Monday, July 15, 2013

Wages in the 1870's

Dreams of making a good life drew people to the Wild West frontier by the hundreds. It’s estimated over 350,000 people traveled the 2100+ miles of the Oregon Trail. (Cholera was the most common cause of death for the one out of seventeen that didn’t make it.) Thousands of others took other trails, participated in land claims, and trekked toward the frontier on their own.

After the war, jobs increased substantially, especially during the manufacturing boom of the north, however, over 25% of the nation’s population was looking for work. Heading west may have been the only hope for many of them.

While researching for a story that included a character owning an iron works company in Chicago I came across a 1960 publication of wages during the 1860-1880’s and thought perhaps some of you might find the information useful. Below are the most popular 18 industries and the average DAILY wage for 1870. These numbers are from the East coast. An average of .20 more per day was paid in the west.

Stove foundries $2.30
Furniture  $2.24
Flour and grist mills $2.69
Hardware, cutlery, etc.  $2.41
Tin and sheet iron works $3.18
Saw and planning mills $2.10
Carriage and wagon works $1.96
Flint and window glass $2.47
Tanneries $2.26
Machinery $2.13
Railroad $1.06
Cigars and tobacco $1.58
Iron blast furnaces, etc. $2.27
Paper manufacture $1.85
Brick making $2.30
Clothing $1.38
Breweries and Distilleries $1.97
Woolen manufactures $1.52
Cotton manufactures $1.42


Caroline Clemmons said...

Lauri, that is very helpful for those of us who write late 19th century novels. I had only a ledger from an ancestor's Tennessee story to go by. In the mountains of Tennessee, wages were lower, but so were expenses. This ancestor paid 75 cents a day for a wage. Thanks for the additional information.

Unknown said...

Awesome to know. Honestly, I think TN is still living in that era. *lol* Wages here are measly but don't halt the rise of prices in everything. I feel worry for those in the work force here who struggle with $10.00 per hour. Don't know how they have so many kids and feed, clothe, and house them. I guess when the government runs out of money, food stamps will sorely be missed. Just think of those in the old west who didn't have any assistance to call on. If their crops failed, they went hungry. No wonder a penny went so far back then.
Thanks for posting.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Very useful information, Laurie. Thanks! Specifics are always rare, so I lap them up like milk. :)

Kat Flannery said...

I really liked this post. Thanks, Lauri. :)

Dora said...

Wages for cowboys in the days after the Civil War were $30.00 and found, meaning about a dollar a day and meals, a bunk and a roof over your head.It was hard work, hot in the summer, cold in the winter with only a trip to town Saturday nights to relieve the sameness. But, you had the open sky, lots of clean air unless you were on a cattle drive, and the freedom to live the life a cowboys loves.