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Nostalgia - What Was It Really Like in the Good Old Days?

Updated on October 26, 2016


I originally started this list over a decade ago after hearing certain conservative talk show hosts talking about how great the "good old days" were, in comparison to the Clinton era presidency. I felt the claims they made (such as how cheap everything was, how much easier daily life was, how our government was more efficient, and fellow citizens were more trustworthy) were a bit exaggerated. The original list supplemented an online textbook that I wrote for my US Geography class.

Over time I have updated the list as I came across new items and I posted it at a couple of times blogs I used to write. Well, now I wanted to update it even more, so here it is on Hubpages! -- Alan

Comparing Dollars Over Time

In this Hubpage, I use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to compare US currency values from past time periods. This is one of the most conservative approaches, meaning it estimates the smallest changes over time. Most other techniques would show a much larger amount for past dollar values when compared to today (i.e., the past would be much more expensive)..

Click here to see seven different ways how high these numbers could go with other approaches.

The USA in the Early 1900s

The Great Heat Wave of 1896 - (audio) - Can natural disasters change history and influence politics? This New York City event claimed nearly 1300 lives and shaped early 20th Century America.

Causes of Death in US in 1900 and 2010 - comparison chart

1900 - 95% of births were at home
- 98% of meals were eaten at home (compared to only 50% by 2010) [more...]

1905 - 100 workers a day died on the job due to poor working conditions

1905 - Recessions/depressions were commonplace, about every 10 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s

1905 - Child labor in US factories was commonplace; there were no laws against it

1907 - Infant mortality = 9.99% (about 10% of all children died at before they reached 1 year of age)

1907 - Life expectancy - for Men = 45.6 years - for Women = 49.9 years

--- i.e., most of the people who were the same age as you were dead by the time you were 50 years old

1907 - Biggest causes of death: #1 = pneumonia and flu, #2 = tuberculosis, #3 = heart disease, #4 = diarrhea (a different sources flipped #3 and #4, and had #5 = stroke)

1907 - Chicago completes first (and only) modern sewage system in the US

1908 - Philadelphia completes first (and only) clean water system in the US

1906 - First radio voice broadcast from a US based station to specially equipped ships in the Atlantic ocean. Radio would not become fairly common until a decade or two after this (depending on how you define "common").

1905 - Icehouses were commonly used to store perishable food and as suppliers of blocks of ice for home ice boxes.


- Only 14% of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub.

- Only 8% of the homes had a telephone.

- A 3 minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11 ($250.33 in 2007 based on CPI)

- There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S., and only 144 miles of paved roads.

- The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

- Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California . With only 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union .

- The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

- The average wage in the US was 22 Cents per hour ($5.01 in 2007 based on CPI).

- The average U.S. Worker made between $200 and $400 per year. ($4552 and $9104 in 2007 based on CPI)

- A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 ($45,520) per year, a dentist made $2,500 ($56,900) per year, a veterinarian $1,500 ($34,140) per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 ($113,800) per year. (in 2007 dollars based on the CPI)

- More than 95% of all births in the U.S. took place at home.

- 90% of all U.S. Doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and the government as 'substandard.'

- Sugar cost four cents a pound. (91 cents a pound in 2007 CPI)

- Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. ($3.19 a dozen in 2007 CPI)

- Coffee was fifteen cents a pound. ($3.41 cents a pound in 2007 CPI)

- Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

- Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

- The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn't been admitted to the Union yet.

- The population of Las Vegas , Nevada was only 30.

- Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea hadn't been invented yet.

- There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

- Two out of every 10 U.S. adults couldn't read or write.

- Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.

- Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, 'Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.'

- There were about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S,

The World in the Early 1900s in Color Photos

A fascinating look at 66 Colorized Photos taken around the world in the early 1900s. Click this link:

The USA in the 1920s

1921-27 - First vaccines for Diptheria, Whooping cough and Tuberculosis

1927 - Home refrigerators start coming into widespread use for first time, although home delivery of block ice for ice boxes continued until about 1960

1926 - NBC radio broadcasting company founded; 1927 - CBS radio founded (but no TV until the late 1930s)

Also checkout: Life Before Social Security - by Richard Paul - audio interview on Morning Edition, March 30, 2005 · Many believe that Social Security helped eliminate poverty among the elderly. But existence without the program was not necessarily all that terrible. A look at what life was like before Social Security was created.

