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What New Yorkers Ate at Macy's a Hundred Years Ago

Macy's Herald SquareNYPL digital collections

Walk into the Macy's in Herald Square today, and you can find plenty of food to eat. The department store has several restaurants and eateries, spread among its eleven floors of retail shopping. From quick bites to sit down dining, there's no shortage of variety.

Despite this impressive selection from Macy's Herald Square, the food served today looks a lot different from the food served a hundred years ago. The New York Public Library archived old menus from the store, dating back to the early 1900s. Back then, you could eat lunch for less than fifty cents.

Here's a menu card from Monday, October 29, 1917:
Macy's Daily SpecialNYPL digital collections

The Macy's Daily Special included deep dish plum pie for 21 cents, cold salmon for 44 cents, deep dish green apple pie for 21 cents, honey-dew melon for 14 cents, fried scallops with bacon and tartar sauce for 49 cents, baked green apple with cream for 14 cents, fried silver smelts for 44 cents, broiled fresh mushrooms on toast for 36 cents, and chicken cutlets asparagus tips for 42 cents.

When was the last time you saw "smelt" on a menu? Or mushrooms on toast?

Here's another Macy's menu, stamped with the date range of 1900 to 1905:
Macy's breakfast menu 1900NYPL digital collections

For 39 cents, you could choose breakfast items, including fruit with cereal, a long list of protein dishes, a choice of rolls, corn muffins or toast, plus a small pot of coffee or tea.

There are the smelts again, joined by fried oysters, kippered herring, broiled bluefish, and mackerel. When was the last time you ordered any of these for breakfast?

The meat choices are equally dated. Broiled lamb kidneys on toast? Calf's liver and bacon? Chicken livers en brochette? So much liver for breakfast!

At the bottom of the menu, there's a section for vegetarians which pares down the choices to fruit, cereal, and bread, plus eggs. For some reason, this option (costing 24 cents) allows for a glass of milk instead of coffee or tea. Perhaps the milk was viewed as an extra source of protein?

Another menu from the year 1917 shows an a la carte option at Macy's lunch counter:
Macy's meatless menu 1917NYPL digital collections

Called a "meatless menu," the specials are limited to birds (chicken and turkey) and seafood (crab, lobster). For 14 cents, you could order a "bowl of milk and crackers."

If you saw this menu today, you would likely think the prices were in dollars. A smoked salmon sandwich for 16 dollars? Yeah, that sounds about right for prices in New York City today. Accounting for inflation, a 16 cent sandwich back then would come out to about $3.50 today.

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