Inflation Since 1872: A Long-Term Look at the CPI

This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at Advisor Perspectives/VettaFi.

The Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U) released for April puts the year-over-year inflation rate at 4.93%. It is well above the 3.75% average since the end of the Second World War and above its 10-year moving average, now at 2.61%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has compiled CPI data since 1913, and numbers are conveniently available from the FRED repository (here). Our long-term inflation charts reach back to 1872 by adding Warren and Pearson's price index for the earlier years. The spliced series is available at Yale Professor (and Nobel laureate) Robert Shiller's website. This look further back into the past dramatically illustrates the extreme oscillation between inflation and deflation during the first 70 years of our timeline.

Inflation Since 1872

For a long-term look at the impact of inflation on the purchasing power of the dollar, check out this log-scale snapshot of fourteen-plus decades and how the value of the dollar has declined. In other words, $1 today has the same buying power as four cents in 1872.

Purchasing Power of a Dollar