I just watched the 1945 movie, Mildred Pierce. In the movie, Mildred, early on after her separation from her first husband, is baking pies to sell to restaurants. She and her maid bake about 60 pies in an evening. In the daytime, she works as a waitress. My question is, how much money would she have made from selling those pies in 1945? I’m just looking for the gross income from the pies, not the profit, which would take into account the cost of supplies, labor and all overhead.
A Google search has produces many databases to search. Far too much info for such a seemingly simple answer. Does anyone here have an elderly relative who can supply a fairly quick answer?
Again, the question is, how much did a pie cost in 1945?
The book, written by noir scribe extraordinaire James M. Cain (who also wrote Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice) has an extensive discussion on the economics and logistics of baking pies and what they should cost. It also has a superior amount of detail on operating a restaurant and waitressing, and the necessity of having a bar (even in the Prohibition era where the story begins). I don’t remember the prices off hand, but I think it was a couple of dollars per pie or somesuch. Anyway, it’s a great read; very much a non-traditional noir with no detectives, no murders, only a few actual crimes of fraud. (The murder subplot was crudely levered into the film because the producers didn’t think they could sell it without a dead body.) It’s actually more of a social drama type of story, but in hard-boiled fashion, and the daughter Veda is deliciously manipulative and self-serving all the way to the end; a perfect femme fatale.
I’d guess a pie, in '45, would cost around fifty cents, roughly equal to about $5.50/$6.00 today. Profit is harder, but a WAG, including labor, would be a 100% markup, so the pie would cost about 25 cents to make and market.
Gimbels was advertising 2.5 lb. fruitcakes for $2.39 in January of 1945, so that’s a good baseline.
In addition, you could probably charge a restaurant more. A $4 pie that they could get ten slices for $0.75 each would not be out of the question if the pie were good enough. Look at how restaurants charge for dessert these days
I think pies were much cheaper than that. The local Wegmans stores post pictures of the stores in the past and one of them shows a pie with a 25 cent price tag. Granted, that was in the depression, but it’s not possible that pies would rise in price that much by 1945. A slice of pie was a nickel or a dime standard in all diners in the 1930s. (A nickel bought you a cup of coffee and two doughnuts. At a street cart you could get coffee and two hotdogs for a nickel.) It might have doubled to a dime or even 15 cents depending on how the rationing affected it by 1945. I might possibly believe a quarter but certainly not 75 cents.
That’s a very expensive fruitcake. In '45 a loaf of bread was less than a dime and the minimum wage was forty cents an hour. In '52 my parent bought a new three bedroom, tri-level, home for just over $14,000 and 3 years later, in '55, my dad was the foreman of a carpentry crew making under $3.00 an hour and that was good money for the times.
It looks like she charged 35¢ wholesale and 85¢ retail.
The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and Selected Stories (Everyman’s Library Classics)
There was a little difficulty about price, he trying to beat Mildred down to thirty cents, but she held out for thirty-five, and presently he agreed.
For pies one at a time, she had charged, and still charged eighty-five cents each.
Thanks to Amazon’s Search Inside the Book feature.
Yay, Papermache Princess. That’s just what I was looking for! So, she charged about $21.00 for those 5 dozen pies. Pretty good money for the day, I’d imagine.
Thanks to everyone else for your answers as well. I loved the movie. I’d love to read the book, since Stranger descibed it that way. I wouldn’t be interested in reading a murder story, but describing life at the time would very much interest me. This was about the time that my mother would have been single and waiting tables for a living.
Assuming eight pieces per pie, 15 cents times 8 equals $1.20 per pie, which means the restaurant is making 85 cents on a wholesale pie. Figure subject to change based on the price of ice cream per scoop.