How much did a telephone call cost in the USA around 1920?

How much did a telephone call cost in the USA around 1920?

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I am looking for data on historic telephone call prices in the US between 1920 and 1930. What did it cost to make a call? I know that, back then different rates were charged based on the distance of the call. But what where these rates? And what were the pricing categories at which different distances were bundled?

I have already searched the website of AT&T and the FCC as well as consulted articles and books in economic history but this information is surprisingly rare.

Edit: One source from the FCC (here, p. 62, table 13) shows the different rates charged for some specific distances. These are very helpful to get a good picture of the price differences. However, for my purpose it would be important to know at exactly which distances calls were classified as long-distance (or would fall in the next higher category) and thus become more expensive.

This is probably far too late to be of use to you, but may help others in the future.

To expand on another answer, many US telephone directories did indeed have lists of long-distance charges from their local network. For example, this extract is from the May 1920 edition of the New York City (including all boroughs) Telephone Directory:

with the following caveats:

On calls from stations located in the Borough of Brooklyn to Long Distance points listed below the initial Station-to-Station day toll rates are $.05 more than the rates shown.

For rates on calls from stations located in the Boroughs of Queens and Richmond to Long Distance points call "Long Distance."

As you can see:

  • a call from New York to Indianapolis, Indiana would cost $4.15 for the first three minutes and $1.35 for each additional minute ("or fraction thereof").
  • a call from New York to Knoxville, Tennessee would cost about the same - $4.10 for the first three minutes and $1.35 for each additional minute.
  • and a call from New York to Los Angeles, California would cost a lot more - $15.65 for the first three minutes and $5.20 for each additional minute.

A search of currently (April 2019) returns 90 telephone directories with dates between 1920 and 1930, inclusive. In this case

  1. Search for 'telephone directory'

  1. Limit the result by 'media type' to just 'texts':

  1. Select just the years of interest from the 'year' filter:

and choose the particular directory you are interested in. Most directories are available for download as pdf files.

In 1915 (celebrating anniversary of the first call) Watson and Bell made a cross-country phone call and it was 20 bucks for 3 minutes. This would easily be the equivalent of 400 bucks today, arguably more. Of course, such calls went like this: You would contact your local operator, they would set it up from local phone network to the one in the next city, literally making physical connections so multiple operators would be involved and they would contact you when it was all set up. Without modern technology, the labor would make such a call probably cost 100s per minute. That we can call China for pennies a minute is amazing.

Old phone books from that era quite often had price schedules within, especially larger cities. Check a local large city library

The History Of What Things Cost In America: 1776 to Today

-One dictionary cost .50 (1797)
-One 12-volume encyclopedia cost $20 (1820)
-One chest of drawers cost $2 (1802)
-One cow cost $10 (Charles County, MD, 1804)
-Total cost to build the President’s house for South Carolina College was $8,000 (1806)

-One Pound of Coffee Cost .25

In the early nineteenth century, the United States still has a immature economy. The country’s money supply did not exceed $30 million, which was less than $6.00 per citizen and only $20 million more than the combined amount held between all of the colonies twenty-five years earlier. The price of many goods increased due to the country’s poor infrastructure. It cost $9.00 to ship a ton of goods 3,000 miles from Europe to America. To move the same amount of goods 30 miles from America’s coast inland, it cost the same amount.


-Ten pounds of sugar cost .20 (1822)
-One acre in a tract of land of over 400 acres cost $2.00 (Sumter, SC, 1823)
-One bushel (35.2 liters) of potatoes cost .12 (1829)
-One set of blue china cost $8.00 (1828)
-One cow cost $12.00 (1829)

-One Pound of Coffee Cost .17

-One dollar in 1825 = $22.40 today

The US economy of 1825 was marked by innovation and expansion. The development of canal systems and railroads opened access to the country’s interior and, as a result, mass-produced goods became available to many who lived away from the industrial cities and domestic trade increased. In addition to this, about 100,000 Europeans were immigrating to the United States each year around this time, many of whom were skilled artisans, thereby stimulating the economy greatly.


-One bottle of port cost .11 (Greenville County, SC, 1847)
-One piano cost $195 in 1847
-A routine doctor’s visit cost $2 (Florida, 1852)
-A new home in Brooklyn, NY cost $2,500 (1853)

-One pound of coffee cost .80

By 1850, the United States’ economy was doing extremely well thanks to the success of agriculture in the South and manufacturing and commerce in the the North’s. The nation’s population grew about five times its own size from the beginning of the century and, furthermore, labor productivity increased dramatically. Between 1840 and 1860, the country more than doubled its agricultural output. Its mining and manufacturing industries approximately tripled their worth over this time period.


-A necktie “designed to supersede all other methods for fastening the bow to a turndown collar” cost .10
-A dozen pairs of Levi Strauss blue jeans cost $13.50 (1874)
-One pair of shoes cost .98 (1875)
-One suit cost $10.00 (1875)
-One opera ticket for “The Marriage of Figaro” cost $1 (San Fransisco, 1875)

-One pound of Coffee cost .25

Following the Civil War, there was an unprecedented boom in US production compared with. This growth, however, was stalled by the Panic of 1873, a major economic recession. Apart from this downturn, the country underwent rapid expansion as the population over doubled from 1860 to 1890, from 31.5 million to 76 million. Most professions required a 60 hour work week, which paid anywhere between $1.60 per day (a fireman in Massachusetts) to $4.64 per day (a glassblower in New Jersey.)


-“Tooth soap” cost .25 (1896)
-Board at Clemson College for 40 weeks cost $59 (1896)
-A home on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn, NY cost $7,000 to $12,000 (1901)
-One Oldsmobile cost $650 (1904)

-One pound of coffee cost .15

The beginning of the 20th century is known as the Progressive Era. The lower classes got fed up with the abuses of the trusts and the railroad companies and pushed for legislation against corruption and poor working conditions. During this period, the United States continued to see a growth in industry, and the number of non-farming jobs increased from 800,000 million to 2.2 million from 1900 to 1920. Similarly, disposable income rose from $20 billion to $71.5 billion. Kodak released its famous “brownie” camera in 1900. It cost $1.

How much did a telephone call cost in the USA around 1920? - History

How much did a gallon of gasoline cost back in 1956?

How much did an ounce of gold cost back in 1899?

How much did a movie ticket cost in 1929?

