flips and gasmeters

Baker, John JBaker at STRADLEY.COM
Fri Mar 9 03:02:30 UTC 2001

        You forget how many people were desperately poor in 1940, or had
been in recent memory.  What middle-class people might have been able to pay
didn't matter, and if it was an exaggeration to say that people worked 12
hours of hard labor for $1, it wasn't much of one.  These were people with
little cash and few options, for whom the minimum wage law had no de facto
application.  Of course, my knowledge is of rural whites, not urban blacks,
but I suspect that their cash-flow situations were comparable in that

        In terms of what this means for the quoted terms, I assume that a
flip was a coin, probably a nickle, dime, or quarter.  I suppose that a
gasmeter may have been a dollar bill.

John Baker

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Douglas G. Wilson [SMTP:douglas at NB.NET]
> Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2001 5:22 PM
> Subject:      Re: flips and gasmeters
> >... in the 1930s a man would work 12 hours of hard labor for a dollar
> >("and be glad to get it, too,"...).
> >  In 1940 you could eat lunch on a dime. ...
> I'm reminded of a song by a favorite singer, Al Yankovic: "When I Was Your
> Age":
> "Worked in the coal mine twenty-two hours a day for just half a cent ...
> "We were hungry, broke and miserable and we liked it fine that way ...."
> [See
> http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/SongUnid/6C9ECF95EF1AA4BA4825690E00
> 219210
> for full lyrics (with a few typos).]
> I think it's possible to exaggerate the effects of inflation. No doubt one
> could eat lunch for a dime in 1940, just as one can for a dollar now. But
> one might have expected to pay more like 50 cents for a middle-class
> restaurant lunch then (compared with perhaps roughly ten-twenty times that
> much now)  -- as in this menu from Buffalo, 1940:
> http://www.ronrichardson.com/1940Menu.htm
> The prices look different from modern ones by a factor of about 10-15 ...
> maybe 20 if this was a fancier place. OK, even taking factor twenty ...
> assuming a "flip" is a dime would give an offer in the song equivalent to
> $4.00 now: the price of a good McLunch perhaps. Even in a poor
> neighborhood
> would this offer between two gambling buddies be described as "killer" or
> "great"? I think it's marginal or borderline at most. Assuming "flip" =
> "nickel" or "penny" would give a current equivalent of no more than about
> $2.00 or $0.40 respectively -- certainly outside the realm of "killer"
> loans/gifts.
> By the way, the minimum hourly wage in 1940 was $0.30 ... compared with
> $5.15 now, I think: a factor of 17, probably a little less after tax
> effects.
> -- Doug Wilson

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