Infographic: The Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century
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Visualizing the Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

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The Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

The Buying Power of the U.S. Dollar Over the Last Century

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

The value of money is not static. In the short term, it may ebb and flow against other currencies on the market. In the long-term, a currency tends to lose buying power over time through inflation, and as more currency units are created.

Inflation is a result of too much money chasing too few goods – and it is often influenced by government policies, central banks, and other factors. In this short timeline of monetary history in the 20th century, we look at major events, the change in money supply, and the buying power of the U.S. dollar in each decade.

A Short Timeline of U.S. Monetary History

1900s
After the Panic of 1907, the National Monetary Commission is established to propose legislation to regulate banking.

U.S. Money Supply: $7 billion
What $1 Could Buy: A pair of patent leather shoes.

1910s
The Federal Reserve Act is signed in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson.

U.S. Money Supply: $13 billion
What $1 Could Buy: A woman’s house dress.

1920s
U.S. dollar bills were reduced in size by 25%, and standardized in terms of design.

The Fed starts using open market operations as a tool for monetary policy.

U.S. Money Supply: $35 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Five pounds of sugar.

1930s
To deal with deflation during the Great Depression, the United States suspends the gold standard. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 6102, which criminalizes the possession of gold.

By no longer allowing gold to be legally redeemed, this removes a major constraint on the Fed, which can now control the money supply.

U.S. Money Supply: $46 billion
What $1 Could Buy: 16 cans of Campbell’s Soup

1940s
The massive deficits of World War II are almost financed entirely by the creation of new money by the Federal Reserve.

Interest rates are pegged low at the request of the Treasury.

Under Bretton-Woods, the “gold-exchange standard” is adopted.

U.S. Money Supply: $55 billion
What $1 Could Buy: 20 bottles of Coca-Cola

1950s
The Korean War starts in 1950, and inflation is at an annualized rate of 21%.

The Fed can no longer manage such low interest rates, and tells the Treasury that it can “no longer maintain the existing situation”.

U.S. Money Supply: $151 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One Mr. Potato Head

1960s
An agreement, called the Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord, is reached to establish the central bank’s independence.

By this time, U.S. dollars in circulation around the world exceeded U.S. gold reserves. Unless the situation was rectified, the country would be vulnerable to the currency equivalent of a “bank run”.

U.S. Money Supply: $211 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Two movie tickets.

1970s
In 1971, President Richard Nixon ends direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold.

The period following the Nixon Shock is uncertain. The federal deficit doubles, stagflation hits, and the oil price skyrockets – all during the Vietnam War.

Over the decade, the dollar loses 1/3 of its value.

U.S. Money Supply: $401 billion
What $1 Could Buy: Three Morton TV dinners.

1980s
The stock market crashes in 1987 on Black Monday.

The Federal Reserve, under newly-appointed Alan Greenspan, issues the following statement:

“The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

The Dow would recover by 1989, with no prolonged recession occurring.

U.S. Money Supply: $1,560 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One bottle of Heinz Ketchup.

1990s
This decade is generally considered to be a time of declining inflation and the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history.

During this decade, many improvements are made to U.S. paper currency to prevent counterfeiting. Microprinting, security thread, and other features are used.

U.S. Money Supply: $3,277 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One gallon of milk.

2000s
After the Dotcom crash, the Fed drops interest rates to near all-time lows.

In 2008, the Financial Crisis hits and the Fed begins “quantitative easing”. Later, this would be known as QE1.

U.S. Money Supply: $4,917 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One Wendy’s hamburger.

2010-
After QE1, the Fed holds $2.1 trillion of bank debt, mortgage-backed securities, and Treasury notes. Shortly after, QE2 starts.

In 2012, it’s time for QE3.

Purchases were halted in October 2014 after accumulating $4.5 trillion in assets.

U.S. Money Supply: $13,291 billion
What $1 Could Buy: One song from iTunes.

The Changing Value of a Dollar

At the turn of the 20th century, the money supply was just $7 billion. Today there are literally 1,900X more dollars in existence.

While economic growth has meant we all make many more dollars today, it is still phenomenal to think that during past moments in the 20th century, a dollar could buy a pair of leather shoes or a women’s house dress.

The buying power of a dollar has changed significantly over the last century, but it’s important to recognize that it could change even faster (up or down) under the right economic circumstances.

About The Money Project

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

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30 Years of Gun Manufacturing in America

The U.S. has produced nearly 170 million firearms over the past three decades. Here are the numbers behind America’s gun manufacturing sector.

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30 Years of Gun Manufacturing in America

While gun sales have been brisk in recent years, the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 was a boon for the gun industry.

From 2010-2019, an average of 13 million guns were sold legally in the U.S. each year. In 2020 and 2021, annual gun sales sharply increased to 20 million.

While the U.S. does import millions of weapons each year, a large amount of firearms sold in the country were produced domestically. Let’s dig into the data behind the multi-billion dollar gun manufacturing industry in America.

