Discovering the Value of $20 in 1912 – How Much Could You Buy?


When it comes to understanding the value of money, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around what a certain amount can buy. This can be especially difficult when looking at the value of money from decades ago. In today’s world, twenty dollars is a quick lunch out or a few items from the store, but what about a hundred years ago? What could you buy with $20 in 1912?

Understanding the Economics of 1912

In order to understand the value of $20 in 1912, we must first understand the economics of the time. 1912 was a tumultuous time in American history, as the economy of the country was coming off of a recession and the effects of the Panic of 1907 were being felt. This was also the same year that the Federal Reserve Bank was established, which meant that the US dollar was now backed by the federal government.

Inflation in 1912 was much lower than it is today, at only 2.6%. This meant that items that cost $20 in 1912 would cost the equivalent of $543.90 in today’s money. This was a marked contrast to the price of certain goods in 1912, which had an average cost of around $1.

In 1912, wages for laborers averaged around $22.50 per week, with skilled labor earning around $50 per week. This low wage structure gave the average American limited purchasing power and meant that $20 could go a long way in 1912.

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Food Costs in 1912

One of the most important things to consider when looking at the value of money is the cost of food. In 1912, food prices were much lower than they are today and a family of four could expect to spend around $12 per week on groceries. This meant that $20 would buy a substantial amount of food, providing food for the whole family for at least two weeks.

A loaf of bread cost around 5 or 10 cents in 1912, while a dozen eggs would cost around 15 cents. A pound of beef cost around 30 cents, while a pound of butter cost around 40 cents. A can of condensed milk would cost around 10 cents and a pound of rice cost around 6 cents. Fruits and vegetables were relatively inexpensive as well, with oranges costing around 9 cents per dozen, apples costing around 10 cents per pound, and potatoes costing around 5 cents per pound.

Transportation Costs in 1912

Transportation was another important factor to consider when looking at the value of money in 1912. At the time, automobiles were becoming increasingly popular, but they were still quite expensive. A brand new car would cost around $400 in 1912, and a horse and buggy would cost around $200.

For those looking to travel by train, a ticket from New York to Philadelphia would cost around $2.50. Tickets from New York to Chicago cost around $15, while tickets from New York to California cost around $45.

Entertainment in 1912

When looking at the value of $20 in 1912, it is also important to consider entertainment costs. A ticket to the movies would cost around 10 or 20 cents, depending on the theater. Concerts and plays would cost around 50 cents for a seat.

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Theater was particularly popular in 1912, with some of the most famous plays of the day being performed in theaters across the country. A ticket to a theater performance in New York City would cost around $2, while tickets in smaller towns cost around 50 cents.

Sports were also growing in popularity, with baseball and boxing being two of the most popular sports at the time. Tickets to a baseball game would cost around 50 cents for a seat in the stands, while a seat in the box seats would cost around a dollar.

Clothing Costs in 1912

Clothing was another important factor to consider when looking at the value of money in 1912. Men’s suits were quite expensive at the time, with a quality suit costing around $15. Women’s dresses were much cheaper, with a simple dress costing around $3. Shoes were also quite expensive, with a pair of leather boots costing around $8.

Accessories such as hats were also quite expensive, with a quality hat costing around $7.50. Hats were an important fashion item at the time, and those looking to make a statement would often buy a new hat for every occasion.

Other Costs in 1912

Other expenses in 1912 included tobacco products, which cost around 5 cents for a pack of cigarettes and 10 cents for a pipe of tobacco. Alcohol was also quite expensive, with a bottle of whiskey costing around $1.50 and a bottle of wine costing around the same. Rent was also quite expensive at the time, with a one bedroom apartment in a city costing around $12 per month.


In conclusion, we can see that the value of $20 in 1912 was quite different than it is today. In 1912, $20 could buy a family of four two weeks’ worth of groceries, a night out at the theater, or a new suit. It could also buy a train ticket across the country or a month’s rent in a city apartment. Though it might not seem like much today, $20 in 1912 had a much greater purchasing power than it does today.

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