The year was 1943. The Second World War was raging in the Pacific and Europe and the Zoot Suit Riots were pitting soldiers against Latinos in Los Angeles. The atom bomb was still on the drawing board and it was 5 years before the first McDonald's opened. You could grab a hamburger from a good restaurant for 40 cents and get some curly fries for another 20. A Coke? That will cost you another dime, mac. For a little more than a dollar you could substitute a steak for the hamburger and exchange the coke for a milkshake concocted with real milk and real ice cream.
When reading old menus the first thing that stands out naturally are the prices. If you could still order off a six and a half decade old menu, there wouldn't be a hungry person in America today, and if you're still challenged by the concept of inflation, one look at the menu will clarify your mind. The average price of 10 staple casual dining restaurant items were $0.47 in 1943 compared to $6.10 today. That's a stunning 1,302% inflation or 4.05% per year. For example, back in 1943 you could treat three of your buddies to steak sandwiches, fries and a large coke and pick up a $4.00 tab. Today, that act of generosity would cost you over $54. Other wallet busters included hot fudge sundaes for 35 cents and a stack of pancakes for 30 cents. A Root beer float or freshly squeezed lemonade would set you back another 20 cents.
In California the sales tax was 3 percent. That's a far cry from the current 9.75% rate in Los Angeles County. This is not a misprint; in nominal dollars, the sales taxes on that burger went up a stunning 5,464% and somehow the local and state governments managed to have balanced budgets. For those of you history buffs, West Virginia was the first state to enact a sales tax in 1921 and California didn't have a sales tax until 1935. I would have paid 12 cents in taxes for treating my three buddies to a steak meal. Today, the state charges diners $5.40 for the privilege. I guess that's why good friends are harder to find nowadays!
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