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Typical wages in 1860 through 1890

Found a great resource that provides a frame of reference for wages in the last half of the 1800s. It is from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Wages and Earnings in the United States, 1860-1890

Perhaps there are better resources. I’ll go with this.

In table 39, you can find average daily or hourly wages in five skilled occupations. Count this as skilled tradesmen.  In table 43 you can find the average wages for common labor. Count this as unskilled labor, perhaps equivalent to minimum wage today.

I will go with the Aldrich report data which is hourly wages. It appears the standard is 10 hours a day. I will go six days a week to get weekly income.

Here is the average hourly wage:

  • Occupation 1860,  1870,  1880,  1890
  • blacksmith, 0.178, 0.304, 0.259, 0.271
  • carpenter,    0.182, 0.410, 0.276, 0.322
  • machinist    0.158, 0.260, 0.227, 0.243
  • laborers,      0.098, 0.156, 0.135, 0.151

Here is the average weekly wage for 60 hours a week:

  • Occupation 1860,  1870,  1880,  1890
  • blacksmith, 10.68, 18.24, 15.54, 16.26
  • carpenter,    10.92, 24.60, 16.56, 19.32
  • machinist,     9.48, 15.60, 13.62, 14.58
  • laborers,        5.88,   9.36,   8.10,   9.06

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8 thoughts on “Typical wages in 1860 through 1890

  1. Pingback: Travel cost by stagecoach in 1870s – part two « Outrun Change

  2. Pingback: In terms of hours labor it took to pay for a stamp, what was the cost to send a half-ounce letter cross-country on the Pony Express? Would you believe about half the cost to send yourself across the country now? « Outrun Change

  3. I UNDERSTAND Civil War pensions were about $24.00 a month in 1890 after the veteran had fought for thirty years to get compensation.

  4. Darrell Blobaum on said:

    Do not ignore personal testimony of workers of that era. As I recall, Jack London, famous writer, stated that ca. 1890–age 14– he worked in a pickle factory and other jobs for .10/hr, sometimes working shifts of 24 plus hours, at times making $50/month. 1893 he shoveled coal for $30/month, working horrendous hours, seven days a week, I believe. This may have been typical of many workers, and in Depressions such as 1893, wages were often reduced, perhaps 50%, and often hours were cut drastically.

    • Hello Darrell:

      Thanks for the extra data points. Thanks for the reminder to consider the working conditions. We can easily forget those wage rates were probably all for 10 hour days 6 days a week. Often the work was in horrible conditions. I don’t even want to think what shoveling coal was like in 1890s. When depressions hit, you took what you could find.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.


      • Darrell Blobaum on said:

        Thanks Jim, Jack finally learned that he had replaced 2 workers each making $40 a month–one committed suicide, as he could not support his wife and 4 children. Jack quit in disgust and pain. Both his wrists were sprained, and he wore sprints for a year until they healed. Child labor was widely practiced. Call it criminal! Such conditions and low wages were common among workers and caused them to fight for Unions. Improvement for workers was slow.

  5. Scott Wilson on said:

    I am wondering how accurate those wage rates are, as they seem quite high.
    Maybe those were the rates for some who worked on very large commercial projects, or government projects, but not for most of the available work which is always small private commercial and residential. I am basing my thoughts on 2 things.
    1.) Because of my being a life long builder and also former finish carpenter, so I know how long it takes to do the work. If those labor rates were accurate for the small commercial and residential work, then most buildings and houses would have been cost-prohibitive to construct, especially given the methods of construction, amount of materials used, and the fact that there were no power tools used, etc.
    2.) I have often seen prices quoted (on historical- related websites and other places where I have done research over the years about Victorian architecture), for the total cost of a certain house or building built during that time. Based on my experience in construction, it would have taken much lower wages than the ones in the data you have furnished above, to have been able to construct for the prices quoted.

    Well, those are my thoughts….

    • Hi Scott:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I have no frame of reference other than often reading a soldier in the Union Army made around $11 (or is it $13) a month. That is why this source is so helpful for me.

      Have you ever quantified what you’ve seen for the prices mentioned and the number of guessed hours it would take to build a house? Might be an educational project.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas.


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