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Cataloging Our Progress: Basic Lawn Care

Posted By Don Boudreaux On December 18, 2012 @ 12:28 pm In Growth,Standard of Living | Comments Disabled

Using my Sears Fall/Winter 1956 catalog [1], I searched for the lowest-priced basic lawn-care items available at Sears in 1956, constrained only by the requirement that the ‘big’ items – lawn mower and lawn edger – be gasoline- or electric-powered rather than fully manual.  From page 1045 through page 1051 of that catalog I found what I searched for.  The prices given are 1956 prices for the lowest-priced such item that Sears then sold through its catalog.

- gasoline-powered rotary, manual-push lawn mower (1.5 hp; 16″ cutting width): $46.00

- electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger (6″ blade, 1/8hp): $16.50

- manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader (16″ width): $6.89

- garden hose (25′; 7/16″ diameter): $2.29

- on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (two arms): $1.55

- lawn rake: $0.89

- pruning shears: $0.89

- garden-hose nozzle: $0.46

These items in 1956 totaled to $75.47

How many hours did an ordinary American worker have to work in 1956 to purchase these basic, Sears-lowest-priced lawn-care items?

Remember from this November 26, 2012 post [1], I use the 1956 average hourly manufacturing earnings of production workers, as reported in Table 1 here [2], as the figure for the hourly earnings of the ‘ordinary’ American worker.  That hourly wage in 1956 was $1.89.

A worker earning that nominal wage in 1956 would, therefore, have had to work 40 hours – a full week – to buy all of these items.

How many hours does an ordinary American worker have to work today to purchase similar items to care for his or her lawn?  I went this morning to Sears.com to begin my search; each prices below is a 2012 price for Sears’s lowest-priced offering of each item:

- gasoline-powered rotary, manual-push lawn mower (140cc; 21″ cutting width) [3]: $170.99.  (Horse-power ratings are no longer always given for lawn mowers [4].)

- electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger [5]* (9″ blade; 29cc): $189.99

- manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader [6]**: $35.99

- garden hose (50′; 5/8″ diameter) [7]: $10.99

- on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (three arms) [8]: $10.99

- lawn rake [9]: $19.99

- pruning shears [10]: $9.99

- lawn-hose nozzle [11]: $5.49

These items today total to $454.42

Today’s ordinary, full-time nonsupervisory American worker in the private sector, earning (as he or she does) $19.84 per hour [12], must work only 23 hours to buy these basic lawn-care items.  That’s 43 percent less work time today than was necessary in 1956 buy the same bundle of basic lawn-care items.  (The quality of today’s items seems generally to be superior to those of 1956 – a fact that I’ll ignore here beyond merely mentioning it.)

On an individual basis:

- lawn mower: one cost 24.3 hours of work by the ‘ordinary’ American worker in 1956; a similar mower today costs a similar worker today 8.6 hours

- upright power dedicated lawn edger:* one cost the 1956 worker 8.7 hours of work; the lowest-priced power edger today cost a similar worker 9.6 hours

- push spreader: one cost the 1956 worker 3.6 hours of work; the lowest-priced push spreader today cost a similar worker 1.8 hours

- hose: one cost the 1956 worker 1.2 hours of work; the lowest-priced hose today (although wider and twice as long as the 1956 hose) cost a similar worker 33 minutes

- sprinkler: one cost the 1956 worker 49 minutes of work; the lowest-priced on-ground rotating sprinkler today cost a similar worker 33 minutes

- lawn rake: one cost the 1956 worker 28 minutes of work; the lowest-priced lawn rake today cost a similar worker 1 hour

- pruning shears: one cost the 1956 worker 28 minutes of work; the lowest-priced pruning shears today cost a similar worker 30 minutes

- lawn-hose nozzle: one cost the 1956 worker 15 minutes of work; the lowest-priced nozzle today cost a similar worker 17 minutes

The labor-time cost of a rake, pruning shears, and a nozzle all increased over the past 57 years.  So, too, did this cost of a dedicated power lawn trimmer (but here subject to this important caveat*).  The work-time cost of all other items fell, so much so that the total work-time cost today (23 hours) is significantly less than it was in 1956 (40 hours).

That’s my excursion for the day into lawn economics.


* Unlike in 1956, today a wide assortment of inexpensive handheld power “line” trimmers are available that do double duty as lawn edgers.  (When my teenage son mows the lawn he uses, to very good effect, a trimmer to edge the lawn.)  Sears.com sells these line trimmers for as low as $19.88 [13].  Nevertheless, I use in my calculations above the more pricey Sears.com’s lowest-priced upright dedicated power lawn edger.

** I cannot find the dimensions of this spreader.  I see only that it holds up to 5,000 square feet of seed or fertilizer to spread.  This spreader looks to be about the same size, cubic-inch wise, as the 1956 model that I use above, although I cannot be sure.  Perhaps it’s smaller; perhaps it’s larger.

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URLs in this post:

[1] Using my Sears Fall/Winter 1956 catalog: http://cafehayek.com/2012/11/the-future-back-to-the-past.html

[2] Table 1 here: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1237&context=key_workplace&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%2522average%2520hourly%2520earnings%2522%2520private%2520nonsupervisory%25201956%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D5%26ved%3D0CEEQFjAE%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fdigitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D1237%2526context%253Dkey_workplace%26ei%3Dzt-zULGHLs6qqAHql4CgDA%26usg%3DAFQjCNGDTSbtPqdSSNWh13QfvReOv5gsHA%26sig2%3DUpIQLmU5roRYh8lDN8rNHQ#search=%22average%20hourly%20earnings%20private%20nonsupervisory%201956%22

[3] gasoline-powered rotary, manual-push lawn mower (140cc; 21″ cutting width): http://www.sears.com/craftsman-140cc-low-wheel-side-discharge-push-mower/p-07137000000P?prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=G1

[4] Horse-power ratings are no longer always given for lawn mowers: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021501732.html

[5] electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger: http://www.sears.com/craftsman-29cc-wheeled-edger-w-speed-start-trade/p-07177380000P?prdNo=7&blockNo=57&blockType=G57

[6] manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader: http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_SPM3992156901P?sid=IDx20110310x00001i&srccode=cii_184425893&cpncode=32-205904501-2#desc

[7] garden hose (50′; 5/8″ diameter): http://www.sears.com/garden-elite-5-8-in-x-50-ft-pvc/p-07169325000P?prdNo=17&blockNo=17&blockType=G17

[8] on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (three arms): http://www.sears.com/kinex-three-arm-rotary-sprinkler/p-07123581000P?prdNo=2&blockNo=2&blockType=G2

[9] lawn rake: http://www.sears.com/ames-jackson-kodiak-spring-brace-rake-22-tine/p-07194835000P?prdNo=6&blockNo=6&blockType=G6

[10] pruning shears: http://www.sears.com/search=pruning%20shears?vName=Lawn+%26+Garden&cName=Outdoor+Tools+%26+Supplies&sLevel=1&keywordSearch=false&sortOption=PRICE_LOW_TO_HIGH&catalogId=12605&viewItems=25&storeId=10153&filter=storeOrigin%7CSears

[11] lawn-hose nozzle: http://www.sears.com/gardenlife-twist-spray-nozzle/p-07160255000P?prdNo=15&blockNo=15&blockType=G15

[12] as he or she does) $19.84 per hour: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t24.htm

[13] Sears.com sells these line trimmers for as low as $19.88: http://www.sears.com/weedeater-3.6-amp-11inch-electric-line-trimmer/p-07174123000P?prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=G1


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