What a Cup of Coffee Cost Each President Since 1920

Croissant and coffee on wooden background

A cup of coffee and croissant | iStock.com

A cup of drip coffee at Starbucks will run you roughly $2 these days, but there’s at least one place in America where you can still get your caffeine fix for the same price your grandfather might have paid. At Wall Drug in South Dakota, a cup of coffee is a mere 5 cents. The price of coffee at the tourist attraction outside Badlands National Park has held steady for at least 50 years, according to Eater, and even back when Johnson was president, it was one of the best deals around.

Nickel coffee may be a novelty that gets road trippers in the door, but most Americans have gotten used to spending more — a lot more — on coffee. In the past few decades, more and more people have forsaken home-brewed Folgers and cheap diner coffee for fancy beans and specialty brews. As our appetite for better coffee increased, prices climbed to the point where some don’t blink at the idea of spending $16 on a single cup of rare Yemeni coffee at San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee. Even those who aren’t coffee connoisseurs will regularly fork over $4 or $5 for a latte.

A cup of coffee in presidential history

How much more expensive is your morning joe now compared to 50 or 75 years ago? To get an idea, we looked at historical data on the price of a pound of coffee from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and then calculated the cost of each cup of coffee you’d get from that pound of beans. (A pound of beans yields about 320 ounces of brewed coffee, according to Starbucks, or just under 27, 12-ounce cups.) When possible, we also dug up information on how much you could expect to spend on a cup of coffee at a restaurant. For both numbers, we’ve also shown what that same cup of coffee would cost in today’s dollars.

What we discovered may surprise caffeine addicts. Though the price of coffee has experienced some occasional dips and spikes from 1920 onward, the cost of brewing a cup at home has remained remarkably steady. A little less than 100 years ago, it would have cost you about 2 cents to brew a single cup of coffee at home, or about 24 cents adjusted for inflation. The cost of a home-brewed cup of coffee in 2015 was a shade lower, at 18 cents. Coffee prices outside the home have increased a bit more, but not as much as you might expect.

Here’s how much you could have expected to pay for a cup of coffee under each president since 1920, along with some fun presidential coffee facts.

Per-pound coffee prices are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Restaurant coffee prices are from the New York Public Library’s collection of menus, unless otherwise noted. All presidential coffee facts are from the Boston Globe, unless otherwise noted.


coffee stall

People enjoying cups of coffee and tea from a stall in London | Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson was president, and a cup of coffee would have cost him about 2 cents a cup if he was brewing it in the White House.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.02 ($0.47/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.24


after dinner coffee

A group of men drinking coffee in a restaurant | General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

In 1925, Calvin Coolidge was president, the economy was booming, and The Great Gatsby was published, which chronicled the decadent spirit of the Roaring ‘20s. When the narrator, Nick Carraway, “lunched … in dark crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee,” he probably spent about 20 cents per cup on the last item.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.02 ($0.50/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.28


drinking coffee

Hollywood director King Vidor (right) drinking coffee with actress Eleanor Boardman and actor James Murray | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What a difference five years make. By 1930, the Depression had hit and Herbert Hoover was sitting in the Oval Office. Unemployment was rising and wages were falling — the average earnings of a manufacturing worker went from $27.36 a week in 1929 to $18.18 per week in 1932 — which meant that affording luxuries like coffee was harder for many, even though prices were low.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.01 ($0.40/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.14


women drinking coffee

Women drinking coffee at a London cafe | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Hoover lasted just one term as president, as voters frustrated with his response to the Great Depression rejected him in favor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By 1935, the U.S. was starting to recover from the economic crisis, with unemployment falling from 21.7% in 1934 to 16.9% in 1936. Families were spending about one-third of their income on food, including coffee, or about $508 per year.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.01 ($0.26/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.18
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.20 at the Hotel Vancouver
  • In 2016’s dollars: $3.53


