When Henry Cameron and Howard Roark were struggling to keep the office open, they had a number of failed bids. They were paid a modest sum for the proposals themselves, but apparently the fee didn't even cover the cost of the electricity they used while creating the plans, in spite of their efforts to conserve it (e.g. Only using a few lamps, etc.).

This seems like a slightly odd reason to lose money on the project, at least by modern standards with cheap electricity. How much did electricity cost back then?


1 Answer 1


This is a really guesstimate-y answer. Proceed with caution.

It's dark around 12 hours a day, and assuming they worked 16 hours a day (we also assume here my ridiculous assumptions will balance out) we have 4 hours of electricity use per day. Assume they used three lamps - one for each desk and maybe a main light. A normal lightbulb is around 60 watts, according to google.

I'll do this calculation for a month's work, as that is a nice unit. (Did they work on weekends? I'll assume they did.) This gives us 4*30 = 120 hrs a month. Then we have 120*60 = 7200 watt hours per bulb, *3 = 21,600 watt hours.

Then convert to kilowatt hours, i.e., divide by 1000. This gives 21.6 kwh. Here is a dandy little table of electricity prices in 1940 (look at page 17 for New York). We'll look at column for the minimum price, assuming that Roark and Cameron went as cheap as possible. We'll also look at Manhattan. Apparently Manhattan prices were $0.90 for 10 kwh, so it would've cost Roark and Cameron around $1.80 for electricity per month by this estimation.

I think you'll agree with me something here doesn't make a ton of sense.

Feel free to ping me in the comments if you feel I made any particularly unreasonable assumptions. I'll probably update this a bit as I read more about it.

  • To start with, your $1.80 in 1940 dollars is equivalent to about $32 in the debased currency of today.
    – user14111
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 5:51
  • @user14111 ah, that's what I missed - to convert it into today's dollars. Thank you =)
    – auden
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 15:22
  • Further to @user14111's comment, if you can find some useful figures for average wages from this period, that would make a good addition, to give us an idea of how much $1.80 really was back then.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 17:54
  • Also, 4 hours of electricity use per day isn't necessarily a good figure even with your 12/16 hour assumptions. The human workday isn't usually equally balanced around noon and midnight, even though (disregarding daylight savings and time zone shifts) the solar day is. 12 hours of daylight means 6am to 6pm. Working 6am to 10pm is possible, but IMO something like 8am to 12pm would be more likely.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 17:56

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