“His First Dollar”

See what your teenager thinks of this–

John Bidwell received a letter from S.S. Boynton, editor and publisher of the Oroville Register in 1884, asking him “how he earned his first dollar by work when a boy.” Boynton was writing to a number of prominent local men with this question, intending to publish the answers.

John Bidwell wrote:

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John Bidwell Collection, California State Library

My first, by chopping hard beech four feet wood at 37 1/2 cents per cord in Ashtabula Co. Ohio. My next, in my 13th year, by hauling wood and charcoal @ $6 per month.

cordSo, for chopping hard beech wood into four foot lengths he received 75 cents for two cords. A cord of wood, in case you haven’t bought one in a while, is a stack 4′ by 4′ by 8′. A hefty amount for a twelve year old boy. I don’t know how long it would have taken him to cut that amount of wood by hand, but it certainly would have built muscle.

How much would his six dollars a month be worth today? To get an idea of how much Bidwell’s 1832 money would buy in 2018, you can go to Measuring Worth, or the Consumer Price Index. The first gives a value of $182, and the other $175. At $10 a hour, that would be 17 or 18 hours of work, and if you have been to the grocery store lately, you can get an idea of how much that would buy. It would certainly be a significant addition to the Bidwell family’s income.

I haven’t found online access to the Oroville Register for 1884, but it’s possible it exists on microfilm. I’ll check Meriam Library next time I am there. I would be interested to know what other replies editor Boynton received and if he published a series of the answers.

And next time your young man is looking for some money to spend, send him out to chop wood. By hand. It builds character.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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