By Shannon Butler

We’ve all seen the news stories and we have all felt it in our wallets. The cost of Thanksgiving has certainly gone up! Everything from cranberries to roasting pans, from coffee to the big bird at the center of it all, this year’s holiday is going to be historic on all of our bank accounts. Whether you are making food for the family or heading out for a fine dining experience, it’s going to cost you more than it ever has. So it begs the question, how much did it cost to enjoy Thanksgiving over a century ago? How much did you spend per pound on a turkey this year? Well, the market shows that prices range from $2 to $5 per pound depending on the quality. In 1890, the price was 16 cents a pound as advertised in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News. Based on inflation, that’s about $4.86 in today’s dollars.

Over a century ago, it took quite a bit of time to prepare your traditional Thanksgiving feast. It was said that “during the week preceding Thanksgiving the New England housekeeper is a busy woman” (I mean, I feel like this is still true, but maybe I just overdo it). Shopping, prepping, and cooking for the big day was like a full-time job. Flipping through the morning paper, one could expect to be overwhelmed with a flurry of advertisements promising deals on everything from turkey knives and linens, to nuts and pies. The shops along Main Street here in Poughkeepsie had their windows filled with displays to entice you to drop your hard-earned cash on a new dining set and even a new Thanksgiving hat!

The cost per person has drastically altered over the years for various reasons. For example, current events show us that it was pretty reasonable to have a Thanksgiving meal last year in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic as gatherings were small, therefore meals were smaller. In 1917, it was estimated that Thanksgiving would cost about $1.50 per plate, which is $32.41 per plate today; however, there was a war going on and food was being rationed. Fast forward to 1928, when money and food were plentiful, and an article in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News proclaimed that Thanksgiving would cost less that year than it had in recent years.

Interestingly, one doesn’t come across any restaurants offering Thanksgiving meals until about 1913, when we see the Busy Bee Restaurant having a Thanksgiving meal for 40 cents ($11.18 today). Before this, people mostly ate at home, or perhaps at a church gathering, but once the local food joints started offering holiday meals, more and more folks began heading out on the town. Both the Morgan House and the Nelson House had dinners ranging from $1.50 to $2.50 during the 1920s. By 1934, when times were a little harder in the grips of the Great Depression, Smith Brothers restaurant offered a Thanksgiving meal for $1.25 and Hotel Windsor had a “Deluxe dinner” for just one dollar. Whatever it may cost you this year, we hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving.

Poughkeepsie Eagle News, 19 Nov 1890, 27 Nov 1902, 25 Nov 1908, 24 Nov 1911, 27 Nov 1916, 29 Nov 1917, 25 Nov 1918, 28 Nov 1928, 6 Nov 1934

01 – Image from the Poughkeepsie Eagle News showing advertisement of the Busy Bee Restaurant – 1913
02 – Image from the Poughkeepsie Eagle News showing an advertisement of a Thanksgiving dinner – 1919
03 – Postcard of the Busy Bee Restaurant – LH Collections
04 – Postcard of the dining room inside the Morgan House known as The Pompeiian Room – LH Collections