Every year around this time, Money takes stock of the economy and tries to answer the question: What’s the best thing to do with $1,000 right now? Researching this year’s ways to put a grand to work (or play) got us thinking about the power of $1,000 in years past. In most cases, that amount money doesn’t go as far as it used to—you can’t buy a new car with it, for example, or live abroad on it for a year (more on that below.) But in other areas, like technology, its purchasing power has exploded.
So in the runup to this year’s suggestions for what to do with $1,000 (coming to Money.com on September 21), here’s a look back at 10 things that used to cost a stack, and what the equivalent items cost today.
125 Shares of Berkshire Hathaway Stock
Price tag today: $24.5 million
When Warren Buffett began buying up Berkshire Hathaway stock back in 1962, a share was worth a meager $8 (around $63 in 2015 dollars, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nifty calculator). If you had a grand, you could have bought 125 shares. Today, 125 shares will set you back $25.4 million. That’s a growth rate of 2,543,750%. Talk about a return on investment.
A Studebaker Light Six
Equivalent price tag today: $25,000 (for a mid-size family sedan)
You may not remember Studebaker, but it was once one of the largest vehicle companies in the world. Its 1922 Light Six model cost just under $1,000. If that sounds like a pretty good deal for a middle-of-the-road car even back then, you’re right—it’s around $14,000 in today’s dollars. To put the Studebaker price into perspective, a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost cost around $12,000 at the time, and an entry-level Ford Model T could be had for $395.
A 14-inch RCA Color TV
Equivalent price tag today: $1,000 for a 4K LCD TV
Back in 1954 the color TV was all the rage, and the RCA Victor CT-100, the second color TV to hit the mass market, sold for $1,000. At that price—the equivalent of $8,871 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars, the small model didn’t sell particularly well, and the remaining units were discounted about 50% when the 21-inch successor came out soon after. It’s worth noting, though, that a grand still buys the latest TV technology today.
A Year of Harvard Tuition
Price tag today: $45,278
Everybody knows colleges haven’t always carried those enormous $50,000 price tags, but not everyone would guess that you only have to go back about 50 years to see an astronomical drop. For the 1957-58 academic year at Harvard, tuition was just $1,000—after rising from $600 in 1954 (though still pricey at roughly $8,500 in 2015 dollars). The march upward had begun: The following year, the college hiked tuition another 20%.
A Pound of Gold
Price tag today: $16,594
Back in 1972, gold was selling for around $65 an ounce, or around $1,000 for a pound. That price wasn’t exactly a bargain at the time—gold was just $36 an ounce the year before—but since then it’s spiked up to $1,135. Some of Michael Phelps’s gold medals cost the International Olympic Committee over four times more than Mark Spitz’s then-record 1972 haul.
The Wright Flyer I
Equivalent price tag today: $8,000 (for a used ultralight)
Just over 100 years ago, Orville and Wilbur Wright used wood from a giant spruce, handmade propellers, fabric, bicycle parts, and a custom 12-horsepower engine to build the first airplane. Costing just under $1,000, the Wright Flyer I logged a few flights, the longest of which covered 260 meters in 59 seconds. If you adjust the brothers’ out-of-pocket cost for inflation, their R&D, at $8,492 in today’s dollars, cost less than a 2015 Camaro.
A Herd of Cattle
Price tag today: $45,500
While today’s calfs are incredibly valuable, going for $1,300 at auction, a grand used to buy you an entire herd of 35 animals. (According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s historic data, cattle averaged just $28 a head at the turn of the century.) You could even have a small herd of 10 for $1,000 up until the end of World War II, but after that, America’s growing fast food addiction made beef a big business.
A Steinway B
Price tag today: $92,400
If today you wanted to buy a Steinway B, the company’s second largest piano, you would need to pony up almost $100,000. But at the turn of the 20th century, the world’s best 7-foot piano cost only $1,000. Adjusting for inflation, that’s only around $28,571 in 2015 dollars, making them a pretty good investment since they tend to last indefinitely.
Andy Warhol Soup Cans
Price tag today: $11.6 million+
In 1962, Andy Warhol produced one of his most enduring works, “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.” Split up and sold initially for $100 each, they were bought back by Warhol’s dealer, Irving Blum, who paid $1,000 for the entire set (around $7,901 in today’s money). There’s no way to say for sure what the pictures, now in MoMA’s collection, would be worth if they were sold today, but a single painting of a can with a torn label sold for $11.6 million in 2006.
A Year in Paris for a Family of Three
Price tag today: $50,000
In 1922, Hemingway wrote “Living on $1,000 for a Year in Paris” for the Toronto Daily Star, about how he and his wife lived comfortably in the City of Lights “for a total expenditure of two and one half to three dollars a day.” While his memoir A Moveable Feast depicts some of the difficulties faced supporting his family on the equivalent of $14,000 in today’s money, Hemingway reported that it was indeed possible to live richly thanks to a favorable exchange rate. That, being really good at horse racing, and occasionally forgoing new clothes and food.