The USA in the Mid-1900s

Home electronics

In the early 1960s, the color TV was a new marvel. A good one cost around $400 in 1965, which was a princely sum (worth about $2,300 in current dollars). Still, RCA's annual unit sales rose from 90,000 in 1959 to more than 1 million five years later.

By 2003, flat-screen plasma TVs are the object of many desires. A 42-inch Sony cost $6,000 at Best Buy recently, and aficionados can pay twice that for bigger screens with more bells and whistles. A 50-inch model from Samsung cost $8,000 -- nearly four times as much as those early color TVs.

By 2007 a 42" flat screen TV cost lest that $1000 on sale.

There was no Internet, of course, until the 1970s and 1980s.

Real Estate

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of a U.S. house in 1968 was $20,100. In 2003, it was about $170,000. Using inflation-adjusted dollars, that's a 60 percent increase.

In the early 1960s, a four-bedroom house in one middle-class New Jersey suburb sold for $19,000. In 2002, the same house sold for more than 20 times that figure.

In the 1960s, a family was said to be "rich" if they bought a home for $50,000, which converts to $265,000 in 2003 dollars -- far below the modern norm in many leafy suburbs on the East or West coasts.


In the 1960s, the jet engine opened up previously unheard of travel possibilities. Americans started flying to Europe in ever-rising numbers. By 2003, Paris is passé. To be well-traveled means to have visited exotic locations. Scads of companies now sell cruises to Antarctica. Departing from the tip of South America, rates begin at around $3,500, plus the cost of getting there.

Fewer than 4,000 people a year visited the Galapagos Islands in the 1960s. By 2003, Darwin's favorite archipelago attracts more than 60,000 guests annually, at costs ranging from a few thousand dollars to $35,000 or more for a chartered private yacht.

Even Mt. Everest -- defined as the most remote place on earth before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed it in 1953 -- has had more than 1,200 people reach its peak. One "elite trek" costs about $6,000 to get to the base camp, plus equipment to make the ascent. In 2007, over 500 people climbed Mt Everest, a record year.


In the 1960s, many upper-middle-class motorists aspired to own elegant sedans. The 1965 Lincoln Continental had a sticker price of $6,166, about $36,000 in current dollars. The Continental is no longer produced, but a good substitute might be the Lexus LS-430. Manufacturer's suggested retail price in 2003: $55,700, before options.


1945 - First major antibiotic, Penicillin, becomes widely available

1945 - First flu vaccine introduced

1957 - Life expectancy - for Men = 66.4 years - for Women = 72.7 years by 2007 - Men = 75.5 years, Women = 80.7 years

1957 - Infant mortality = 2.63% (similar to or worse than many of the less developed countries in Asia and Latin America today) by 2007 = 0.637% (or 6.37 deaths within the first year of life per 1000 live births; 41 countries have lower/better rates than the US)

1957 - Biggest causes of death: #1 = heart disease, #2 = cancer, #3 = stroke, #4 = accidents (similar to today)

1960 - 97% of births are in hospitals

1965 - Medicare and Medicaid signed into law

The USA (and UK) in the Late 1900s

Within many of our lifetimes ... but so much has changed!

The Most Influential Gadgets for Each of the Past 100 Years (published in 2013)