WWII soldiers

British soldiers drinking coffee, 1940 | J. Smith/Fox Photos/Getty Images

FDR was entering his third term in office in 1940 and World War II was looming on the horizon. Roosevelt himself was a discerning coffee drinker, and he reportedly brewed his own coffee every morning rather than letting staff do it, though he gave up java once the war began. Meanwhile, minimum wage laws had been enacted in 1938, and employers now had to pay all their workers at least 30 cents an hour.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.01 ($0.21/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.17


making coffee

A woman making coffee at home in the 1940s | Keystone Features/Getty Images

When 1945 began, Roosevelt was still president, but by April, FDR had died and Harry Truman was in the Oval Office. Unemployment was at a historic low of just 1.9%, and the Second World War would end later in the year. Coffee, which had been rationed earlier in the war, was freely available by 1945.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.01 ($0.31/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.13


1950s coffee shop

A 1950s-era coffee shop in Las Vegas, Nevada | Keystone Features/Getty Images

In 1950, Truman was president and the post-war economic boom was beginning. By 1950, average wages were double or triple what they had been in 1935, according to the BLS, and the typical family earned $4,237 per year (though a quarter of families made less than $3,000 annually). Families were spending a slightly smaller share of their overall income on food than they were in 1935. Coffee was significantly more expensive, though, which meant Americans were drinking less of it, according to a USDA report.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.03 ($0.79/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.30
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.15 at the Red Coach Grill
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.50


woman eating breakfast

A woman drinking coffee and reading the newspaper | Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a coffee fanatic — he supposedly drank 15 cups a day — but his caffeine addiction put him in the minority. During the ‘50s, American coffee consumption was beginning to stagnate, according to the USDA report. Adults were drinking between 2½ and 3 cups of coffee per day.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.03 ($0.93/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.27
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.10 at the Strawberry Inn in Carpinteria, California
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.90


At the end of the Eisenhower era, the average American consumed about 19 pounds of coffee per year, according to the USDA. Coffee cost a little less than $1 per pound, on par with the current hourly minimum wage. The median family income was $5,620, and people were spending about a quarter of their income on food, significantly less than a few decades earlier.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.03 ($0.93/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.24
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.20 at Sweets Restaurant in New York City
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.63


the beatles

The Beatles on a coffee break | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Unlike previous presidents, Lyndon Johnson may not have been much of a coffee drinker. His favorite non-alcoholic beverage was soda, specifically Fresca and root beer, foreshadowing Americans’ increasing preference for sweet beverages over bitter coffee.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.03 ($0.83/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.23


coffee shop sign

Coffee shop sign | Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Richard Nixon drank one cup of coffee with his breakfast, and then another when he arrived at work, according to the Boston Globe. Meanwhile, Americans were consuming a little less than 16 pounds of coffee per person annually in 1970, down about 3 pounds from 1960, according to the USDA. In 1971, the first Starbucks would open in Seattle, though it would be another 15 to 20 years until the chain would really start to reshape the American coffee landscape.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.03 ($0.91/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.19
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.25 at the Maryland Inn
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.56


gerald ford inauguration

Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger swears in President Gerald Ford in 1974 | Robert L. Knudsen/Gerald R. Ford Library via Getty Images

Mr. Coffee, the first automatic drip coffee machine, hit stores in the early 1970s, revolutionizing the way Americans made coffee at home (previously, most people had used percolators). But it wasn’t enough to get us to sip more of the brew. By the mid-’70s, when Gerald Ford was president, people were drinking about 32 gallons of coffee every year, according to Marketwatch, but within a few years, our consumption would fall below 30 gallons annually.

  • Cup of coffee at home: Not available
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.35 at the Flounder Inn in Rumson, New Jersey
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.57


jimmy carter

President Jimmy Carter | Gene Forte/AFP/Getty Images

By 1980, the U.S. was in the early stages of severe recession. Coffee prices were high and President Jimmy Carter was urging consumers who were worried about expensive beans to cut back on their consumption. “I think we have one opportunity as consumers, and that is to drink less coffee as the price goes up,” Carter said in an interview in 1977. “This is almost inevitable in a free enterprise system … I don’t think we can do anything to control the price of coffee except to reduce consumption.”