$20.65 in 1833
$20.65 in 1834
$20.65 in 1835
$20.65 in 1836
$20.65 in 1837
$20.65 in 1838
$20.65 in 1839
$20.65 in 1840
$20.65 in 1841
$20.65 in 1842
$20.65 in 1843
$20.65 in 1844
$20.65 in 1845
$20.65 in 1846
$20.65 in 1847
$20.65 in 1848
$20.65 in 1849
$20.65 in 1850
$20.65 in 1851
$20.65 in 1852
$20.65 in 1853
$20.65 in 1854
$20.65 in 1855
$20.65 in 1856
$20.65 in 1857
$20.65 in 1858
$20.65 in 1859
$20.65 in 1860
$20.65 in 1861
$20.65 in 1862
$20.65 in 1863
$20.65 in 1864
$20.65 in 1865
$20.65 in 1866
$20.65 in 1867
$20.65 in 1868
$20.65 in 1869
$20.65 in 1870
$20.65 in 1871
$20.66 in 1872
$20.66 in 1873
$20.66 in 1874
$20.66 in 1875
$20.66 in 1876
$20.66 in 1877
$20.66 in 1878
$20.65 in 1879
$20.66 in 1880
$20.66 in 1881
$20.66 in 1882
$20.66 in 1883
$20.66 in 1884
$20.66 in 1885
$20.65 in 1886
$20.65 in 1887
$20.66 in 1888
$20.65 in 1889
$20.66 in 1890
$20.68 in 1891
$20.68 in 1892
$20.68 in 1893
$20.66 in 1894
$20.65 in 1895
$20.71 in 1896
$20.71 in 1897
$20.71 in 1898
$20.66 in 1899
$20.68 in 1900
$20.71 in 1901
$20.69 in 1902
$20.67 in 1903
$20.68 in 1904
$20.64 in 1905
$20.62 in 1906
$20.66 in 1907
$20.67 in 1908

.07 in 1910
.07 in 1911
.07 in 1912
.07 in 1913
.07 in 1914
.07 in 1915
.07 in 1916
.07 in 1917
.07 in 1918
.07 in 1919
.07 in 1920
.07 in 1921
.07 in 1922
.07 in 1923
.25 in 1924
.25 in 1925
.25 in 1926
.25 in 1927
.25 in 1928
.35 in 1929
.35 in 1930
.35 in 1931
.35 in 1932
.35 in 1933
.23 in 1934
.24 in 1935
.25 in 1936
.25 in 1937
.25 in 1938
.23 in 1939
.24 in 1940
.25 in 1941
.27 in 1942
.29 in 1943
.32 in 1944
.35 in 1945
.35 in 1946
.35 in 1947
.40 in 1948

A gallon of gasoline cost:

.27 in 1949
.27 in 1950
.27 in 1951
.27 in 1952
.29 in 1953
.29 in 1954
.29 in 1955
.30 in 1956
.31 in 1957
.30 in 1958
.31 in 1959
.31 in 1960
.31 in 1961
.31 in 1962
.30 in 1963
.30 in 1964
.31 in 1965
.32 in 1966
.33 in 1967
.34 in 1968
.35 in 1969
.36 in 1970
.36 in 1971
.36 in 1972
.39 in 1973
.53 in 1974
.57 in 1975
.61 in 1976
.66 in 1977
.67 in 1978
.90 in 1979
$1.24 in 1980
$1.38 in 1981
$1.30 in 1982
$1.24 in 1983
$1.21 in 1984
$1.20 in 1985
.93 in 1986
.95 in 1987
.95 in 1988
$1.02 in 1989
$1.16 in 1990
$1.14 in 1991
$1.12 in 1992
$1.10 in 1993
$1.11 in 1994
$1.15 in 1995
$1.23 in 1996
$1.23 in 1997
$1.06 in 1998
$1.17 in 1999
$1.51 in 2000
$1.46 in 2001
$1.36 in 2002
$1.59 in 2003
$1.88 in 2004
$2.30 in 2005
$2.59 in 2006
$2.80 in 2007
$3.30 in 2008
$2.35 in 2009
$2.79 in 2010
$3.57 in 2011
$3.57 in 2012

How Much Do Telephone Poles Cost?

Telephone poles, usually made of wood in order to carry telephone cables around a whole country or even continent if needed, are often used to deliver phone services to houses and offices however, this isn’t always the case. Private buyers often purchase telephone poles for various projects, including creating a fence, zip line or even a bridge, for example.

“IMG_0644” (CC BY 2.0) by андрій мельничук

How much does a telephone pole cost?

Most of the time, a telephone pole that has to be replaced because of an accident can cost anywhere from $3,000 to as much as $6,500 for the pole and installation. However, if the pole is damaged because of a car accident and the driver was insured, the insurance company will cover the costs based on your policy details.

Those who are simply looking to buy a pole will find the cost of a single pole varies from one type to another. A typical 45-foot class 3 pole, about 16 to 20-feet at the base, can cost about $150 to $700 depending on the type of wood and who you purchase it from.

It will, of course, cost more if you need it professionally installed. The cost with installation and supplies can cost well over $3,000 due to the equipment, shipping and man-hours required.

Refer to our table below to see what a telephone pole would cost on its own without installation.

Pole SizePrice Range
25-foot$100 to $200
30-foot$100 to $350
35-foot$250 to $425
40-foot$350 to $550
45-foot$400 to $700
50-foot$500 to $850
55-foot$650 to $850

NOTE: These prices are for the pole only. This will not include installation and delivery charges., an online retailer that sells telephone poles, sells a variety that ranges from $100 to as much as $700. The taller the pole is, the more you are likely going to pay.

This forum thread on, for example, a forum member claimed they paid close to $1,800 for installation and the pole.

Another forum member on this forum thread stated that they received a bill for $3,000 after they got into an accident.

In a blog post written by, they had talked about a utility company that had sent a bill to a driver that hit a 50-foot pole. The repair bills, according to this post, was broken down into three parts: the materials ($1,722), the equipment ($2,059) and the labor, which totaled 132.6 hours, averaged $172 per hour for their linemen, $185 per hour for the foreman and $188 per hour for their troubleshooter. These costs were much higher than the industry average, which prompted the driver’s insurance company to argue this claim, effectively lowering the labor rate, all of which, wasn’t mentioned as the grand total.

Telephone pole overview

Wooden telephone poles are often made from pine or cedar. Companies that manufacture telephone poles often chose the stems from pine or cedar trees because they match the natural characteristics to meet the engineering and design standards in order to support telephone lines.

The standard utility pole in the United States is 40 feet however, poles can reach as high as 120 feet.

What are the extra costs?

As mentioned above, if you need a contractor, additional installation fees can apply, and the costs will depend on the complexity of the job and how many poles you need installed at once. Most contractors are going to charge anywhere from $500 to $2,000 to install the pole, but the costs can go down if more than one pole needs to be installed at once. To get a quote on your particular job, consider using to receive multiple quotes from local contractors for free.

Due to the size, delivery fees can be in the hundreds, depending on the size of the pole.

If an electrician is needed to run wires to the pole, additional fees can apply.

