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HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now *

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Post by Paul Tue 25 Jun 2024, 6:27 pm



HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * Scree533


Despite what feels like the constantly rising costs of modern life, the prices of some essential commodities such as gas and eggs have actually remained relatively stable compared to dollar values and wages in the past. Other items, meanwhile, have actually become much cheaper over time, even when accounting for inflation. Innovations in technology, increased competition, and improvements in manufacturing and logistics are most often the reason for these surprising price drops. Here are seven everyday items that are much cheaper now than they were in decades past.

HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 2_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_clothing_965140
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Clothing

In the mid-20th century, the average American family spent about 10% to 12% of their household income on clothing. Today, that figure has dropped to around 3%. It’s not because people are buying less: The average person buys about 70 new apparel items a year, compared to approximately 25 items per person in 1960. So why are people spending so much less?
Starting in the 1970s and into the 1990s, most U.S. clothing production moved overseas, where labor costs are lower and production output is higher. Those savings were passed onto consumers, and as fast-fashion brands proliferated, Americans had more options at lower prices than ever before. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, a woman’s dress cost $50 in 1960. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $530 today — not unheard of, but far above prices at the most popular clothing retailers today.
HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 3_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_bananas
Credit: Orlando/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Bananas


Bananas have been a staple fruit in the American diet for decades, and while they’re one of the cheapest and most popular fruits in the supermarket now, they started out as a luxury item. Bananas first became available in the U.S. following the Civil War. At the time, they sold for about 10 cents a piece — that’s about $3 per banana today. 
The price of the tropical fruit has hovered between 50 and 60 cents per pound for the last 20 years — a significant drop from its early cost. Most bananas sold in American stores are imported from faraway places including Guatemala and Honduras and require cooling containers for shipping. Despite these barriers, labor costs remain low, and banana importers sell only one variety, the Cavendish, meaning the fruit can be harvested in abundant volumes and ripen at the same time. That helps keep production and shipping efficient, and the cost to consumers low. 


HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 1_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_tv_7be7ce
Credit: Camerique/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

Televisions


It’s no surprise that as technology improves and becomes more efficient, prices come down. But one consumer electronics category stands out from the rest for its drastic price cuts: televisions (even as they get bigger and bigger). When RCA debuted its first color TV set in 1954, the 15-inch screen came with a $1,000 price tag. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, that would be more than $11,600 today. By comparison,  a 65-inch, high-definition smart TV might set you back less than $500 today, and while that’s neither the high nor low end of the current television market, it’s a good indicator that TVs are much more affordable than they used to be. 
There are several reasons for the major price cuts over the years, including increased competition and advancements in manufacturing (especially the process of cutting several screens out of a larger sheet of “mother glass”). But there’s another factor keeping TV prices low: Consumers’ viewing data is being collected and sold to advertisers. This “post-purchase monetization” often results in targeted ads on smart TVs, and while it may offer affordable TV prices and accurate targeted viewing recommendations, the feature can be disabled for a more anonymous viewing experience.

Related:6 Facts About the Mount Rushmore Presidents
HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 4_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_airfare
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Airfare


It may feel like airfare has surged in recent years due to increased fuel prices and airport taxes, yet airline tickets — fees included — have actually become much more affordable over time. Commercial air travel used to be a luxurious experience available only to the wealthy. It wasn’t until President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978 that competition opened up, flight paths and schedules increased, and airline prices began to come down. In 1941, an average flight from Los Angeles to Boston would have cost more than $5,000 in today’s money (and taken an excruciating 15 hours); now, a nonstop, one-way flight from Los Angeles to Boston commonly costs around $300 and takes about six hours. And an average domestic round-trip airfare is about $400 in the U.S.


HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 5_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_washing-machine
Credit: Camerique/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

Washing Machines


Household appliances have seen many technological advancements over the years, and while high-end luxury products are still out of reach for the average consumer, other appliances have become much more affordable over the years. The price of washing machines, an invaluable addition to modern life, has changed significantly from the 1950s to today. In 1959, a Kenmore washer was advertised in Sears’ “Wish Book” Christmas catalog for $209.95. (The matching dryer was listed at $169.95.) Today, that amount inflates to more than $2,200 — a $1,600 difference from a basic $500 to $600 top-loading Kenmore machine today. That’s a happy trend, lest we have to wash our increased amount of clothing by hand.

Related:6 Facts About the Mount Rushmore Presidents
HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 6_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_toys
Credit: Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Toys


Although it may not feel like the case to modern parents, toys are cheaper — and more plentiful — today than in decades past. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows significant deflation on toys over the past 30 years, a trend primarily resulting from increased reliance on inexpensive overseas production and more competition both from toy brands and from major retailers. Considering today’s popular toys, from Squishmallows to STEM gadgets to LEGO sets, prices average out at about $50. That is not too different from the $25 Cabbage Patch Kids of the 1980s (about $70 today), or the $8 Rock'em Sock'em Robots of the 1960s (about $80 today), but the current cost of similar toys is much less than those inflated costs. Today, you can get a modern Rock'em Sock'em set for under $30, or a standard Barbie doll for about $12 — much less than an average Barbie from the 1994 JC Penney catalog, which, at $15, would cost more than $30 today.


HISTORY FACTS * 7 items that are way cheaper now * 7_HF_cheaper-than-used-to-items_aluminum
Credit: FPG/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

Aluminum


Once considered a precious metal more valuable than gold, aluminum became drastically cheaper in the late 19th century. Although it’s the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, it wasn’t always easy to extract from its ore. After the Hall-Héroult smelting process was developed in 1886 by two different scientists — Charles Martin Hall in Ohio and Paul-Louis-Toussaint Héroult in France — it became easier to isolate aluminum, which revolutionized its production. 
In 1884, when the element was still rare and expensive, the United States used 6 pounds of it atop the Washington Monument. At the time, aluminum cost about $17 a pound — that would be more than $500 per pound today. Within a few short years, thanks to Hall and Héroult’s new process, the price of aluminum plummeted; today, the metal is worth about $1.15 a pound, and is most commonly used in everyday aluminum cans.
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