Can you imagine this? Cost of living in San Francisco in 1904….


 

Thanks to the people over at San Francisco History website, i found this article on the cost of living in 1904.  It is interesting to read, partly because as i go through the same thought kept going through my head…  This woman could totally be writing for her blog….  Haha.  I suppose that thoughts expressed will hopefully be thoughts expressed right from the writers mouth.  That is, if you can find one that has not been sold out and totally corporate-ified.  For me personally, my math skills are so bad, that i did not even try to figure out the percentage that costs have gone up in 106 years but it is more than x10 and x10.  It is really quite incredible if you think about it.  I really think back then, you got much more of what you were paying for and not all of the packaging, advertising and insurance costs.  I think it would have been really a hard working existence back then, but it also would have been really exciting and really cool!  Probably pretty dusty and in winter muddy though!   I hope you enjoy going back in time to the era of my great grandparents….

San Francisco History
Cost of Living


Some Facts About the Cost of Living in San Francisco.

By Evangeline Adams.

Can a family of four live on $14 a week in San Francisco? Yes, they can and do—hundreds of them. They may not often have porterhouse steak nor wear tailor-made gowns costing from $75 to $100, or swallowtail coats for social functions; but that need not mean that they do not have plenty of good meat and are not becomingly dressed.

And right here let me say—seeing that the subject of dress has come up—that the workingman’s wife has often quite the advantage of her sisters who have more money to spend on clothes, in that she numbers among her friends the actual makers of the beautiful shirt-waist suits, shirt waists, skirts, collars, hats, etc. that fill the shop windows. A lady who claims many friends among these apprentice girls said to me just the other day: “I have such a beautiful new stamine dress and it didn’t cost anything to speak of. My friends made it for me. One friend made the skirt, another made the waist and another the collar, and I don’t know when I have had a dress that I liked more.” And in this way friends make for friends, often with no charge at all, and never with anything more than what would seem a nominal price to those of us who pay the prevailing high price for such work.

HOW THE MONEY IS SPENT.

It is a very difficult matter to find out how people spend their money in any particular except in the matter of rent. They are always quite ready to tell you what rent they pay and shake their heads over the high prices, or, in a very few instances, chuckle over the fine bargain they have been smart enough to find. But when it comes to telling how much they spend on food—how much on clothes—how much goes into the savings bank for the proverbial “rainy day”—they either do not know or will not tell.

For instance, the family of four—three grown people and a child going to school—pay $8 rent for a three-room flat and $32 per month for food, light and fuel, making living expenses $40. The housekeeper is a good manager and they live well on that amount. But what they spend on clothes and pleasure, we have no idea, because we do not know their income. And so I might quote the expenditure for a number of families—just so far and no farther.

ESTIMATES BY THE LABOR BUREAU.

The July bulletin of the National Bureau of Labor gives the result of the expense accounts of over 2500 families living in industrial centers, selected at random from thirty-three states. Taking $14 as the weekly income, the average expenditure would be about as follows:

Food
$5.9556
Rent
1.8130
Fire
.5866
Light
   .1484
Total
$8.5036

This would leave for other expenses $5.4964. The estimated amount for clothes would equal $1.9658—nearly $2 a week.

The other expenses included:
Taxes.
Insurance.
Principal and interest on mortgage on home.
Fees for labor and other organizations.
Church.
Charity.
Furniture and utensils.
Books and newspapers.
Vacation.
Liquor.
Tobacco.
Sickness and death.
Other purposes.

Comparing with the average of five workingmen’s families in good employment in Prussia (Daily Consular Reports, Department of Commerce and Labor, No. 2033) we find:

Rent (three rooms, per week)
$1.5300
Fire
.3372+
Light
.1212+
Food (four persons)
2.8497+
Clothing and all other expenses
   1.8772+
Total
$6.7166+

Again comparing with the average of five Saxon families. (Same consular report):

Rent (three rooms, per week)
$1.0710
Fire
.5220
Light
.1380
Food (four people)
2.4196
Clothing, etc.
   1.5709
Total
$5.7224

[Note: the last total should have been $5.7214.]

It will be seen that the Saxon and Prussian pay a little less for rent, light and fuel; less than half as much as the American for food; and about as much for clothes and all other expenses as the American pays for clothes alone. And let me add—everyone of the ten Prussian and Saxon families put something in the bank each week.

CONDITIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Then came the question: Are these averages true of San Francisco and vicinity? And it was this that I set myself to find out.

I found the rent in San Francisco to run from $7 to $17 for a small flat of from three to four rooms, sometimes with and sometimes without a bathroom. Those who had cheap rents paid car fare as a rule, although this was not necessarily true. The rooms were light and with the same proportion of them sunny as in higher priced flats. These houses are usually on side streets and alleys and the plumbing is good, but not the most modern.

