111 years of .22 LR Rimfire Prices

P322 Ammo
The price history of .22lr when adjusted for inflation and unskilled laborer earning potential is fascinating. IMG Jim Grant

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-— The author has been interested in the historical costs of .22 rimfire cartridges since childhood. Starting in early adolescence, and continuing for many years, the value of things and time was measured in .22 cartridges. It was a simple calculation, an easy comparison. From that era, 1964 to the present, .22 Long Rifle cartridge list prices, converted to constant unskilled labor dollars, have been fairly stable.

The unskilled labor number is based on the time it takes for an unskilled laborer to earn the same purchasing power for a particular year. It took about 146 hours (about two weeks, 12 hours a day, six days a week), for an unskilled laborer in 1911, to earn the same purchasing power as 1 hour of unskilled labor in 2022. The chart shows the value of unskilled labor increased rapidly from 1911 to present, with some glitches. The most obvious is the depression, in 1932, post-WWII in 1950, most of the 1980s, and after the election of President Obama, 2008 onward.

The .22 caliber rimfire cartridges are the most successful cartridges in history. Billions are produced annually. They are the most used cartridges of all time. The .22 Long Rifle is the most common. For a considerable time, the .22 Short gave it significant competition. The .22 Long, while sold in considerable quantities, was never as popular as either the Long Rifle or the Short.

.22 rimfire cartridges have been used to kill the biggest land animals on the planet, from elephants (according to Peter Hathaway Capstick, in Safari, the Last Adventure, p.114 to 116)  to grizzly bears.


The chart shows the prices, in the value of unskilled labor, of a .22 Long Rifle cartridge, in 2022 dollars, from 1911 to 2022.

The .22 Winchester Rimfire (WRF) and the .22 WRF magnum deserve mention, but their use and production pale in significance to the Long Rifle and the Short.

The .22 rimfire has always been the least expensive cartridge to purchase. For most of history, the .22 Short has been less expensive than the Long Rifle. That changed in the 1980s.  The Long Rifle has always been more versatile.

This correspondent has obtained manufacturer price list information for .22 Long Rifle ammunition from 1911 to 2022. The information covers 111 ears of pricing history. Of the 111 years, this correspondent obtained data for 70 years. There are enough data points to catch most variations lasting a couple of years or more.

For consistency, the prices are those of smokeless, 40-grain high-velocity Long Rifle cartridges. The prices are all from one highly successful manufacturer. The cost of obtaining the prices was confidentiality.

Material costs seem to have relatively little effect on overall cartridge costs. Looking at a 2003 Gun Digest, variations of  50 rounds of .25 Auto and 50 rounds of .44 magnum were both priced at $17.

The incredible increase in productivity brought about by the petroleum age and increasing technological prowess reduced the relative costs of cartridges enormously. In 1911, the petroleum age was just starting. Automobiles were in their infancy. So were airplanes. The ability to fix nitrogen from the air for fertilizer and explosives had been discovered by German scientists in 1909, in the Haber-Bosch process.

In 1911, the relative cost of a thousand rounds of .22 Long Rifle, in dollars earned by unskilled labor, was $1,095, or about $1.10 per cartridge in 2022 valuation. The nominal cost in 1911 was 3/4 of a cent per round. To give perspective, butter was 20 cents a pound; fresh eggs were 20 cents a dozen. A day of unskilled labor was paid about $1.

After WWI and the vast increase in technological knowledge and skill, the cost fell to about 28 cents per round in the value of unskilled labor in 2022.  WWII sparked more increases in technological prowess and knowledge. The price gradually fell to about 20 cents per round in 2022 unskilled labor dollars. The lowest prices, per round of .22 long rifle, in unskilled labor, were reached from 1993 to 2006, at about 4.5 cents per round.

From the Obama years onward, the price has gone up and down to about 8 cents per round currently. If we maintain a republic, this correspondent expects .22 Long Rifle cartridges to move back down in the neighborhood of 4 cents a cartridge in constant dollars.

Diligent shoppers will find cartridges on sale, going out of business, discontinued, or other bargains. Estates of shooters often sell ammunition at bargain-basement prices. Gun stores often refuse to resell ammunition, even in unopened boxes.

Ammunition, if stored in reasonable conditions, will last many decades, probably over a hundred years. 65-year-old .22 rimfire ammunition has been tested by this correspondent. There was no measurable degradation in performance.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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Chuck

I’ve a several old boxes of .22LR I inherited after my Grandfather passed in 2015. Artwork and packaging places them from late 40’s to early 60’s. A couple of boxes still have price tags on them. He bought some at Gibson’s in the 60’s at $0.25 to $0.35 per box of 50 rounds. No idea what he paid for the box of Peter’s and Western’s in the 40’s and 50’s as they’ve no tag. Quite a few of the 60’s Federal, so I took a box out and only had one failure to fire out of 50. Not bad for… Read more »

pro2nd

Walmart in Leeds, AL has Federal Automatch 40 gr. lead for $21.16 per box of 325 and add tax price per round is .072 per round. Shop a Walmart with lower sales tax then 10% and price is better. TargetSportsUSA has CCI Standard Velocity 40 gr. lead for $425 per 5000 with free shipping. This equals .085 per round BUT if you are a member take 8% off and price per round is now .078. Both Walmart and TargetSportsUSA have it in stock. I check the internet all the time for cheap ammo including 22 LR and this is the… Read more »

Jaque

.22 LR was in the 2.2 to 3 cents per round in the 70’s and early 80’s. I was buying 500 rnd bricks for $11 – $15 per brick in K Mart and Woolworths stores and today still have about 20,000 rnds that I bought at those prices. Price pressures on Ammo from raw materials scarcity now have diesel fuel costs to increase the consumer price bottom line. How to bring down the cost of goods and services ? Get the Communists out of America and more specifically Washingtion.

musicman44mag

I can’t believe that it was so expensive back in 1910 up until the 60s. Crazy.

The Crimson Pirate

Dean has used a very confusing method here of converting the actual price at the time into the labor time and then converting that into todays relative dollars. So, as he says, “The nominal cost in 1911 was 3/4 of a cent per round.”. $.0075 then was equal to (had the same purchasing power) as $1.10 today. If the price tag had actually been $1.10 in 1911 it would never have even been brought to market. My best friend I were once looking at an old Sears Catalog from the 1930’s that his grandmother had. We were amazed at the… Read more »

Last edited 21 days ago by The Crimson Pirate
swmft

it is hard to make the numbers work because he did not correct for gold standard ,it makes for almost three decimal point shift if current pay was in line with 1930s or even 70s 1.60 minimum wage gold 35 d/oz current wage would have to be 88.43 for same values and standard of living

musicman44mag

Lol, love the last line. I never made 4,000.00 a month so the 1911’s that I like would have been a week and a half wage. My grandfather told me back in the 30’s he would work all day for 5 cents. He could go to the store and buy milk, bread, cheese and the store would give the kids bubble gum for free. I find in today’s economy that I am starting to be concerned if I will have enough when I get older to still be comfortable. I want to do more than survive, I want to enjoy… Read more »

MICHAEL J

During these uncertain times most people seem to concentrate on how much things cost vs how much buying power our dollar has lost. One reason is out of control government spending by printing unbacked money. My measured Inflation is at least 30% with the exception of fuel. The other factor is supply and demand, 22LR is almost like a currency in itself.

musicman44mag

Ammo, gun parts and rations are my gold. Every time Devine gets on TV and says, “I buy gold”. I say eat it.

Oregoneistan

Arny

Yeah at least you can eat a bullet when the times get real tough. Just a little dark humor. lol

Last edited 21 days ago by Arny