Let’s Prepare Thanksgiving Dinner From 1929

Sure, putting on a Thanksgiving dinner isn’t cheap or easy today, but what about mere weeks after the Stock Market Crash of 1929? A few years ago, I found a sample holiday menu plan in a newspaper article from 74 years ago, and wondered: what would this feast for four people for $7.89 cost today?

At the time, I was working in the news library at the Albany Times Union. It was Thanksgiving 2008, the global economy was collapsing all around us, and the editorial page editor had sent me to the archives to see what his predecessors had to say during the previous collapse, 79 years earlier. I found it, but on the way to that page in the microfilm reader, I also found this handy sample menu complete with detailed price information.

I took the shopping list from the 1929 menu with me to my local grocery store in order to find out what this spread would cost today. Then I took the prices given in the article from 1929 and adjusted them for inflation. (I did a less detailed version of this post in 2008.)

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There were a few things missing from the shopping list that would have been commonplace in 1929. It would probably fascinate Miss Laura Thompson, dietician and manager of the State College cafeteria, to learn that ready-made pies were all around and cost only $4, or that Stove Top stuffing is a thing.

The 1929 shopping list comes to a total of $7.86, or $107.35 in 2013 dollars. The same cart filled with the same items in 2013 would cost you $38.03.

Turkey (1929): 8-pound turkey at $6.69 per pound ($.49) = $53.52
Turkey (2013): 8-pound turkey $.49 per pound frozen; $.99 per pound fresh = $4.92 or $7.92

Of course, thanks to decades of breeding and agricultural magic resulting in freakishly large poultry, you’re unlikely to even find an eight-pound turkey in the average grocery store today.

Box of Gelatin (1929): $2.73 ($.20)
Box of Gelatin (2013): $1.33

2 pounds onions (1929): $2.73 ($.20)
2 pounds onions (2013): $1.20

1 pint light cream (1929): $5.46 ($.40)
1 pint light cream (2013): $2.49

1 quart milk (1929): $1.91 ($.14)
1 quart milk (2013): $1.39

1 pound mixed nuts (1929): $6.15 ($.45)
10 ounces mixed nuts (2013): $4.99 (Hello, Grocery Shrink Ray)

1 head lettuce (1929): $1.78 ($.13)
1 head lettuce (2013): $1.99

1 pound butter (1929): $7.51 ($.55)
1 pound butter (2013): $2.48

2 grapefruit (1929): $3.41 ($.25)
2 grapefruit (2013): $2

1 squash (1929): $2.73 ($.20)
1 squash (2013): $2.50

1 bunch celery (1929): $2.73 ($.15)
1 bunch celery (2013): $.99

2 oranges (1929): $1.37 ($.10)
2 oranges (2013): $1.58

1 apple (1929): $.68 ($.05)
1 apple (2013): $.60

1 banana (1929): $.55 ($.05)
1 banana (2013): $.30

1 pound grapes (1929): $1.39 ($.10)
1 pound grapes (2013): $1.58

1 quart potatoes (1929): $2.05 ($.15)
5 pounds potatoes (2013): $2.50

1 dozen rolls (2013): $2
1 dozen rolls (1929): $2.80 ($.18)

1 pint cranberries (1929): $1.58 ($.10)
12 oz. cranberries (2013): $2.50

Flour (1929): $.68 per pound ($.05)
Flour (2013): $2.50 for 5 pounds ($.50 per pound)

Sugar (1929): $1.09 per pound ($.08)
Sugar (2013): $2.99 for 4 pounds ($.75 cents per pound)

1 loaf bread (1929): $1.58 ($.10)
1 loaf cheap bread (2013): $1.49

1/2 pound cheese (1929): $2.73 ($.20)
1/2 pound cheese (2013): $1.50

1 pound mincemeat (1929): $5.46 ($.40)
1 pound mincemeat (2013): $5.44

1/4 pound lard (1929): $1.64 ($.12)
1 pound lard (2013): $2.29

We made the price conversions using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. Food prices are from the Price Chopper store in Slingerlands, N.Y. and from Peapod.com as of November 26, 2013.

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  1. CzarChasm says:

    So what you are showing is that even though people are nostalgic about the price of a loaf of bread being $ 0.10, the reality is most people don’t need to spend $107.76 on thanksgiving anymore?

  2. FusioptimaSX says:

    Looks like inflation prices aren’t the end-all-be-all that it seems to be. What probably is the case here is that those items were more “expensive” was because that food was probably seen as an extreme luxury.

    When talking lobster dinner for 4, it’s a completely different story.