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As FDR stated in a White House Press conference on December 17, 1940: "What I am trying to do is eliminate the dollar sign. All right! Well let me give you an illustration: Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire ...if he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have got to pay me $15 for it. I don't want $15 - I want my garden hose back. In other words, if you lend certain munitions and the munitions come back at the end of the war, you are all right."

An ok garden hose is ca. $15 today and $15 1940 dollars is ca. $300 2022 dollars.

Was FDR out of touch with how much things actually cost or was a "garden hose" really expensive in 1940?

As I'm writing this, I realize that if you're talking about lending your neighbor a $15 vs. a $300 garden hose, the meaning of his message changes quite a bit. I'm sure much moreso for people just coming out of the depression.

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    He is talking about a garden hose that can attach to a fire hydrant so it's not your standard "water the roses" garden hose.
    – Steve Bird
    Feb 10 at 21:48
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    The point was that you don't charge someone for using a hose when their house (or yours) is at stake. I doubt anyone drafting the speech worried about whether $15 was realistic as a cost for one. Feb 10 at 21:51
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    @bvargo The point is that FDR used a metaphor to explain the concept of lend-lease to the public. Details (as in any metaphor) are not all that important. Incidentally, most likely, FDR never went shopping in his life. Feb 11 at 3:27
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    High level politicians are frequently out of touch with things like this, because they haven't been shopping in years. I've seen plenty of videos of politicians who don't know how much a bottle of milk or carton of eggs cost. (This gives me an idea for an SNL sketch: "The Price is Right: Senate Edition".)
    – Barmar
    Feb 11 at 15:32
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    @Barmar: Reminds me of this scene.
    – Kevin
    Feb 11 at 18:57

1 Answer 1

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I couldn't find one from 1940, but here's a snippet from a 1950 ad for a "Koroseal garden hose"(commercial site link). They were offering a 75-foot hose for $13.20, which is certainly in the same ballpark as FDR's "$15" a decade earlier. You could save a few bucks with a shorter hose, but if you're trying to put out a housefire, one would imagine the longer the better.

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You might think it likely it was a bit cheaper 10 years prior, but it appears that hoses at that time were usually made of rubber, and with WWII in full swing in Europe, it seems likely the demand for rubber (and thus its price) was at a relatively high level.

Stuart F down in the comments found an agricultural supply house selling (shorter) 50' hoses in 1940 for $4.95 tops, and Andrew T. found an ad in the Morristown Daily in 1943 offering them for $3.33. So it seems like under $5 would have been a more reasonable price at the time, and perhaps under $8 for a 75'.

Of course its also possible that part of the context of the analogy was that the neighbor was reluctant to part with the hose due to its extreme cost, or perhaps was talking said cost up in order to start a negotiation (in the middle of a raging fire with a desperate neighbor).

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    Kendall and Whitney, a Maine agricultural supply store, in 1940 have 50 ft double ply garden hose for $4.95, basic rubber $2.89 (p35). So you could have them cheaper than FDR said, but you could probably buy a $15 dollar hose if you tried.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 10 at 22:35
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    I also have some modern experience (I don't know if it applies back then), that stuff sold in agricultural sources tends to be a bit cheaper than similar stuff sold in places that cater to homeowners. Likely because farmers don't care as much about aesthetics.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 11 at 0:04
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    Is modern ad copy any different? Pretty sure that's just a feature of advertising for as long as there has been advertising. Who wouldn't want to make their product look like it's the top of the line? Feb 11 at 14:36
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    @AndrewT. - Perhaps. Its also possible that $15 was in fact really really expensive for a garden hose back then, and part of the point of the story was supposed to be that this is why the neighbor was reluctant to part with it for free (or that he was starting a negotiation at a high price).
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 11 at 18:49
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    Since this got accepted, and I'm seeing folks post much better numbers than mine here as comments rather than making their own answers, I'm going to add the finds in the comments to this answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 11 at 19:02

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