“The luxury of today is the necessity of tomorrow. Every advance first comes into being as the luxury of a few rich people, only to become, after a time, an indispensable necessity taken for granted by everyone.” Ludwig von Mises
The thought of living in an apartment complex bereft of a fitness center, business center, or swimming pool might make you feel a bit uneasy. The thought of not having TV cable or an internet connection would surely send a few shivers down your spine. We’ve always strived to make our lives easier and more comfortable, probably since the first woolen blanket came to be. In just a few years, smart homes may be the new norm, and washing dishes, cooking food, or going through the pain of picking a movie to watch will seem just as distant as our Neanderthal cousins.
Until then, we thought it would be fun to dig through some of the oldest newspaper rental ads we could find and get a glimpse of what “home sweet home” meant more than two centuries ago. Here are our favorite finds:
This apartment in Philly that comes with yellow-fever-free furniture
1798 – Gazette of the United States & Philadelphia – Philadelphia, PA
Let’s start off with this neat little ad from 1798. This four-chamber apartment also includes a front parlor, kitchen, and cellar, making it perfect for entertaining your guests—but that’s not really what gives this home its unique charm. If you were a 1700s renter, germless furniture would most likely be a must-have amenity in a city that had just been through a yellow fever epidemic.
This house with potential for either crop growing or public entertainment
1811 – The Centinel – Gettysburg, PA
Nowadays, looking for the best floorplan layout can prove to be a real struggle, but 200 years ago nobody really cared for such things. Except if the water well was too far from the kitchen. That would have been a real drag, especially if you wanted to go for the Live-Work lifestyle and open a little tavern downstairs to maximize your income.
This Virginia house that includes parking for your horse
1820 – Petersburg Republican – Petersburg, VA
When it comes to location, most of us dream of a lovely home, in a quiet, cozy neighborhood that’s close to everything but at the same time free from the constant noise of the city. Throw in a smokehouse where you can cure your organic salmon or bacon and you’d almost have a deal in the 1820s. This rental comes with all the necessary “out houses” and there’s even a lumber house for rent, if needed.
This handsome house featuring an arbor of fine grapes – in New York City!
1837 – Morning Herald – New York, NY
For some of us, a little balcony, sunroom, or private patio could really spark up the interest for a certain rental deal especially when coupled with a pretty view. Things haven’t changed that much since 1837 when a large yard with an arbor of fine grapes was definitely something worth advertising. We probably wouldn’t be too stoked by the opportunity to purchase the former tenant’s oil cloths and carpets though.
This Staten Island dwelling house with a full bakery in the basement
1843 – New York Daily Tribune – New York, NY
The daily commute to work can seriously grind our gears sometimes, and that’s especially true for people living in New York. Back in 1843, a “two-horsepower” omnibus might have been able to soothe your nerves. This ad also boasts proximity to good schools and churches as well as the possibility to become an artisan baker, just in case the stock market crashes.
This house in Hawaii with modern features such as access to public water
1859 – The Pacific Commercial Advertiser – Honolulu, HI
In the late 1850’s a new trend was swooping the nation and no serious renter could say no to water provided directly from the government pipes.
This DC-area grand home with an attached garage (f.k.a. stable and carriage house)
1868 – Alexandria Gazette – Alexandria, VA
Minimalism wasn’t really a thing in 1868, so if your pockets could handle it, you could rent a house that spanned 20 rooms. This one comes with a stable and a carriage house, a 170 -foot deep yard, a restaurant, and a wine vault, so you’d never have to leave your house.
These luxury “French flats” boasting hot and cold water
1874 – The New York Herald – New York, NY
If you’re renting today, having a washer and dryer in your new apartment would be one of the first things you’d consider. People in the 1870’s had different priorities though. Hot water was one of them, followed closely by indoor toilets. This rental ad also features ranges on each floor, a bathroom, chandeliers, marble mantels and dumb waiters.
This papered house in St. Paul, MN that rents for only $45 per month
1889 – St. Paul Daily Globe – St. Paul, MN
Worried that your rent keeps increasing? You could try to put some money aside for a time machine and travel back to 1889, Saint Paul, Minnesota, where you could rent a huge house for just $45 dollars per month. Don’t open a savings account just yet, because that amounts to $1,143 today, due to inflation. The average rent in Saint Paul today is $1,119, but you may not find a twelve-room house for that price. Even if by some miracle you do find one, it will still be missing those state of the art speaking tubes.
This “rarely beautiful” San Francisco flat
1898 – The San Francisco Call – San Francisco, CA
For the aesthetically-inclined, the interior and exterior design of an apartment might weigh in heavily when deciding on which apartment to rent. San Francisco, the Paris of the West as it was called around that time, would have been a destination for those drawn by beauty. You could almost swim in all the sunshine.
This high-end New York apartment at the turn of the century (servants’ rooms included)
1901 – New York Tribune – New York, NY
As we advance into the 20th century, rental ads are becoming eerily similar to the ones we’re used to seeing today, as exemplified by this 1901 ad for The New Century, an apartment building which is still alive and well in New York City. Being one of the first luxury apartment complexes in the city, it even had electric charging rooms for electric cars (yes, they’ve been around for some time). In today’s dollars, the rent translates to $6,203 a month for the cheaper ones and $8,730 a month for the pricier ones, and you didn’t even have to worry about the cost of electricity or refrigeration.
This record-crushing apartment building
1910 – The Sun – New York, NY
Still not impressed? Just a few blocks away from The New Century lies The Belnord, an apartment building that offers you “a rare accumulation of advantages”. Too bad Guinness World Records wasn’t established until 1955 because according to The Belnord’s marketers it would have probably been entitled to the “largest apartment building in the world” and the “largest court in existence” awards. For $2,100/year you could rent a 7-bedroom apartment and some delightful air of peace and quiet.
This colonial house in L.A. with a hi-tech disappearing bed
1920 – Los Angeles Herald – Los Angeles, CA
During the advent of the U.S. film industry, East Hollywood was one of the hottest rental areas in the city, with tens of thousands of immigrants creating new neighborhoods like Little Armenia. It’s no wonder you could rent exquisite homes like this colonial 5-room house with luxury features which are rare (mahogany) and even illegal (ivory) by today’s standards. On top that, this home had one of the first disappearing beds.
This rental deal with 1000 strings attached
1935 – Madera Tribune – Madera, CA
Not everyone lived in glamorous big city apartments and shot black and white movies in the early 1900s. Some people actually got their hands dirty to be able to put food on the table. This next ad is for a ranch lot that comes with a 4-room house completely equipped to house a legion of chickens. And if you’re worried about those punishing California heatwaves, rest easy, there’s tons of water.
This Florida riverfront home rated PG – 13
1948 – Daytona Beach Morning Journal – Daytona Beach, FL
As we get closer to the present we start noticing the features we’ve grown accustomed to in our present-day abodes. If it wasn’t for that ”no young children” and the $200 rent, we probably couldn’t tell the difference between this ad and a contemporary one. Luckily, we now have The Fair Housing Act.
In time, we’ve added more and more hi-tech comforts and amenities to the simple joy of hot water and electric lights, but all in all our rental experience has remained the same. I’m not so sure about our sense of humor though…