1939 Prices – Times Have Changed

Have you ever wondered how the cost of living has changed from the time of your grandparents or maybe your great-grandparents back in 1939? Here’s a poster showing what the prices were like the final years of the Great Depression. Already, Europe was struggling with WWII, while the U.S. didn’t enter the war until the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941.

Gail Lee would have been in her junior year of high school. Her father worked for Phillips Petroleum on the oil leases in the Kansas Flint Hills region. They didn’t have to worry about the cost of a new house, as they lived in housing provided by the oil company. The price of gold, silver, and average for the Dow Jones probably had little meaning to them.

1939 prices

A sign showing the prices back in 1939

The graphic shows that the average wage earner made $1,729 a year. Married women were not generally in the workforce at that time. To buy a new car would cost $700, over half a year’s income.

To buy a house in 1939 took more than two year’s earnings. It sounds absurdly cheap, to think that one could have a new house for $3,850.


You could buy a gallon of gas for 10 cents. Milk cost more than that at 49 cents per gallon. Bread was 8 cents for a loaf.

Wichita museum

Vintage gasoline pump, now in the Wichita museum. Photo by Virginia Allain

The photo of the prices was taken at the Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The gasoline pump and bread sign were in another museum.



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