Gun Manufacturing in the United States

According to a recent report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. has produced nearly 170 million firearms over the past three decades, with production increasing sharply in recent years.

firearms per 100000 persons

America’s gunmakers produce a wide variety of firearms, but they’re generally grouped into five categories; pistols, rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and everything else.

Below is a breakdown of firearms manufactured in the country over the past 30 years, by type:

Year     PistolsRiflesRevolversShotgunsMisc. FirearmsTotal Firearms
19891,404,7531,407,400628,573935,54142,1264,418,393
19901,371,4271,211,664470,495848,94857,4343,959,968
19911,378,252883,482456,966828,42615,9803,563,106
19921,669,5371,001,833469,4131,018,20416,8494,175,836
19932,093,3621,173,694562,2921,144,94081,3495,055,637
19942,004,2981,316,607586,4501,254,92610,9365,173,217
19951,195,2841,411,120527,6641,173,6458,6294,316,342
1996987,5281,424,315498,944925,73217,9203,854,439
19971,036,0771,251,341370,428915,97819,6803,593,504
1998960,3651,535,690324,390868,63924,5063,713,590
1999995,4461,569,685335,7841,106,99539,8374,047,747
2000962,9011,583,042318,960898,44230,1963,793,541
2001626,8361,284,554320,143679,81321,3092,932,655
2002741,5141,515,286347,070741,32521,7003,366,895
2003811,6601,430,324309,364726,07830,9783,308,404
2004728,5111,325,138294,099731,76919,5083,099,025
2005803,4251,431,372274,205709,31323,1793,241,494
20061,021,2601,496,505385,069714,61835,8723,653,324
20071,219,6641,610,923391,334645,23155,4613,922,613
20081,609,3811,734,536431,753630,71092,5644,498,944
20091,868,2582,248,851547,195752,699138,8155,555,818
20102,258,4501,830,556558,927743,37867,9295,459,240
20112,598,1332,318,088572,857862,401190,4076,541,886
20123,487,8833,168,206667,357949,010306,1548,578,610
20134,441,7263,979,570725,2821,203,072495,14210,844,792
20143,633,4543,379,549744,047935,411358,1659,050,626
20153,557,1993,691,799885,259777,273447,1319,358,661
20164,720,0754,239,335856,291848,617833,12311,497,441
20173,691,0102,504,092720,917653,139758,6348,327,792
20183,881,1582,880,536664,835536,1261,089,9739,052,628
20193,046,0131,957,667580,601480,735946,9297,011,945
Total60,804,84059,796,76015,826,96426,241,1346,298,415168,968,113

Pistols (36%) and rifles (35%) are the dominant categories, and over time, the former has become the most commonly produced firearm type.

In 2001, pistols accounted for 21% of firearms produced. Today, nearly half of all firearms produced are pistols.

Who is Producing America’s Firearms?

There are a wide variety of firearm manufacturing companies in the U.S., but production is dominated by a few key players.

Here are the top 10 gunmakers in America, which collectively make up 70% of production:

RankFirearm ManufacturerGuns Produced (2016-2020)Share of total
1Smith & Wesson Corp8,218,19917.2%
2Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc8,166,44817.1%
3Sig Sauer Inc3,660,6297.7%
4Freedom Group3,045,4276.4%
50 F Mossberg & Sons Inc2,223,2414.7%
6Taurus International Manufacturing1,996,1214.2%
7WM C Anderson Inc1,816,6253.8%
8Glock Inc1,510,4373.2%
9Henry RAC Holding Corp1,378,5442.9%
10JIE Capital Holdings / Enterprises1,258,9692.6%
Total33,274,64069.7%

One-third of production comes from two publicly-traded parent companies: Smith & Wesson (NASDAQ: SWBI), and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (NYSE: RGR)

Some of these players are especially dominant within certain types of firearms. For example:

  • 58% of pistols were made by Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and SIG SAUER (2008–2018)
  • 45% of rifles were made by Remington*, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson (2008–2018)

*In 2020, Remington filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and its assets were divided and sold to various buyers. The Remington brand name is now owned by Vista Outdoor (NYSE: VSTO)

The Geography of Gun Manufacturing

Companies that manufacture guns hold a Type 07 license from the ATF. As of 2020, there are more than 16,000 Type 07 licensees across the United States.

Below is a state-level look at where the country’s licensees are located:

