A Faculty Salary: A Historical Case Study

Over the past weekend, during my downtime, I started going through Professor Elwyn Robinson’s memoirs (for more on this project look at these posts) and pulling out financial data. Robinson recorded various bits of financial information in relatively fine detail.  For example, I know that a refrigerator in 1941 could cost $60, a used piano would run you around $255 in 1945, and a 1949 Studabaker Champion would run just a bit over $2000.

More interesting, of course, are these numbers in relation to Prof. Robinson’s salary. He was hired at the University of North Dakota for the princely sum of $1400 a year. By 1951, he earned $5000 a year. While this is an impressive increase in annual earning, comparing it to historic consumer price index figures shows that Robinson’s actual earning power remained relatively level.



At the same time, Robinson consistently takes pride in his salary increases each year and recognized them to be a product of his hard work and the popularity of initiatives like his “Heroes of Dakota” radio broadcasts.

It is also striking that when adjusted against the Consumer Price Index for 2011 (itself a problematic measure), Robinson’s salary remained lower than the average salary for UND faculty (even in the humanities) for the first 15 years of his career on campus.  It is also interesting to see that some years where his salary increased, the actual purchase power of his salary, in fact, decreased (e.g. 1944-1947).

Over the next few months, in my spare moments, I hope to collect all the major financial and economic data from Robinson’s memoirs and think about how I could present this information in a graphically engaging way.

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