I found a washerwoman and three children who had kept an expense account for the months of June and July, 1902. This woman had two children of her own and they were so well taken care of that the ladies of the Associated Charities felt justified in placing a child to board with her. Her two month’s account averages as follows:

Groceries (per week)
$1.70000
Meat
.43750
Fruit and vegetables
.44375
Rent
2.00000
Total
$4.58125

The above includes light, but not fuel. They lived near the bay and the children picked up drift wood. Milk was included in the groceries.

Consulting the bulletin of the Bureau of Labor again, I found that the retail prices of food have decreased 5 per cent since 1902, so that this woman and the three children can still live on the same amount in the same way assuming that the conditions are the same in San Francisco and vicinity as in other parts of the United States.

HOME EXPERENCE COMPARED.

But can a family of four live on $14 a week and be happy? In the short time of my search, I could not find a family who were living on just that amount and were willing to say so and tell how it was done.

So I asked my mother to weigh everything that we ate and to keep also a record of the number of people at each meal. I found that during eleven days the equivalent of 165 meals had been served to one person.

There had been used:

15
pounds flour.
2
pounds sago and rice.
9
pounds bread.
14
pounds sugar, honey and molasses.
2 3/4
pounds coffee.
7 7/8
pounds eggs.
17 1/3
pounds meat.
3 1/4
pounds fat (butter, olive oil and fat).
72
pounds fruit.
19 1/2
pounds potatoes.
6 1/2
pounds green vegetables.

I live where prices are the highest for everything. So I made some inquiries as to prices on Market street and south of Market street, between Third and Sixth. I give a few items of what I found:

On Market South of Market
Steak
50-55c
25-30c (same weight)
Chops
5c each
2 for 5c
Bread
1 loaf 10c
6 for 25c (same size)
Tomatoes
6 or 7 for 10c
10 for 10c
Lettuce
2 heads for 5c
3 heads for 5c

Using the cheaper prices where I knew them and the average price on Market street where I was in doubt, I made the following expense account, per week:

Rent ($15 per week))
$3.500000
Light (from bulletin)
.148400
Fuel (our own acct. from one stove
capable of warming three rooms)
.500000
Food
4.561452
Cost of housing and food
8.709850
For clothes and other expenses
5.300000

[Note: the total for cost of housing and food should have been 8.709852.]

HIGHER RENT PAID HERE.

Comparing the average cost of living for the United States with my estimated cost for San Francisco, I find that we pay almost twice as much for rent as the average workeman in the United States and a little less for food, the other items remaining much the same.

Again consulting the bulletin, I find that the cost of food in the Western states is perceptibly lower than in any other group of states. Perhaps I should state that those 165 meals which are the basis of my estimate were fed to hungry and hearty people, who during that time did not happen to have any of the nourishing foods that go a long way, such as beans, split peas, cheese, dried fish, cracked wheat, dried fruit, etc. so that I am confident that the estimate is high enough.

Glancing over the expense account for the past two years for the clothes of a large family of ladies, I find (not counting their work, and they do considerable) that the labor is two-thirds of the cost. The wife of the workingman can make her money go over twice as far, on account of her many friends engaged in industrial work. Putting that together with the difference in the price of food which I found within a few blocks, we begin to see how the workingman’s wife can make her money go so much farther than other ladies can.

Taking a last glance at the bulletin, I find that in 1903 wages were 16.3 higher than the average between 1890 and 1899, and that the retail price of food was only 10.3 per cent higher than the average for the same time, thus making an increase in the purchasing power of money of 5.4 per cent. The entire cost of living has advanced somewhat less than the cost of food, however, because there are certain fixed items which change only very slowly.

I found also that 34.3 per cent more persons were employed in 1903 than in 1894. Verifying that statement for San Francisco, I was told by workers in the various charitable organizations that they had not been called upon for assistance in the past two years by any skilled laborer, and almost never by an able-bodied man who was willing to work. And as for supplying the demand for women and children, they had not been able to come anywhere near doing so.

Judging from all these facts, a family of four can live on $14 in San Francisco and spend some money for fun.

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About bluepearlgirl's world

Hello. My actual name is Emelie. I am an artist in San Francisco. I started out my early life deep in the Santa Cruz mountains. I left Santa Cruz shortly after graduating High School and moved up to the city. I resided over in 94117 (north panhandle for short) for the majority of the 16 years that i have been here minus the last two in which i came here to Bernal Heights (aka Bernalwood). I work in a number of mediums usually depending on the space i have to work in. In SF that can vary greatly! I look forward to sharing my thoughts, observations and photos with you all. Hopefully at the very least i will give you a little chuckle once and a while. Thank you for stopping and reading my little blog. I encourage all who stops by to leave comments. I will read them all and appreciate the time you spend with me! Sincerely to you all! Emelie (aka, Bluepearlgirl) To see some of my artwork, please check out www.artwanted.com/emelie ........... Another blogger Mskatiekins sums my blog up pretty well... here is what she said.... "BluePearlGirl’sWorld – This is one diverse blog. This sassy gal tackles big issues as well as posting funny and uplifting little pick-me-ups. I’d love to learn more about you and your art/creativity!"

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