it is today.

Certain prices didn’t seem to change at all between 1893, 1947 and 2009; those on fresh produce. For example, at King Soopers this week, ears of Olathe corn are 19 cents each. In 1893, an ear of corn would have cost 17 cents, and in 1947, it cost 29 cents an ear! Possibly the price of produce can be explained by improved methods of shipping, production, and preservation as it goes from farm to store, lessening the cost to the store owner. This was the only area I found, however, where price were similar or even greater than today.
One last thing that caught my eye in 1947 – the price for a house. The listing was for Denver; a six room house, on four lots on a corner, with fruit trees and a grape vine, as well as electricity and running water. The price was $5,500.  Now I won’t tell you the address, because I’m sure they don’t want us all in their yard, but I Googled it and used the street view; this house is still there, still on four lots and in excellent condition – and I’m pretty darn sure they wouldn’t be willing to sell it for the same price today. Sorry folks!
I hope you enjoyed this wander through Denver’s financial past as much as I did.
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