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.12 ($3.14/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.35


coffee beans

Roasted coffee beans | Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

The early ‘80s recession was history, and the economy was expanding again. People didn’t seem to be spending their money on coffee, though. Consumption fell from about 2 cups a day in 1980 to 1.75 cups per day by 1990. A 1985 study suggesting a link between excessive coffee consumption and heart disease likely didn’t encourage people to drink more java. As for the current president, Ronald Reagan? He favored decaf.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.10 ($2.58/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.22


Unlike his predecessor, President George H.W. Bush was a big coffee drinker. He drank 10 cups per day, until a health scare in 1991 forced him to cut back on caffeinated beverages. But he disliked decaf and was back to drinking regular coffee in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, the relentless expansion of Starbucks was getting underway. By 1990, it had 84 stores across the U.S., and it would double that number in the next two years.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.11 ($2.97/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.20
  • Cup of coffee out: $0.75 at Coffee Etc in Tucson, Arizona (in 1989)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.46


cup of coffee on counter

Cup of coffee on a diner counter | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Bill Clinton was a habitual coffee drinker, and he was often seen holding a cup when out campaigning. In general, drinking coffee was becoming trendier, as coffeehouses became the new, hip place to hang out. And it didn’t hurt that a cup of coffee was usually cheaper than a beer, as a 1994 article in the Baltimore Sun pointed out.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.15 ($4.04/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.24
  • Cup of coffee out: A tall coffee at Starbucks cost $1.25 in 1994, according to Bloomberg.
  • In 2016’s dollars: $2.04


bill clinton

President Bill Clinton at a Starbucks in 2000 | Joyce Naltchayan/AFP/Getty Images

The Monica Lewinsky scandal tarnished Clinton’s last years in office. One of the gifts the president gave the White House intern was a coffee cup. Nationwide, 42% of people between the ages of 25 and 39 and 25% between 18 and 24 were drinking coffee everyday, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.13 ($3.45/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.18
  • Cup of coffee out: $1.96, according to GoBankingRates
  • In 2016’s dollars: $2.75


George Bush

George W. Bush serves coffee to some patrons at a pharmacy coffee shop during a visit to Grinnell, Iowa, on January 21, 2000 | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

As president, George W. Bush was an early riser who enjoyed drinking his morning coffee with his wife, Laura, while reading the morning paper. Meanwhile, Americans were continuing to drink a lot of coffee. Though per-pound coffee prices were actually lower than they were five years earlier, people were about to start spending a lot more for their daily caffeine jolt. Keurig brewers hit stores in the middle part of the decade, and people started buying them like crazy, even though the per-cup cost was far higher than with drip machines.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.12 ($3.26/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.15
  • Cup of coffee out: $2.22, according to GoBankingRates.
  • In 2016’s dollars: $2.75


barack obama

Barack Obama pours himself tea at a coffee shop in Pleasantville, Iowa | Eric Thayer/Getty Images

President Barack Obama wasn’t much of coffee drinker. Instead, he favored tea. But by 2010, most of his fellow Americans were spending a significant amount of money of coffee. In 2012, the typical worker was dropping $14.40 on coffee every week, or about one cup per day at then-current prices.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.15 ($3.91/pound)
  • In 2016’s dollars: $0.17
  • Cup of coffee out: A tall coffee at Starbucks was $1.50.
  • In 2016’s dollars: $1.66


a Starbucks cup

A discarded Starbucks cup | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Coffee consumption is up compared to a decade earlier. Now, 62% of 25-to-39-year-olds drink coffee daily, along with 51% of 18-to-24-year-olds, according to the SCAA. People were drinking 3 cups per day on average. As for the man who would soon be president? He shuns alcohol and cigarettes and “won’t even drink a cup of coffee,” Donald Trump told Esquire.

  • Cup of coffee at home: $0.18 ($4.72/pound)
  • Cup of coffee out: $2.70 on average, according to data from Square

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