The Price of the Past
Today’s blogger is Emily Hauser, a summer 2013 intern in the Archives I Reference Section who worked with Army records.
While writing descriptions of records of the Adjutant General’s Office (Record Group 94), I came across some very interesting documents created by the War Department concerning various budgets from 1920 in Washington, D.C. One of the charts I located (see image below) listed the expenses that the Quartermaster Corps estimated spending on things such as headstones for graves of soldiers ($50,000), and costs that the Medical Department estimated spending on artificial limbs ($50,000). To put this in perspective, in the 21st century a basic prosthetic leg costs around $2,000. An artificial leg that is considered “state-of-the-art” can cost over $30,000.
Some interesting statistics in the record lay within the projected expenses of the Engineering Department. One such estimate includes the “Traveling Expenses of the President of the United States, (To be expended in his discretion and accounted for on his certificate only).” According to the record, it was estimated that $25,000 would be spent in 1920 to transport Woodrow Wilson on official business. This seems staggeringly inexpensive when compared to the $300,000 presidential limousine used today to transport the president.
Additional spending estimates of the Engineering Department included the “Care and Maintenance of Washington Monument” as well as “Care and Maintenance of Lincoln Memorial.” The War Department submitted for request an estimate of $15,820 for the care and maintenance of the Washington Monument. In comparison, after an earthquake in August of 2011, the Park Service spent $200,000 alone on the inspection of the Washington Monument. The record also states that in 1920, $4,580 was estimated for the care and maintenance of the Lincoln Memorial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the $4,580 estimate in 1920 equates to approximately $53,472.42 in 2013.
A range of National Military Parks are also listed in the record, including but not limited to: Gettysburg National Park, Shiloh National Military Park, and Vicksburg National Military Park. According to the record, the combined estimated budget for the care of these parks in 1920 was approximately $105,435. Today, that amount equates to nearly $1,230,974. Talk about inflation! There certainly can be a lot taken from records such as these, even if simply used as a reflection of our past.
Fiore, Marrecca. “Advances in Prosthesis.” Fox News. N.p., 24 May 2007. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,275029,00.html>.
Harris, Paul, and Robin McKie. “Prospect of Barack Obama Show Causes UK to Clear Its Decks.” The Guardian. N.p., 28 Mar. 2009. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/29/obama-london-visit-uk-g20>.
Kaye, Jeffrey. “New High-tech Prostheses Being Developed for Amputees.” PBS News Hour. 19 Sept. 2006. PBS. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec06/amputees_09-19.html>. Transcript.
“Overview of BLS Statistics on Inflation and Prices.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web. 19 July 2013. <http://www.bls.gov/bls/inflation.htm>.
Ruane, Michael. “Washington Monument Closed Indefinitely.” The Washington Post. N.p., 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/washington-monuments-elevator-damaged-in-earthquake/2011/09/26/gIQA55wazK_story.html>.