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?

While touring the Wells Fargo Museum in San Diego, I enjoyed their description of the Pony Express. Of course I had to convert the cost of mailing a letter to now.

According to the museum, the Pony Express ran from April 1860 to October 1861. From April 1861 until October, Wells Fargo ran the Pony route west of Salt Lake City. However, they set the rates and printed stamps for the entire cross-country run.

Wells Fargo reduced the rate to $2 per ½ ounce and then cut the rate further to $1 per ½ ounce.

In terms of average pay of the time, that is equal to about half a ticket to fly from Missouri to San Francisco today.

Let me explain.

Continue reading “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?”

Travel cost by stagecoach in 1870s – part two

So what was the cost for cross-country travel by stagecoach in the 1870s?

I previously mentioned some of the fun exhibits in the Seeley Stable and Wells Fargo museums in Old Town, San Diego.

Putting together several of the information displays gives this information:

The Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach run from St. Louis Missouri to San Francisco, California covered 2800 miles.

The fare was $200. 

Travel time was 24 days. That means the overall average travel speed was 3½ or 4½ miles per hour including changing out the horses and rest stops.

Let’s convert that into weeks of salary

Continue reading “Travel cost by stagecoach in 1870s – part two”

Travel cost by stagecoach in 1870s – part one

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.

Continue reading “Travel cost by stagecoach in 1870s – part one”

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: Wages by Occupational and Individual Characteristics (update: link was broken; works now; document is downloadable)

(Update:  Each chapter in the book is  downloadable :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: Continue reading “Typical wages in 1860 through 1890”

Sometimes creative destruction does you in, sometimes it is political turmoil far away, and sometimes it is just destruction

A while back my wife and I vacationed in San Diego. I learned a lot of new things in Old Town. That is a state park where many buildings have been renovated to reflect life as it was from 1810 through 1870.

I read a delightful, short history of Old Town titled San Diego’s Beginnings.

One of many fascinating things is the long list of outside pressures that forced massive change on the residents of Old Town.

Continue reading “Sometimes creative destruction does you in, sometimes it is political turmoil far away, and sometimes it is just destruction”

Subsidy to construct the transcontinental railroad

An exhibit at the Huntington Library called Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880 had a comment describing payments from the government to railroad companies to assist in constructing the transcontinental railroad:

  • $16,000 per mile on easy grades
  • $32,000 per mile for the high plains
  • $48,000 per mile in the mountains

Lots of money at the time, but a bargain considering how much it helped the economy develop.

Impact on travel time from the transcontinental railroad and average transportation speeds

An exhibit at the Huntington Library called Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880 had a display describing coast-to-coast travel time:

  • 6 months – before the trans-continental railroad. ( I think that was before the stage coach lines were in place.)
  • 1 week – after the railroad was completed

Twenty-six weeks versus one week. That would be a 96% reduction in travel time.

The exhibit also had a display listing the average speed of travel in miles per hour:

Continue reading “Impact on travel time from the transcontinental railroad and average transportation speeds”

Travel time and cost in the Roman Empire

Stanford has an awesome site that shows time and cost to travel in the Roman Empire. You can find it at

ORBIS – The Stanford Geosptial Network Model of the Roman World

If you’ve read my blogs for a while, you know I am a member of the Protestant tradition of the Christian faith community.  As a result, the Roman Empire is of interest, since that was the occupying power in Israel during the New Testament period.

You also know I am interested the impact of technology on the cost of everything, including travel.

You can only imagine what a delight it is to find a web site that overlaps travel costs and the Roman Empire.

Here is a description of ORBIS from its website:

Spanning one-ninth of the earth’s circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents.

Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity.

For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.

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In terms of comparable salary, how much tech you could get today for what it took to buy a Commodore 64 in 1982?

Short answer:

Then: Commodore C-64 plus 10K hard drive

Now: Mid-range desktop computer plus color laser printer with enough left over to buy a 16GB iPad and iPhone 4S.

Previously discussed the first two computers I owned here.  I realize that dates me, but it gives me perspective to deeply appreciate how far tech has developed.

Long answer:

Continue reading “In terms of comparable salary, how much tech you could get today for what it took to buy a Commodore 64 in 1982?”

The more things change, the more they stay the same as 2,442 years ago

Since I am even less trendy than John Bredehoft, I wasn’t aware of this funny line that is making the rounds until he called attention to it in his post, 430 BC and 2012 AD – remarkable parallels, or coincidence?

Greece is collapsing,

Iranians are getting aggressive

& Rome is in disarray.

Welcome back to 430 BC!

Continue reading “The more things change, the more they stay the same as 2,442 years ago”

Look how far PCs have developed

David Albrecht provides some background on what the first generation of computers looked like in his expression of gratitude to the innovations of Commodore International’s founder.  See his post, Jack Tramiel 1928-2012.

The VIC-20 had 5K of RAM. Yes, 5K, not 6 megs, Not 1 meg. Not even 512K.  Try .005 meg of ram. (That Dell machine I linked to has 1,229 times more RAM than a VIC-20.)

You could buy a cartridge to add 3K or even 8K.  But there was only one slot.

The Commodore 64 was so named because the breakthrough was it had that much memory. Yes, a whopping 64K RAM. Yes, that’s .06 megs.

Continue reading “Look how far PCs have developed”

Cost of crossing Atlantic on Titanic expressed in wages of the time

I’m taking a meandering trip to look at the cost to cross the Atlantic in 1912 versus 2012.

Previous post looked at the ticket prices for various classes of accommodations on the Titanic and salaries for a variety of positions at the time.

I converted some of those weekly salary numbers into annual amounts and then lined up the positions in terms of which class of accommodations people would likely take.  This shows the number of weeks salary it would take to buy a ticket on Titanic.

Continue reading “Cost of crossing Atlantic on Titanic expressed in wages of the time”

Titanic exhibit in San Diego – dollars and time to cross the Atlantic

While taking some vacation time in San Diego this past weekend, my wife and I went to the Titanic exhibit hosted by the San Diego Natural History Museum. It was fantastic! By the way, the exhibit runs through September 9, 2012 if you are interested.

I plan to use the Titanic as a reference point for change in transportation costs. That idea struck me very strongly on this short vacation in San Diego.

The best starting point for the exhibit is a blog post at Well Heeled Blog. A quick read of the blog and related Facebook page shows the author wishes to remain anonymous.

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Price of nails as indicator of improved quality of life – imagine spending as much on nails as we do home computers today.

Nails haven’t always been so cheap as to be priced as an inconsequential part of any project.

Post by Timothy Taylor at Conversable Economist discusses The Price of Nails.

Continue reading “Price of nails as indicator of improved quality of life – imagine spending as much on nails as we do home computers today.”