Tips to know:

Because of the way that telephone poles are made, they can be dangerous and toxic if they are handled too much. Cutting them can also release toxins into the air. The reason for this is that there are many liquid preservatives that are added to the telephone poles when they are being made. These preservatives ensure the strength and longevity of the telephone pole, and since they are used outside and away from people, they do not usually pose a threat. If you are going to purchase a telephone pole for other reasons, make sure it is made from untreated wood.

How can I save money?

Remember to check with your car insurance policy to see what may be covered in case of an accident.

Talk with your local utility company. They may be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to buying one.

Advertising Disclosure: This content may include referral links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

In the last decade alone, American taxpayers have spent at least $40 million on Confederate monuments and groups that perpetuate racist ideology

With centuries-old trees, manicured lawns, a tidy cemetery and a babbling brook, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library is a marvelously peaceful, green oasis amid the garish casinos, T-shirt shops and other tourist traps on Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

One gray October morning, about 650 local schoolchildren on a field trip to Beauvoir, as the home is called, poured out of buses in the parking lot. A few ran to the yard in front of the main building to explore the sprawling live oak whose lower limbs reach across the lawn like massive arms. In the gift shop they perused Confederate memorabilia—mugs, shirts, caps and sundry items, many emblazoned with the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

It was a big annual event called Fall Muster, so the field behind the library was teeming with re-enactors cast as Confederate soldiers, sutlers and camp followers. A group of fourth graders from D’Iberville, a quarter of them black, crowded around a table heaped with 19th-century military gear. Binoculars. Satchels. Bayonets. Rifles. A portly white man, sweating profusely in his Confederate uniform, loaded a musket and fired, to oohs and aahs.

A woman in a white floor-length dress decorated with purple flowers gathered a group of older tourists on the porch of the “library cottage,” where Davis, by then a living symbol of defiance, retreated in 1877 to write his memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. After a discussion of the window treatments and oil paintings, the other visitors left, and we asked the guide what she could tell us about slavery.

Sometimes children ask about it, she said. “I want to tell them the honest truth, that slavery was good and bad.” While there were some “hateful slave owners,” she said, “it was good for the people that didn’t know how to take care of themselves, and they needed a job, and you had good slave owners like Jefferson Davis, who took care of his slaves and treated them like family. He loved them.”

The subject resurfaced the next day, before a mock battle, when Jefferson Davis—a re-enactor named J.W. Binion—addressed the crowd. “We were all Americans and we fought a war that could have been prevented,” Binion declared. “And it wasn’t fought over slavery, by the way!”

Then cannons boomed, muskets cracked, men fell. The Confederates beat back the Federals. An honor guard in gray fired a deafening volley. It may have been a scripted victory for the Rebels, but it was a genuine triumph for the racist ideology known as the Lost Cause—a triumph made possible by taxpayer money.

We went to Beauvoir, the nation’s grandest Confederate shrine, and to similar sites across the Old South, in the midst of the great debate raging in America over public monuments to the Confederate past. That controversy has erupted angrily, sometimes violently, in Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas. The acrimony is unlikely to end soon. While authorities in a number of cities—Baltimore, Memphis, New Orleans, among others—have responded by removing Confederate monuments, roughly 700 remain across the South.

To address this explosive issue in a new way, we spent months investigating the history and financing of Confederate monuments and sites. Our findings directly contradict the most common justifications for continuing to preserve and sustain these memorials.

First, far from simply being markers of historic events and people, as proponents argue, these memorials were created and funded by Jim Crow governments to pay homage to a slave-owning society and to serve as blunt assertions of dominance over African-Americans.

Second, contrary to the claim that today’s objections to the monuments are merely the product of contemporary political correctness, they were actively opposed at the time, often by African-Americans, as instruments of white power.

Finally, Confederate monuments aren’t just heirlooms, the artifacts of a bygone era. Instead, American taxpayers are still heavily investing in these tributes today. We have found that, over the past ten years, taxpayers have directed at least $40 million to Confederate monuments—statues, homes, parks, museums, libraries and cemeteries—and to Confederate heritage organizations.

For our investigation, the most extensive effort to capture the scope of public spending on Confederate memorials and organizations, we submitted 175 open records requests to the states of the former Confederacy, plus Missouri and Kentucky, and to federal, county and municipal authorities. We also combed through scores of nonprofit tax filings and public reports. Though we undoubtedly missed some expenditures, we have identified significant public funding for Confederate sites and groups in Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In addition, we visited dozens of sites, to document how they represent history and, in particular, slavery: After all, the Confederacy’s founding documents make clear that the Confederacy was established to defend and perpetuate that crime against humanity.

(Listen to an episode of Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting, about this special reporting project.)

A century and a half after the Civil War, American taxpayers are still helping to sustain the defeated Rebels’ racist doctrine, the Lost Cause. First advanced in 1866 by a Confederate partisan named Edward Pollard, it maintains that the Confederacy was based on a noble ideal, the Civil War was not about slavery, and slavery was benign. “The state is giving the stamp of approval to these Lost Cause ideas, and the money is a symbol of that approval,” Karen Cox, a historian of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said of our findings. “What does that say to black citizens of the state, or other citizens, or to younger generations?”

The public funding of Confederate iconography is also troubling because of its deployment by white nationalists, who have rallied to support monuments in New Orleans, Richmond and Memphis. The deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where a neo-Nazi rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, was staged to oppose the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. In 2015, before Dylann Roof opened fire on a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine African-Americans, he spent a day touring places associated with the subjugation of black people, including former plantations and a Confederate museum.

“Confederate sites play to the white supremacist imagination,” said Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s work tracking hate groups. “They are treated as sacred by white supremacists and represent what this country should be and what it would have been” if the Civil War had not been lost.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans visit the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site. The Fairview, Kentucky, park cost the state $1.1 million in the last decade. (Brian Palmer)

Like many of the sites we toured across the South, Beauvoir is privately owned and operated. Its board of directors is made up of members of the Mississippi division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national organization founded in 1896 and limited to male descendants of “any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.” The board handles the money that flows into the institution from visitors, private supporters and taxpayers.

The Mississippi legislature earmarks $100,000 a year for preservation of Beauvoir. In 2014, the organization received a $48,475 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for “protective measures.” As of May 2010, Beauvoir had received $17.2 million in federal and state aid related to damages caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While nearly half of that money went to renovating historic structures and replacing content, more than $8.3 million funded construction of a new building that contains a museum and library.

When we visited, three times since the fall of 2017, the lavishly appointed library displayed the only acknowledgment of slavery that we could find at the entire 52-acre site, though Davis had owned dozens of black men, women and children before the war: four posters, which portrayed the former slaves Robert Brown, who continued to work for the Davis family after the war, and Benjamin and Isaiah Montgomery, a father and son who were owned by Jefferson’s elder brother, Joseph. Benjamin eventually purchased two of Joseph’s plantations.

