On August 2, 1909, the Lincoln “wheat” penny replaced the “Indian Head” one-cent coin in circulation. Back then, that shiny new penny could buy you a nice piece of candy. But what about today? Not so much…

Today, almost all candy comes prepackaged in different sorts of wrappers and plastic containers. That hasn’t always been the case, though.

Back in the “old days,” candy was often sold in individual units. Small retailers, such as candy shops, soda fountains, “five and dime” stores and “mom and pop” shops, would display many jars of all sorts of different candies.

The candy was called “penny candy” because you could buy a piece of candy — or sometimes several pieces of candy — for just a penny. If you had a nickel or a dime, you could choose many different types of candy and put it all in one bag to take with you to school, the park or the movies.

Some popular penny candies from the past include: bottle caps, candy corn, jelly beans, red hots, bubble gum and licorice. Some of these candies can still be bought today in specialty candy shops.

For the most part, the days of penny candy are long gone. Although you may occasionally find a small store or a gum ball machine that will still give you a small piece of candy for only a penny, most candies have increased in price quite a bit since the days of penny candy.

Why is that? It’s actually due to an economic phenomenon known as “inflation.” Inflation means that the overall level of prices of goods and services increases over time. Due to inflation, most penny candy would be sold for a nickel or a dime today.

When inflation is particularly bad, prices can rise faster than incomes. When that happens, the amount of goods and services that people can purchase decreases.

In other words, a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to. As the value of a dollar decreases, people are able to buy less and less over time.

The federal government, through the Federal Reserve System and other agencies, pursues economic strategies to keep inflation as low as possible. When inflation is low, people are able to spend and invest their money more wisely because their purchasing power remains stable.


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    • Yum, Cameron, we are big fans of candy, too! We love to snack on candy, but we make sure we don’t eat too much AND we always brush our teeth afterward. That way we can avoid those pesky cavities! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today– have a SUPER day! :)

    • Great point, Isabella! We Wonder if you have ever asked a family member or a teacher about the cost of candy when they were children? :)

  1. Wow that’s just plain wrong! Candy should not cost that much! I am a kid and I love candy but I don’t get it that much because it’s too much money! I hope the price lowers and I can have more candy. All my friends think that it’s crazy about how much it cost then and now how much it costs.

    • We learned about inflation, and how the value of the dollar has increased over the years, Livie! Today, the cost of things might be more, but there is actually more money in the world than there was when penny candy existed. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis I am Cade and I did not know that there was so many different kinds of candy. My mom watched the video and she said she remembered all of the candy from when she was a kid. I wish candy was not so much now. :(

    • We think it’s cool that you and your mom have been WONDERing together, Cade! We bet it’s cool to hear about all the candy your mom enjoyed as a kid, and if you enjoy any of it now! We bet it costs more today than it did when your mom was your age! :)

  3. Wouldnt it be Nice to still use all the pennies we have to buy candy again for a pennie or to have the little ones take and be able to go to a candy Store to get pennie candy how fun

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How much does penny candy cost?
  • What is inflation?
  • How has the value of a dollar changed over time?

Wonder Gallery

young girl looking in awe at candy_shutterstock_26957773Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Inflation is an easy concept to research. All you need to do is talk with older family members.

What kinds of candy do they remember buying when they were young? How much was it? What were their favorite candies? Candy necklaces, wax lips and licorice ropes were some of our favorites!

What kind of candy do you enjoy today? How much is it? Can you still buy penny candy that was plentiful 30 or 40 years ago? How much has the price gone up over time?

Discuss how the cost of other items has changed. How much per gallon was gasoline 15 or 20 years ago? What is the price per gallon of gasoline today?

What other things have gotten more expensive over time? Parents and grandparents should be able to give some examples.

When you’re finished with your trip down memory lane, use the U.S. Inflation Calculator to calculate how much prices have gone up over time. For example, assume that a bag of candy cost $1.00 in 1970.

How much would that bag of candy cost today? What is the percentage increase in price over that time?


Still Wondering

Why do things cost so much more now than they used to? Find out about inflation when you visit EconEdLink’s When Gas Was a Quarter! lesson.


Wonder Categories/Tags



candy  cost  inflation  Lincoln  penny 

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