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Thread: Average Wages during the Golden Era?

  1. #1
    I'll Lock Up Shangas's Avatar
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    Average Wages during the Golden Era?

    Hi everyone,

    First, I must apologise. I realise that this is an incredibly loaded question, bound to have as many answers as beaches have grains of sand. But hear me out.

    I'm a member of a local pen-collector's club. Mostly, we play around with, share, show-and-tell, and talk about writing instruments. Mostly vintage fountain pens, writing paraphernalia, antiques and other nicknacks.

    I was kinda talked into, by a friend, giving a presentation to the members at this month's gathering.

    After a bit of thinking, I decided to research, write, and present a Social History of the Fountain Pen.

    The fountain pen was most prominent in the years from the 1890s up to the 1950s. I'll be covering the years from about 1890-1945, what most of us consider the "Golden Age" of the fountain pen.

    Okay, so what does all this have to do with wages, you ask?

    Fountain pens were relatively expensive items (and even are today). They cost anywhere from $2 up to as much as $10 in 1915, and anywhere from $4-$20 during the '20s and '30s.

    What I want to know is, what was the average wage of a typical working man during this time? Say, a family man with a wife and kids who led a fairly stable middle-class lifestyle, like what most of us would be used to?

    I realise this is a very difficult question to answer, and I apologise for that, but I figured it was something that I'd need to know, to put the prices of pens into perspective. I've already started looking for the prices of other common consumer-goods of the era to compare them to (watches, cars, sewing-machines, fridges, radios, etc etc etc), but I'd like to have an idea of what the average man...or woman, for that matter, earned during the period ca. 1900-1945.

    I've no idea where I'd look for this information online, so I hope you don't mind me picking the brains of my fellow loungers.

  2. #2
    Bartender LizzieMaine's Avatar
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    There's a lot of different figures floating around, but a reasonable number to throw out for the average income in, say, 1939, would be $1500 to $2000 a year. That was enough to take care of a typical American family by reasonable standards of the time -- rented house, inexpensive car, a radio, maybe a few modern appliances. There wouldn't be many luxuries on this wage, though, so the Average Wage-Earner wouldn't be likely to own an especially fancy pen. Those dollar Esterbrooks from the drugstore would be more common.

    Somebody truly "middle-class" by the standards of the time -- owning a home, driving a La Salle or a Chrysler instead of a Chevy or a Plymouth, having at least one servant, sending the kids away for the summer so mom and dad could travel -- would need a good bit more money than the Average Family. But you could live extremely well on, say, $5000 a year.
    The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. -- William Jennings Bryan

  3. #3
    I'll Lock Up Shangas's Avatar
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    Hi Liz,

    Thanks very much. I'm aware that around 1900, the average income for a middle-class family was about $1,000 (most likely, less) a year. $1500-$2000 seems like a pretty reasonable sum. I'll take that as a baseline, unless other members have more ideas and more clarity on this subject.

  4. #4
    Call Me a Cab Stearmen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LizzieMaine View Post
    There's a lot of different figures floating around, but a reasonable number to throw out for the average income in, say, 1939, would be $1500 to $2000 a year. That was enough to take care of a typical American family by reasonable standards of the time -- rented house, inexpensive car, a radio, maybe a few modern appliances. There wouldn't be many luxuries on this wage, though, so the Average Wage-Earner wouldn't be likely to own an especially fancy pen. Those dollar Esterbrooks from the drugstore would be more common.

    Somebody truly "middle-class" by the standards of the time -- owning a home, driving a La Salle or a Chrysler instead of a Chevy or a Plymouth, having at least one servant, sending the kids away for the summer so mom and dad could travel -- would need a good bit more money than the Average Family. But you could live extremely well on, say, $5000 a year.
    One thing Lizzie hit right on the head was the difference in pay between the middle workers and the management, which was not neer as much as today! There were exceptions, the Ford family and the like. But for most owners of mid size companys they did not make a large amount more then their workers that had been with the company 10 or so years. Not that $3000 was any thing to sneeze at, but nothing like $10,000,000+, even adjusted for inflation.

  5. #5
    Bartender LizzieMaine's Avatar
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    The 99 percent vs. 1 percent threshold as of 1939 was set at $10,000 a year. That was the cut-off point between "doing well" and "rich."
    The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. -- William Jennings Bryan

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    My Mail is Forwarded Here Rick Blaine's Avatar
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    See: Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount - 1774 to Present

    I know you are noy looking at the USD, but maybe a good start.
    Last edited by Rick Blaine; 04-15-2012 at 08:14 PM.
    "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.
    Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness,
    for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children."

    -Jules Winnfield

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    One Too Many lolly_loisides's Avatar
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    Here you go Shangas - Wages in Victoria 1910 - 1950

  8. #8
    One of the Regulars magnolia76's Avatar
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    My grandfather made $30 a week in 1941 when he was in the navy.

  9. #9
    One of the Regulars FountainPenGirl's Avatar
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    Hi, I thought I would chime in with some numbers. In 1960 Dad worked as a mechanic in a Pontiac Dealership and was making $60.00 a week That was considered good money around here. Ma and Dad bought a nice modest sized house for $8000.00 in the spring of '60. Our 1960 Pontiac Catalina retailed for $3576.84. This is just one point in time in Northern WI. but are real numbers that actually happened. I'm a fountain pen collector myself along with many other things and am interested in the history of real life surrounding the objects I use in everyday life.

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