The state Department of Archives and History says the money the legislature provides to Beauvoir is allocated for preservation of the building, a National Historic Landmark, not for interpretation. Beauvoir staff members told us that the facility doesn’t deal with slavery because the site’s state-mandated focus is the period Davis lived there, 1877 to 1889, after slavery was abolished.

But this focus is honored only in the breach. The museum celebrates the Confederate soldier in a cavernous hall filled with battle flags, uniforms and weapons. Tour guides and re-enactors routinely denied the realities of slavery in their presentations to visitors. Fall Muster, a highlight of the Beauvoir calendar, is nothing if not a raucous salute to Confederate might.

Thomas Payne, the site’s executive director until this past April, said in an interview that his goal was to make Beauvoir a “neutral educational institution.” For him, that involved countering what he referred to as “political correctness from the national media,” which holds that Southern whites are “an evil repugnant group of ignorant people who fought only to enslave other human beings.” Slavery, he said, “should be condemned. But what people need to know is that most of the people in the South were not slave owners,” and that Northerners also kept slaves. What’s more, Payne went on, “there’s actually evidence where the individual who was enslaved was better off physically and mentally and otherwise.”

The notion that slavery was beneficial to slaves was notably expressed by Jefferson Davis himself, in the posthumously published memoir he wrote at Beauvoir. Enslaved Africans sent to America were “enlightened by the rays of Christianity,” he wrote, and “increased from a few unprofitable savages to millions of efficient Christian laborers. Their servile instincts rendered them contented with their lot. Never was there a happier dependence of labor and capital upon each other.”

That myth, a pillar of the Lost Cause, remains a core belief of neo-Confederates, despite undeniable historic proof of slavery’s brutality. In 1850, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who had escaped slavery, said, “To talk of kindness entering into a relation in which one party is robbed of wife, of children, of his hard earnings, of home, of friends, of society, of knowledge, and of all that makes this life desirable is most absurd, wicked, and preposterous.”

Schoolchildren from D’Iberville, Mississippi, listened to a costumed guide at the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in 2017. (Brian Palmer) A statue of Jefferson Davis overlooks the mansion grounds. The notion that slavery was beneficial to slaves was notably expressed by Davis himself in the posthumously published memoir he wrote at Beauvoir. (Brian Palmer) Davis (an image at Beauvoir) argued that slavery was moral, giving African-Americans the “arts of peace, order and civilization.” (Brian Palmer) A flag rests on a chair on the porch. Nearby the gift shop stocks mugs, shirts, caps and other items, many emblazoned with Confederate symbols. (Brian Palmer) Costumed re-enactors take a selfie and greet local schoolchildren at the big annual event called Fall Muster at Beauvoir. (Brian Palmer) The audience at the Fall Muster will see a mock battle between Union and Confederate troops and hear a Jefferson Davis re-enactor. (Brian Palmer) An Alabaman named J.W. Binion acted the part of President Jefferson Davis during the annual Fall Muster event at Beauvoir in October 2017. (Brian Palmer) Students from North Bay Elementary School in Biloxi and D’Iberville Middle School as well as parents and teachers attend presentations. (Brian Palmer) Sunlight streaks through the trees on the grounds of Beauvoir, which was Davis’ last home. (Brian Palmer)

A few miles off the highway between Montgomery and Birmingham, past trailer homes and cotton fields, are the manicured grounds and arched metal gateways of Confederate Memorial Park. The state of Alabama acquired the property in 1903 as an old-age home for Confederate veterans, their wives and their widows. After the last residents died, the park closed. But in 1964, as civil rights legislation gained steam in Washington, Alabama’s all-white legislature revived the site as a “shrine to the honor of Alabama’s citizens of the Confederacy.”

The day we visited, 16 men in Confederate uniforms drilled in the quiet courtyards. Two women in hoop skirts stood to the side, looking at their cellphones. Though Alabama state parks often face budget cuts—one park had to close all its campsites in 2016—Confederate Memorial Park received some $600,000 that year. In the past decade, the state has allocated more than $5.6 million to the site. The park, which in 2016 served fewer than 40,000 visitors, recently expanded, with replica Civil War barracks completed in 2017.

The museum in the Alabama park attempts a history of the Civil War through the story of the common Confederate soldier, an approach that originated soon after the war and remains popular today. It is tragic that hundreds of thousands of young men died on the battlefield. But the common soldier narrative was forged as a sentimental ploy to divert attention from the scalding realities of secession and slavery—to avoid acknowledging that “there was a right side and a wrong side in the late war,” as Douglass put it in 1878.

The memorial barely mentions black people. On a small piece of card stock, a short entry says “Alabama slaves became an important part of the war’s story in several different ways,” adding that some ran away or joined the Union Army, while others were conscripted to fight for the Confederacy or maintain fortifications. There is a photograph of a Confederate officer, reclining, next to an enslaved black man, also clad in a uniform, who bears an expression that can only be described as dread. Near the end of the exhibit, a lone panel states that slavery was a factor in spurring secession.

These faint nods to historical fact were overpowered by a banner that spanned the front of a log cabin on state property next to the museum: “Many have been taught the war between the states was fought by the Union to eliminate Slavery. THIS VIEW IS NOT SUPPORTED BY THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE. The Southern States Seceded Because They Resented the Northern States Using Their Numerical Advantage in Congress to Confiscate the Wealth of the South to the Advantage of the Northern States.”

The state has a formal agreement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to use the cabin as a library. Inside, books about Confederate generals and Confederate history lined the shelves. The South Was Right!, which has been called the neo-Confederate “bible,” lay on a table. The 1991 book’s co-author, Walter Kennedy, helped found the League of the South, a self-identified “Southern nationalist” organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group. “When we Southerners begin to realize the moral veracity of our cause,” the book says, “we will see it not as a ‘lost cause,’ but as the right cause, a cause worthy of the great struggle yet to come!”

A spokeswoman for the Alabama Historical Commission said she could not explain how the banner on the cabin had been permitted and declined our request to interview the site’s director.

Alabama laws, like those in other former Confederate states, make numerous permanent allocations to advance the memory of the Confederacy. The First White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived at the outbreak of the Civil War, is an Italianate mansion in Montgomery adjacent to the State Capitol. The state chartered the White House Association of Alabama to run the facility, and spent $152,821 in 2017 alone on salaries and maintenance for this monument to Davis—more than $1 million over the last decade—to remind the public “for all time of how pure and great were southern statesmen and southern valor.” That language from 1923 remains on the books.