1913 The zip

1914 Motorised movie cameras

1915 Pyrex

1916 Electric power drill

1917 Radio tuners

1918 The superheterodyne radio circuit

1919 The pop up toaster

1920 The hairdryer

1921 The modern lie detector

1922 Electric kettle

1923 Self-winding watch

1924 Loudspeaker

1925 Modern day can opener

1926 Tevelox robot

1927 Aerosol can

1928 Baird Television Department Company television

1929 Car radio

1930 Jet engine

1931 Electric razor

1932 Electric can opener

1933 The Teasmade

1934 Zippo lighter

1935 Radar

1936 First voice recognition machine

1937 Dirt Devil

1938 The biro

1939 Helicopter

1940 Modern colour television

1941 Artificial heart

1942 The turboprop engine

1943 The Slinky

1944 Kidney dialysis machine

1945 Clock radio

1946 Disposable nappy

1947 Kenwood food mixer

1948 First pager

1949 Photo-Pac disposable camera

1950 Alkaline batteries

1951 Power steering

1952 SAGE modem

1953 Black box flight recorder

1954 Regency pocket radio

1955 Breathalyser

1956 Behind the air hearing aid

1957 Casio digital watch

1958 Pacemaker

1959 Black and Decker cordless drill

1960 Stereos/hi-fis

1961 Kodak Instamatic

1962 LED

1963 The Telefunken 'mouse'

1964 Plasma television – University of Illinois

1965 Y. Hatano’s pedmoter

1966 El-Gi 1:12 Ferrari radio controlled car

1967 Polaroid

1968 Smoke detector

1969 The Internet

1970 Digital thermometer

1971 Busicom LE-120A Handy pocket calculator

1972 Multi socket power plug

1973 The Ethernet

1974 Breville sandwich maker

1975 Kodak digital camera

1976 Lithium batteries

1977 Mattel Electronic Football

1978 Victor HR-3300REK - first UK VHS video recorder

1979 Texas Instruments Speak and Spell

1980 Sony Walkman

1981 Epson HX-20 - the world's first laptop

1982 Sony Watchman - CD player

1983 Commodore 64

1984 Sony Discman

1985 The Leatherman

1986 Bose noise cancelling headphones

1987 Sony super VHS camcorder

1988 Digital mobile phones

1989 World Wide Web

1990 Nintendo Game Boy

1991 Nintendo SNES

1992 Palm Pilot

1993 Dyson vacuum cleaner

1994 Digital cordless telephone /Mega Drive

1995 PlayStation 1

1996 Audio Highway - world's first MP3 player

1997 Motorola StarTac

1998 Panasonic portable DVD player

1999 DVR by TiVo

2000 The Trek Tech/IBM - flash drive

2001 Apple iPod

2002 PlayStation 2

2003 Blackberry 6210

2004 Samsung OLED TV

2005 Xbox 360

2006 SanDisk Micro SD

2007 Apple iPhone

2008 Beats by Dre

2009 Twitter

2010 Apple iPad

2011 Kindle Fire

2012 Nexus 7

2013 PlayStation 4

How Technology Has Changed in Just 10 Years (2001-2011)

SOURCE: September 2001 Was a Long Time Ago in the World of Technology - By Harry McCracken | Sunday, September 11, 2011 -- There is more in the original article.

... stuff that didn’t exist in September 2001 which I can barely remember life without:

  • 3G wireless (October 2001)
  • iPod (October 2001)
  • Windows XP (October 2001)
  • Xbox (November 2001)
  • Vizio TVs (2002)
  • WordPress (2003)
  • iTunes Music Store (2003)
  • Skype (2003)
  • Facebook (2004)
  • Lenovo ThinkPads (2004)
  • Firefox (2004)
  • Gmail (2004)
  • TechCrunch (2005)
  • Google Maps (2005)
  • Intel Macs (2005)
  • LOLCats (2006)
  • Twitter (2006)
  • Wii (2006)
  • Intel Core Processors (2006)
  • Hulu (2007)
  • iPhone (2007)
  • Netbooks (2007)
  • Rickrolling (2007)
  • Chrome (2008)
  • iPhone App Store (2008)
  • Groupon (2008)
  • Android (2008)
  • Angry Birds (2009)
  • FourSquare (2009)
  • Bing (2009)
  • iPad (2010)


Top 10 Sites August 2001

  • 1. MSN
  • 2. Yahoo
  • 3. eBay
  • 4. Neopets
  • 5.
  • 6. AOL
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10. GeoCities

Top 10 Sites July 2011

  • 1. Google
  • 2. Facebook
  • 3. Yahoo
  • 4. YouTube
  • 5. Bing
  • 6. Wikipedia
  • 7. MSN
  • 8. Amazon
  • 9.
  • 10 eBay

Google Earth - Seeing How the Earth Has Changed Over Time

Google Earth Engine

  • "Google Earth Engine brings together the world's satellite imagery — trillions of scientific measurements dating back almost 40 years — and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers, and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the Earth's surface. "

Some of my sources:

Most of the 2003 numbers above came from The Cost of the Good Life (CNN, 9/12/03)

Some of the numbers above come from an article in AARP Bulletin, June 2007, p.39

Also checkout: Are You Worse Off than Mom & Dad (CNN, 9/12/03)

The 1907 list was sent to the Planet (Planners Network) email list by Dick Klosterman of on 16 June 2008.


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    • alew profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Yes, I think so. Personally, I think that we can make any day the best day of our lives.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The good old days are more of a nostalgic memory then, huh?


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