The first two photographs below were published in 1939, long before my time, but when I spotted them at the Library of Congress's web site awhile back, the thought came to me that it might be interesting to compare the gasoline prices of 1939 with the gasoline prices of today. Well, according to the Energy Information Administration, a branch of the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), on April 7, 2008, the per gallon cost of regular gasoline averaged $3.332 nationally. The national average in 1939? 19 cents a gallon.
Of course, anything has the ability to take on a different perspective if one backs away from the common view. A chart published online by the DOE's Vehicle Technologies Program back in March, 2005, compares current historic national gasoline price averages from 1919 to 2004 with those averages adjusted for inflation per the 2005 dollar. That 19 cents that folks were paying in 1939 was actually $2.60 in 2005 dollars. I don't know what that 19 cents translates into in 2008 dollars, but with oil nearing a bazillion dollars a barrel, I sure wish my grandparents had stocked up.
Page 22 of the Springfield Daily News, published February 17, 1938, offered a smorgasbord of choices for the Western Massachusetts automobile-shopper. For 75 bucks, that itch for the open road could be satisfied with a 1931 Plymouth Sedan. If you had the dough, you could sit yourself behind the wheel of a 1937 Terraplane Deluxe Sedan (with heater), for $625. To be sure, in 1938, at the tail end of the Great Depression, not everyone had the luxury of dreaming about a new car in any serious way. Some folks were simply trying to stay warm, as these pages of newspaper - found stuffed in the walls of my parents' home as makeshift insulation - attest to.
(<--- Can't help but wonder if Mr. Cook ever found his wheel...)
Big money, big car, big advertisement in the Springfield Daily News, circa 1938. Seems to me this ad is sending mixed messages to the prospective buyer. In large, dark letters at the bottom of the ad, the reader is told (with an exclamation point for emphasis) that they "Better buy Buick!" But directly to the left of that three word command, in smaller typeface against a black flag-shaped background, is the strange disclaimer: "When better automobiles are built, Buick will build them." Okay. Which is it? Should I better buy a Buick, or have the better ones not been built yet? Maybe "Better buy Buick!" is an overt statement of affordability rather than a subversively veiled threat to 'purchase, or else.' Perhaps Buick is a better buy, but better will Buick someday build.
More intriguing to me is the advertisement's promise that if I, "Go look at the price tags and what's behind them," I'll, "...spend from now on in a Buick enjoying life." I wish someone would have told me that before I traded my Ford in for a Chevy.
As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.
Photo/caption one source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Russell Lee, Digital ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a27316
Photo/caption two source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Russell Lee, Digital ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a27317