An hour and a half east of Atlanta by car lies Crawfordville (pop. 600), the seat of Taliaferro County, a majority black county with one of the lowest median household incomes in Georgia. A quarter of the town’s land is occupied by the handsomely groomed, 1,177-acre A.H. Stephens State Park. Since 2011 state taxpayers have given the site $1.1 million. Most of that money is spent on campsites and trails, but as with other Confederate sites that boast recreational facilities—most famously, Stone Mountain, also in Georgia—the A.H. Stephens park was established to venerate Confederate leadership. And it still does.

Alexander Hamilton Stephens is well known for a profoundly racist speech he gave in Savannah in 1861 a month after becoming vice president of the provisional Confederacy. The Confederacy’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

That speech was nowhere in evidence during our visit to the park. It wasn’t in the Confederate museum, which was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy with the support of the state of Georgia in 1952 and displays Confederate firearms and uniforms. It wasn’t among the printed texts authored by Stephens that are placed on tabletops in the former slave quarters for visitors to peruse. And it wasn’t in the plantation house, called Liberty Hall.

Our guide, a state employee, opened the door of a small two-room cabin once occupied by Harry and Eliza—two of the 34 people Stephens held in bondage. The guide pointed to a photograph of the couple on a wall and said Stephens “kept them good, and took care of the people who worked for him.” We went on many tours of the homes of the Confederacy’s staunchest ideologues, and without exception we were told that the owners were good and the slaves were happy.

After the war, Stephens spent a great deal of energy pretending he wasn’t entirely pro-slavery, and he returned to public life as a member of Congress and then as governor. Robert Bonner, a historian at Dartmouth who is at work on a biography of Stephens, said the Stephens memorial maintains the fraud: “The story at Liberty Hall is a direct version of the story Stephens fabricated about himself after the war.”

Half an hour away is the home of Robert Toombs, the Confederacy’s secretary of state and Stephens’ close friend. His house has been recently restored, with state as well as private funds, and Wilkes County has taken over daily operations. In a ground-floor gallery, posters in gilt frames hang below banners that announce the four acts of Toombs’ life: “The Formative Years,” “The Baron of Wilkes County,” “The Premier of the Confederacy” and “Without a Country.” About slavery, nothing.

When asked about that, the docent, a young volunteer, retrieved a binder containing a Works Progress Administration oral history given by Alonza Fantroy Toombs. It begins, “I’se the proudest nigger in de worl’, caze I was a slave belonging to Marse Robert Toombs of Georgia de grandest man dat ever lived, next to Jesus Christ.”

A more revealing, well-documented story is that of Garland H. White, an enslaved man who escaped Toombs’ ownership just before the Civil War and fled to Ontario. After the war erupted he heroically risked his freedom to join the United States Colored Troops. He served as an Army chaplain and traveled to recruit African-American soldiers. We found no mention at the Toombs memorial of White’s experience. In fact, we know of no monument to White in all of Georgia.

An average of $18,000 in county monies each year since 2011, plus $80,000 in state renovation funds in 2017 alone, have been devoted to this memorial to Toombs, who refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States after the war and fled to Cuba and France to avoid arrest. Upon his return to Georgia, Toombs labored to circumscribe the freedom of African-Americans. “Give us a convention,” Toombs said in 1876, “and I will fix it so that the people shall rule and the Negro shall never be heard from.” The following year he got that convention, which passed a poll tax and other measures to disenfranchise black men.

It’s difficult to imagine that all the Confederate monuments and historic sites dotting the landscape today would have been established if African-Americans had had a say in the matter.

Historically, the installation of Confederate monuments went hand in hand with the disenfranchisement of black people. The historical record suggests that monument-building peaked during three pivotal periods: from the late 1880s into the 1890s, as Reconstruction was being crushed from the 1900s through the 1920s, with the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan, the increase in lynching and the codification of Jim Crow and in the 1950s and 1960s, around the centennial of the war but also in reaction to advances in civil rights. An observation by the Yale historian David Blight, describing a “Jim Crow reunion” at Gettysburg, captures the spirit of Confederate monument-building, when “white supremacy might be said to have been the silent, invisible, master of ceremonies.”

Yet courageous black leaders did speak out, right from the start. In 1870, Douglass wrote, “Monuments to the ‘lost cause’ will prove monuments of folly . in the memories of a wicked rebellion which they must necessarily perpetuate. It is a needless record of stupidity and wrong.”

In 1931, W.E.B. Du Bois criticized even simple statues erected to honor Confederate leaders. “The plain truth of the matter,” Du Bois wrote, “would be an inscription something like this: ‘sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.’”

In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. joined a voting rights rally in Grenada, Mississippi, at the Jefferson Davis monument, where, earlier that day, an organizer named Robert Green declared, “We want brother Jefferson Davis to know the Mississippi he represented, the South he represented, will never stand again.”

In today’s debates about the public display of Confederate symbols, the strong objections of early African-American critics are seldom remembered, perhaps because they had no impact on (white) officeholders at the time. But the urgent black protests of the past now have the ring of prophecy.

John Mitchell Jr., an African-American, was a journalist and a member of Richmond’s city council during Reconstruction. Like his friend and colleague Ida B. Wells, Mitchell was born into slavery, and spent much of his career documenting lynchings and campaigning against them also like Wells, he was personally threatened with lynching.

Arguing fiercely against spending public money to memorialize the Confederacy, Mitchell took aim at the movement to erect a grand Robert E. Lee statue, and tried to block funding for the proposed statue’s dedication ceremony. But a white conservative majority steamrolled Mitchell and the two other black council members, and the Lee statue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. Gov. Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of Lee and a former Confederate general himself, was president of the Lee Monument Association, which executed the project. Virginia issued bonds to support its construction. The city of Richmond funded Dedication Day events, attended by some 150,000 people.

Mitchell covered the celebration for the Richmond Planet, the paper he edited. “This glorification of States Rights Doctrine—the right of secession, and the honoring of men who represented that cause,” he wrote, “fosters in the Republic, the spirit of Rebellion and will ultimately result in the handing down to generations unborn a legacy of treason and blood.”

In the past decade, Virginia has spent $174,000 to maintain the Lee statue, which has become a lightning rod for the larger controversy. In 2017, Richmond police spent some $500,000 to guard the monument and keep the peace during a neo-Confederate protest there.

Vandals struck Richmond’s Lee monument in August. Opposition to the statue isn’t new in 1890, leading African-Americans opposed its installation. (Brian Palmer) In Richmond in September 2017, counter-protesters spoke out against neo-Confederates who rallied in support of the Robert E. Lee monument. (Brian Palmer) Onlookers at the September 2017 neo-Confederate event in Richmond are seen leaving the area after they were heckled by counter-protesters. (Brian Palmer)

In 1902, several years after nearly every African-American elected official was driven from office in Virginia, and as blacks were being systematically purged from voter rolls, the state’s all-white legislature established an annual allocation for the care of Confederate graves. Over time, we found, that spending has totaled roughly $9 million in today’s dollars.

