What did it cost to travel by stagecoach from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1871? How does that compare to today?

The Seeley Stable Museum and Wells Fargo Museum in Old Town, San Diego offer fun examples of 1800s transportation. Carretas, cargo wagons, Mud Wagon stagecoaches, and Concord stagecoaches.

I picked up a lot of fun information while touring those museums a while back.

The oldest transportation in the museums was a carreta from about 1849, which was made at Mission San Jose. The wheels were cut out of a 4 foot tree trunk. The wheels aren’t even close to round.

This specific carreta is reported to have been used to travel from San Francisco to San Diego in 1849. The trip took three months.

As will be seen in a moment, in 1871 that trip would take 1½ days. That is a 98% reduction in overland travel time in 22 years.

In a car it will take you 8 hours 8 min. today to travel the 504 miles from SFO to SAN airports.

**San Diego to Los Angeles in 1871**

In 1871 there was a daily stagecoach run from the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Old Town to Los Angeles. It was a 35 hour trip. The cost was $10 plus meals according to a sign in the Seeley Stable Museum.

To put that in perspective, I’ll use the average wages from 1870. That $10 would be 3.2 days wages for a skilled blacksmith, or 2.4 days wages for a skilled carpenter, or 8 days wages for an unskilled laborer.

Translating that back from eight days unskilled labor then to minimum wage today would be $576 (let’s assume $9 per hour x 8 hours x 8 days).

Today the travel time for 125 miles from SAN to LAX airports is 2 hours 18 minutes.

Today the trip would take, oh, 5 gallons at let’s say $4.20, or $21 of gas assuming you own a car. Let’s assume around $.30 per mile cost for the vehicle, or another $37 for the vehicle. That’s a total of $58. At $10 an hour, let’s round that to 6 hours.

**So here’s the cost to travel San Diego to Los Angeles:**

- 1871 – 8 days unskilled labor for the fare plus use up 2 days for travel time, or 10 days labor.
- 2012 – 6 hours for the value of the car plus 2 hours travel time or 1 full day of wages.

With lots of rounding errors, that’s a 90% drop in the cost of travel in 141 years. Cool.

Feel free to recalculate the travel costs any way you want.

I always crack up when people talk about the evil oil companies. Even when gas was $4 a gallon, I didn’t grouse too much. Sure everyone likes cheap stuff, but look at it like this – even at $4 per gallon, I could drive the 100 mile round trip to the coast for the cost of a drive-through meal for three in my gas hog. Imagine the looks on the faces of our ancestors from the 1800s if they saw that.

Hi Danial:

In addition, you made the trip of 100 miles in a small fraction of the time it would have taken our great-great-grandparents. You were sitting on a comfortable chair instead of a wooden plank. I’ll even guess you were in a temperature controlled area.

When one considers a historical perspective, just about everything is phenomenally better today that 100 years ago. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Jim