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.


Puppy Love – 1938

This photo was shared on Facebook by a cousin (his mom is the middle person in the picture, Melba Harlan).


The McGhee sisters – Carol, Melba, and Gail

CJ GarriottI have no idea whose dogs, names; I would suppose it was our yard. Never saw this photo before! Pretty much no memories from this age.

However, after studying on the locale, this may be the lease northeast of Madison, where we lived when I went to first grade in Madison. Then we moved to the lease where I attended Seeley School until mid-6th grade when we moved to the farm. I don’t remember us having more than one dog at a time.

I do remember Gail and me going into the Madison school, she would go up the stairs to the 2nd floor, and I would go down the hall to my 1st-grade room. I would look back, Gail would wave, and I would then continue, comforted that she would be there when it was time to go home.

Posted 12/29/2006 by Gail Lee Martin 

Didn’t we ride the school bus from the oil lease west of Madison? I seem to remember your teacher was Miss Fankhouser. Oh, how I hated those stairs and how the farm kids disliked us oil field kids. One time the wheel came off the back driver’s side of the school bus and went rolling down the hill faster than the bus. 

CJ Garriott – Posted 12/30/2006

I think we did ride the school bus, that year of first grade before we moved to the country school where I walked those 5 years.

Bob Harlan – Our best guess judging by other photos around this one is 1938 or 39.

(Gail would have been 14 or 15, Melba would have been 18 or 19, Carol would have been 4 or 5)