Treating the graves of Confederate soldiers with dignity might not seem like a controversial endeavor. But the state has refused to extend the same dignity to the African-American men and women whom the Confederacy fought to keep enslaved. Black lawmakers have long pointed out this blatant inequity. In 2017, the legislature finally passed the Historical African American Cemeteries and Graves Act, which is meant to address the injustice. Still, less than $1,000 has been spent so far, and while a century of investment has kept Confederate cemeteries in rather pristine condition, many grave sites of the formerly enslaved and their descendants are overgrown and in ruins.

Significantly, Virginia disburses public funding for Confederate graves directly to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which distributes it to, among others, local chapters of the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Since 2009, Virginia taxpayers have sent more than $800,000 to the UDC.

The UDC, a women’s Confederate heritage group with thousands of members in 18 states and the District of Columbia, is arguably the leading advocate for Confederate memorials, and it has a history of racist propagandizing. One of the organization’s most influential figures was Mildred Lewis Rutherford, of Athens, Georgia, a well-known speaker and writer at the turn of the 20th century and the UDC’s historian general from 1911 to 1916.

Rutherford was so devoted to restoring the racial hierarchies of the past that she traveled the country in full plantation regalia spreading the “true history,” she called it, which cast slave owners and Klansmen as heroes. She pressured public schools and libraries across the South to accept materials that advanced Lost Cause mythology, including pro-Klan literature that referred to black people as “ignorant and brutal.” At the center of her crusade was the belief that slaves had been “the happiest set of people on the face of the globe,” “well-fed, well-clothed, and well-housed.” She excoriated the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency charged with protecting the rights of African-Americans, and argued that emancipation had unleashed such violence by African-Americans that “the Ku Klux Klan was necessary to protect the white woman.”

UDC officials did not respond to our interview requests. Previously, though, the organization has disavowed any links to hate groups, and in 2017 the president-general, Patricia Bryson, released a statement saying the UDC “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy.”

Confederate cemeteries in Virginia that receive taxpayer funds handled by the UDC are nonetheless used as gathering places for groups with extreme views. One afternoon last May, we attended the Confederate Memorial Day ceremony in the Confederate section of the vast Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. We were greeted by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Flaggers, a group that says its mission is to “stand AGAINST those who would desecrate our Confederate Monuments and memorials, and FOR our Confederate Veterans.”

An honor guard of re-enactors presented an array of Confederate standards. Participants stood at attention for an invocation read by a chaplain in period dress. They put their hands on their hearts, in salute to the Confederate flag. Susan Hathaway, a member of the Virginia Flaggers, led the crowd of several dozen in a song that was once the official paean to the Commonwealth:

Carry me back to old Virginny,
There’s where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There’s where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
There’s where this old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.

“Very little has been done to address the legacy of slavery and its meaning in contemporary life.”

That scathing assessment of the nation’s unwillingness to face the truth was issued recently by the Equal Justice Initiative, the Montgomery-based legal advocacy group that in April 2018 opened the first national memorial to victims of lynching.

A few Confederate historical sites, though, are showing signs of change. In Richmond, the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy have joined forces to become the American Civil War Museum, now led by an African-American CEO, Christy Coleman. The new entity, she said, seeks to tell the story of the Civil War from multiple perspectives—the Union and the Confederacy, free and enslaved African-Americans—and to take on the distortions and omissions of Confederate ideology.

“For a very, very long time” the Lost Cause has dominated public histories of the Civil War, Coleman told us in an interview. “Once it was framed, it became the course for everything. It was the accepted narrative.” In a stark comparison, she noted that statues of Hitler and Goebbels aren’t scattered throughout Germany, and that while Nazi concentration camps have been made into museums, “they don’t pretend that they were less horrible than they actually were. And yet we do that to America’s concentration camps. We call them plantations, and we talk about how grand everything was, and we talk about the pretty dresses that women wore, and we talk about the wealth, and we refer to the enslaved population as servants as if this is some benign institution.”

Confederacy meets pop culture in a display last year at Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy, which closed in September to become part of the American Civil War Museum. (Brian Palmer)

Stratford Hall, the Virginia plantation where Robert E. Lee was born, also has new leadership. Kelley Deetz, a historian and archaeologist who co-edited a paper titled “Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as Activism in the 21st Century,” was hired in June as the site’s first director of programming and education. Stratford Hall, where 31 people were enslaved as of 1860, is revising how it presents slavery. The recent shocking violence in Charlottesville, Deetz said, was speeding up “the slow pace of dealing with these kinds of sensitive subjects.” She said, “I guarantee you that in a year or less, you go on a tour here and you’re going to hear about enslavement.”

In 1999, Congress took the extraordinary step of advising the National Park Service to re-evaluate its Civil War sites and do a better job of explaining “the unique role that slavery played in the cause of the conflict.” But vestiges of the Lost Cause still haunt park property. In rural Northern Virginia, in the middle of a vast lawn, stands a small white clapboard house with a long white chimney—the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The Confederate general died in the house in May 1863. “The tendency for the park historically has been to invite people to mourn Jackson’s death,” John Hennessy, the park’s chief historian, told us. He believes that the site should be more than a shrine, however. Visitors, Hennessey said, should learn that Jackson “led an army in a rebellion in the service of a nation that intended to keep people in bondage forever.” He went on, “The greatest enemy to good public history is omission. We are experiencing as a society now the collateral damage that forgetting can inflict.”

A park ranger sitting in the gift shop rose to offer us a practiced talk that focused reverently on Jackson’s final days—the bed he slept on, the clock that still keeps time. The ranger said a “servant,” Jim Lewis, had stayed with Jackson in the small house as he lay dying. A plaque noted the room where Jackson’s white staff slept. But there was no sign in the room across the hall where Lewis stayed. Hennessy had recently removed it because it failed to acknowledge that Lewis was enslaved. Hennessy is working on a replacement. Slavery, for the moment, was present only in the silences.

During the Fall Muster at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home, we met Stephanie Brazzle, a 39-year-old African-American Mississippian who had accompanied her daughter, a fourth grader, on a field trip. It was Brazzle’s first visit. “I always thought it was a place that wasn’t for us,” she said. Brazzle had considered keeping her daughter home, but decided against it. “I really do try to keep an open mind. I wanted to be able to talk to her about it.”

Brazzle walked the Beauvoir grounds all morning. She stood behind her daughter’s school group as they listened to re-enactors describe life in the Confederacy. She waited for some mention of the enslaved, or of African-Americans after emancipation. “It was like we were not even there,” she said, as if slavery “never happened.”