StateLicenses (2000)Licenses (2020)PopulationLicenses per 100,000 pop. (2020)
Alaska8117733,39116.0
Alabama402765,039,8775.5
Arkansas283023,011,52410.0
Arizona1009597,276,31613.2
California15962039,237,8361.6
Colorado274815,812,0698.3
Connecticut711943,605,9445.4
Delaware010989,9481.0
Florida1311,00921,781,1284.6
Georgia5251010,799,5664.7
Hawaii0111,455,2710.8
Iowa111873,190,3695.9
Idaho383581,839,10619.5
Illinois4026312,671,4692.1
Indiana392806,805,9854.1
Kansas172292,937,8807.8
Kentucky222114,505,8364.7
Louisiana202584,657,7575.5
Massachusetts672636,984,7233.8
Maryland361466,165,1292.4
Maine131071,362,3597.9
Michigan4338610,050,8113.8
Minnesota632545,707,3904.5
Missouri624016,168,1876.5
Mississippi121902,961,2796.4
Montana242401,084,22522.1
North Carolina5262810,551,1626.0
North Dakota346779,0945.9
Nebraska15911,961,5044.6
New Hampshire251881,377,52913.6
New Jersey10269,267,1300.3
New Mexico181792,117,5228.5
Nevada452763,104,6148.9
New York3529919,835,9131.5
Ohio8064411,780,0175.5
Oklahoma374233,959,35310.7
Oregon552264,237,2565.3
Pennsylvania8751912,964,0564.0
Rhode Island1201,097,3791.8
South Carolina252845,190,7055.5
South Dakota1479886,6678.9
Tennessee763526,975,2185.0
Texas1502,02229,527,9416.8
Utah334783,271,61614.6
Virginia484128,642,2744.8
Vermont1585643,07713.2
Washington493517,738,6924.5
Wisconsin383065,895,9085.2
West Virginia201151,793,7166.4
Wyoming20147576,85125.5

These manufacturers are located all around the country, so these numbers are somewhat reflective of population. Unsurprisingly, large states like Texas and Florida have the most licensees.

Sorting by the number of licensees per 100,000 people offers a different point of view. By this measure, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho come out on top.

If recent sales and production trends are any indication, these numbers may only continue to grow.

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Made in America: Goods Exports by State

The U.S. exported $1.8 trillion worth of goods in 2021. This infographic looks at where that trade activity took place across the nation.

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Made in America: Goods Exports by State

After China, the U.S. is the next largest exporter of goods in the world, shipping out $1.8 trillion worth of goods in 2021—an increase of 23% over the previous year.

Of course, that massive number doesn’t tell the whole story. The U.S. economy is multifaceted, with varying levels of trade activity taking place all across the nation.

Using the latest data on international trade from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, we’ve visualized the value of America’s goods exports by state.

Top 10 Exporter States

Here are the top 10 American states that exported the highest dollar value worth of goods during 2021. Combined, these export-leading states represent 59.4% of the nation’s total exports.

RankStateTotal Exports Value% share
#1Texas$375.3 billion21.4%
#2California$175.1 billion10.0%
#3New York$84.9 billion 4.8%
#4Louisiana $76.8 billion4.4%
#5Illinois$65.9 billion3.8%
#6Michigan$55.5 billion3.2%
#7Florida$55.5 billion3.2%
#8Washington$53.6 billion3.1%
#9Ohio$50.4 billion2.9%
#10New Jersey$49.5 billion2.8%
Top 10 States$1.04 trillion59.4%

Texas has been the top exporting state in the U.S. for an incredible 20 years in a row.

Last year, Texas exported $375 billion worth of goods, which is more than California ($175 billion), New York ($85 billion), and Louisiana ($77 billion) combined. The state’s largest manufacturing export category is petroleum and coal products, but it’s also important to mention that Texas led the nation in tech exports for the ninth straight year.

California was the second highest exporter of goods in 2021 with a total value of $175 billion, an increase of 12% from the previous year. The state’s main export by value was computer and electronic product manufacturing, representing 17.8% of the total U.S. exports of that industry. California was also second among all states in exports of machinery manufacturing, accounting for 13.9% of the U.S. total.

What Type of Goods are Exported?

Here is a breakdown of the biggest U.S. export categories by value in 2021.

RankProduct GroupAnnual Export Value (2021)Share of Total Exports
1Mineral fuels including oil$239.8 billion13.7%
2Machinery including computers$209.3 billion11.9%
3Electrical machinery, equipment$185.4 billion10.6%
4Vehicles$122.2 billion7.0%
5Optical, technical, medical apparatus$91.7 billion5.2%
6Aircraft, spacecraft$89.1 billion5.1%
7Gems, precious metals $82.3 billion4.7%
8Pharmaceuticals$78 billion4.4%
9Plastics, plastic articles$74.3 billion4.2%
10Organic chemicals$42.9 billion2.4%

These top 10 export categories alone represent almost 70% of America’s total exports.

The biggest grower among this list is mineral fuels, up by 59% from last year. Pharmaceuticals saw the second biggest one-year increase (45%).

Top 10 U.S. Exports by Country of Destination

So who is buying “Made in America” products?

Unsurprisingly, neighboring countries Canada (17.5%) and Mexico (15.8%) are the two biggest buyers of American goods. Together, they purchase one-third of American exports.

RankDestination CountryShare of U.S. Goods Exports
1🇨🇦 Canada17.5%
2🇲🇽 Mexico15.8%
3🇨🇳 China8.6%
4🇯🇵 Japan4.3%
5🇰🇷 South Korea3.7%
6🇩🇪 Germany3.7%
7🇬🇧 United Kingdom3.5%
8 🇳🇱 Netherlands3.1%
9🇧🇷 Brazil2.7%
10🇮🇳 India2.3%

Three Asian countries round out the top five list: China (8.6%), Japan (4.3%), and South Korea (3.7%). Together, the top five countries account for around half of all goods exports.

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