“I was shocked at what they were saying, and what wasn’t there,” she said. It’s not that Brazzle, who teaches psychology, can’t handle historic sites related to slavery. She can, and she wants her daughter, now 10, to face that history, too. She has taken her daughter to former plantations where the experience of enslaved people is a part of the interpretation. “She has to know what these places are,” Brazzle said. “My grandmother, whose grandparents were slaves, she told stories. We black people acknowledge that this is our history. We acknowledge that this still affects us.”

The overarching question is whether American taxpayers should support Lost Cause mythology. For now, that invented history, told by Confederates and retold by sympathizers for generations, is etched into the experience at sites like Beauvoir. In the well-kept Confederate cemetery behind the library, beyond a winding brook, beneath the flagpole, a large gray headstone faces the road. It is engraved with lines that the English poet Philip Stanhope Worsley dedicated to Robert E. Lee:

“No nation rose so white and fair, none fell so pure of crime.”

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This article is a selection from the December issue of Smithsonian magazine

More On This.

The gadget he used is well known, however.

The prototype version that would become the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x weighed 2.5 pounds, had a single-line, text-only LED screen. It would take a decade before Motorola’s DynaTAC finally reached consumer hands.

On September 21, 1983, Motorola made history when the FCC approved the 8000X, the world's first commercial portable cell phone. It cost consumers a whopping $3,995 at the time.

And the hunk of cream-colored plastic and wires Cooper used looks preposterous next to the sleek modern iPhones and Androids today’s consumers rely upon, of course.

Even Cooper has moved on: today he relies on a Motorola RAZR -- or at least he did last year, he told The Verge. Cooper remains a pioneer in cell phones he told the site he gets a new one every six months.

“I'm being sorely tested lately because the phones are coming out so fast. Each time they get a little better, and I think they're pretty much on a par now — if you know how to use them — with the iPhone,” he told The Verge.

How Much Did Things Cost in 1900?

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, $1 in 1900 was equivalent to approximately $28 in 2013. The average yearly wage was $432, and a steam-powered car cost $1,000. The average home in America sold for approximately $5,000 in 1900.

In 1900, shoppers could buy a 5-pound bag of flour for 12 cents. Round steak was 13 cents a pound, and bacon was a penny more. Eggs were 21 cents per dozen, milk sold for 14 cents per half gallon and butter cost 26 cents per pound. A 10-pound bag of potatoes was 14 cents, and a 5-pound bag of sugar cost the relatively princely sum of 31 cents. Coffee often cost upwards of 35 cents a pound, and a small tin of tea leaves ran between 50 to 75 cents. Chocolate was also relatively expensive, costing around 34 cents per pound.

A properly dressed gentleman in 1900 would have spent between $7 and $16 on his suit, $1 on each of his dress shirts, around $7 on his topcoat and 48 cents for a fine felt hat. Women's dresses cost between $10 and $12, women's hats cost 35 cents and shoes for women were approximately $2 to $3 per pair.

America Is STILL Paying For The Civil War

An Associated Press analysis of federal payment records found that the government is still making monthly payments to relatives of Civil War veterans — 148 years after the conflict ended.

At the 10 year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, more than $40 billion a year are going to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War from 1898, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq campaigns and the Afghanistan conflict. And those costs are rising rapidly.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said such expenses should remind the nation about war's long-lasting financial toll.

"When we decide to go to war, we have to consciously be also thinking about the cost," said Murray, D-Wash., adding that her WWII-veteran father's disability benefits helped feed their family.

Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator and veteran who co-chaired President Barack Obama's deficit committee in 2010, said government leaders working to limit the national debt should make sure that survivors of veterans need the money they are receiving.

"Without question, I would affluence-test all of those people," Simpson said.

With greater numbers of troops surviving combat injuries because of improvements in battlefield medicine and technology, the costs of disability payments are set to rise much higher.

The AP identified the disability and survivor benefits during an analysis of millions of federal payment records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

To gauge the post-war costs of each conflict, AP looked at four compensation programs that identify recipients by war: disabled veterans survivors of those who died on active duty or from a service-related disability low-income wartime vets over age 65 or disabled and low-income survivors of wartime veterans or their disabled children.

—The Iraq wars and Afghanistan

So far, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Persian Gulf conflict in the early 1990s are costing about $12 billion a year to compensate those who have left military service or family members of those who have died.

Those post-service compensation costs have totaled more than $50 billion since 2003, not including expenses of medical care and other benefits provided to veterans, and are poised to grow for many years to come.

The new veterans are filing for disabilities at historic rates, with about 45 percent of those from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking compensation for injuries. Many are seeking compensation for a variety of ailments at once.

Experts see a variety of factors driving that surge, including a bad economy that's led more jobless veterans to seek the financial benefits they've earned, troops who survive wounds of war and more awareness about head trauma and mental health.

It's been 40 years since the U.S. ended its involvement in the Vietnam War, and yet payments for the conflict are still rising.

Now above $22 billion annually, Vietnam compensation costs are roughly twice the size of the FBI's annual budget. And while many disabled Vietnam vets have been compensated for post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss or general wounds, other ailments are positioning the war to have large costs even after veterans die.

Based on an uncertain link to the defoliant Agent Orange that was used in Vietnam, federal officials approved diabetes a decade ago as an ailment that qualifies for cash compensation — and it is now the most compensated ailment for Vietnam vets.

The VA also recently included heart disease among the Vietnam medical issues that qualify, and the agency is seeing thousands of new claims for that issue. Simpson said he has a lot of concerns about the government agreeing to automatically compensate for those diseases.

"That has been terribly abused," Simpson said.

Since heart disease is common among older Americans and is the nation's leading cause of death, the future deaths of thousands of Vietnam veterans could be linked to their service and their benefits passed along to survivors.

A congressional analysis estimated the cost of fighting the war was $738 billion in 2011 dollars, and the post-war benefits for veterans and families have separately cost some $270 billion since 1970, according to AP calculations.

—World War I, World War II and the Korean War

World War I, which ended 94 years ago, continues to cost taxpayers about $20 million every year. World War II? $5 billion.

Compensation for WWII veterans and families didn't peak until 1991 — 46 years after the war ended — and annual costs since then have only declined by about 25 percent. Korean War costs appear to be leveling off at about $2.8 billion per year.

Of the 2,289 survivors drawing cash linked to WWI, about one-third are spouses and dozens of them are over 100 years in age.

Some of the other recipients are curious: Forty-seven of the spouses are under the age of 80, meaning they weren't born until years after the war ended. Many of those women were in their 20s and 30s when their aging spouses died in the 1960s and 1970s, and they've been drawing the monthly payments since.

—Civil War and Spanish-American War

There are 10 living recipients of benefits tied to the 1898 Spanish-American War at a total cost of about $50,000 per year. The Civil War payments are going to two children of veterans — one in North Carolina and one in Tennessee— each for $876 per year.

Surviving spouses can qualify for lifetime benefits when troops from current wars have a service-linked death. Children under the age of 18 can also qualify, and those benefits are extended for a lifetime if the person is permanently incapable of self-support due to a disability before the age of 18.

Citing privacy, officials did not disclose the names of the two children getting the Civil War benefits.

Their ages suggest the one in Tennessee was born around 1920 and the North Carolina survivor was born around 1930. A veteran who was young during the Civil War would likely have been roughly 70 or 80 years old when the two people were born.

That's not unheard of. At age 86, Juanita Tudor Lowrey is the daughter of a Civil War veteran. Her father, Hugh Tudor, fought in the Union army. After his first wife died, Tudor was 73 when he remarried her 33-year-old mother in 1920. Lowrey was born in 1926.

Lowrey, who lives in Kearney, Mo., suspects the marriage might have been one of convenience, with her father looking for a housekeeper and her mother looking for some security. He died a couple years after she was born, and Lowrey received pension benefits until she was 18.

Now, Lowrey said, she usually gets skepticism from people after she tells them she's a daughter of a Civil War veteran.

"We're few and far between," Lowrey said.

AP Writer Mike Baker can be reached on Facebook:

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Why are jail phone calls so expensive?

When you ask Shawn Barrera-Leaf how long her 27-year-old son, Gabe, has been incarcerated, she responds with precise accuracy. "Nine-hundred and seventy-five days," she told CBS News last month.

Barrera-Leaf, 57, has been tracking another number that's also steadily increasing. After combing through credit card and bank account statements, Barrera-Leaf said she and her husband have spent $14,268 over the past two years so Gabe can make calls from behind bars.

Gabe has spent time in three different Michigan county facilities while serving a sentence for child pornography charges. That includes nearly three months in Isabella County Jail last year, where it cost Barrera-Leaf $18.97 to speak with him for 15 minutes &mdash one of the highest rates nationwide, according to a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Advocates say the price of using telephones behind bars could mean cutting off communication with loved ones who serve as support systems and aid with rehabilitation. Thousands of inmates now depend on phones after correctional facilities suspended in-person visitation in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"They don't have any programming in these county jails, so they don't get anything unless we send it to them, whether it's books or newspapers or conversation," Barrera-Leaf said. "When he calls, sometimes he doesn't talk much, but having the outside connection is still so important."

"We used to go out to dinner and enjoy social time, two or three times a week, and we no longer do those things," she added. "We've just redirected those funds so that we can use it for him or use it to pay these expenses we weren't encountering before."

Inside The U.S. Justice System

Officials with the Isabella County Jail did not respond to requests for comment.

So, why are the rates so high? Experts say inmates are subject to monopolies and surcharges because they're unable to shop around for phone providers. Nationwide, the average cost of one 15-minute phone call from jail is $5.74, but that amount can range as high as $24.82, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Those rates don't include additional fees, such as charges for setting up an account or listening to voicemails.

"Phones are a lifeline both in and out," said Ann Jacobs, the executive director of the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity. "It's an exclusive service, so all of the calls by incarcerated people have to be on that service."

Most people detained at county jails are typically held temporarily, often housing those awaiting trial or intake into the state system for longer sentences. According to experts, that's creating a climate for predatory phone costs &mdash since individual jails have less negotiating power with contractors than the state does. Jails are also less likely to be covered by legislation that provides protections to those in the state's custody.

Last month, 373 organizations urged the U.S. Senate to take on a bill that would ban facilities from receiving compensation from communication providers, which often drives up the prices of calls. The House passed the Martha Wright Phone Justice Act as part of its next phase of coronavirus stimulus, but talks for any relief have remained stalled on Capitol Hill. The legislation is named after a mother who had to choose between affording her medication or calling her incarcerated son.

One current inmate, two former inmates and three family members told CBS News the issue is exacerbated by high prices for other goods and services behind bars. All said budgeting means deciding between speaking with their families or purchasing essential goods.

That included Brent Alexander, who spent a month at Arkansas' Benton County jail earlier this year on drug charges. He only made two phone calls during his stay, often opting to use the cheaper email service to save his family money.

"When I was locked up, I told my mother just put $100 dollars on there and I can make it last a month," Alexander, 33, added. "For my deodorant, stuff like that. Sometimes you need the food from the store, since they don't feed you enough."

Throughout the pandemic, correctional facilities have emerged as hotspots, prompting all 50 states to suspend visitation in some form. According to the Marshall Project, 14 states have reintroduced visits with limitations this month. Non-contact visits have also resumed at facilities overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, wrote a letter in July urging states to crack down on the "egregious" rates of inmate calls, citing the reliance on the service during the pandemic. The FCC only has control over interstate calls, which on average are both less frequent and less expensive than in-state calls. The commission implemented a cap of 21 cents per minute for prepaid calls in 2015. It voted unanimously in August to start the process to further lower the rate.

The issue even hit the NBA this month. Tom Gores, the owner of the Detroit Pistons, has faced scrutiny over his investment firm's ties with Securus, a prison phone company. Activists have called on Gores to step down from his role with the team or divest from the company. Gores later promised to invest his profits into reform issues.

Studies have found that visitation by family members has a positive impact on an inmate's well-being, the likelihood they break rules while incarcerated and the chances they return to prison once released.

It's a role Barrera-Leaf is now providing over the phone. She said Gabe is currently detained in Michigan's Huron County Jail, where it costs $4.50 for a 15-minute call. That's significantly lower than what she was paying before, but the fees are still adding up. She speaks with him twice a day, seven days a week.

"This is part of collateral damage," Barrera-Leaf added. "The expense that we pay so we can be close to our loved ones."

The price of prostitution is declining

The Economist conducted a study a few years ago on the price of prostitution around the globe, analysing data from 190,000 female sex workers in 12 countries — mostly in America and other rich countries. They found that the price of an hour of sex has been steadily dropping. In 2006, this cost US$340. In 2014 this figure was down to around US$260.

The researchers cited three possible causes for the decline:

  • The financial crisis of 2007-08
  • Migration, especially in cities that attract poorer migrants
  • Changing attitudes towards sex. Now that premarital and casual sex is more accepted and divorce is easier, the demand for prostitution is lower.

But prostitutes aren't actually earning less. Now that many of them conduct their business online, they don't have to give a pimp or a brothel a cut for giving them business. And as it's easier to sell sex, competition drives prices downward. As in any other business.

What did you think of these statistics on the price of prostitution around the world? Let us know in the comments

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