What 11 Common Objects Would Cost in 2015 if Colonial Taxation Still Existed

It’s safe to say the American colonists were pretty upset about the taxes and tariffs imposed on imported goods in the 1760s and 1770s—upset enough to start a war. But at rates like ten shillings or a couple of pounds, the tariffs hardly sound oppressive to modern ears. That is, until you do the math to modernize the prices. Here is just how much 11 everyday items would cost if they were taxed today at the same levels they were in colonial America.

1. An Issue of mental_floss Magazine; $293.56 in taxes

Paper was among the most heavily taxed goods under the Stamp Act of 1765. For a pamphlet or newspaper larger than one whole sheet, the Stamp Act imposed a duty of one shilling per page and two shillings for every advertisement. That means a 35-page (printed on both sides) issue of a magazine with 10 advertisements would cost £186.98 today, or $293.56—on top of the newsstand price.

2. A Diploma; $234.84 in taxes

Nearly $300 for a magazine seems like a bargain considering colonists had to pay the equivalent of $234.84 for a single sheet of diploma paper under the Stamp Act. Any piece of paper, skin, piece of vellum, or parchment used for a certificate of degree taken at a university or academy incurred a stamp duty of two pounds (valued £149.58, or $234.84 today).

3. A Pair of Dice; $58.72 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, a tariff of ten shillings was added to every pair of dice sold. In today’s economy, that would leave you paying over $58 for a pair of dice. Even more harrowing, the penalty for being caught selling an illegal pair of dice (and therein bypassing the tariff) would cost you ten pounds per die—or 20 for the pair. This penalty is equivalent to over $2300 today.

4. A Deck of Cards; $5.87 in taxes

Each deck of playing cards sold in the colonies was charged an extra shilling (or $5.87 today) under the Stamp Act. While that might not seem like much compared to the exorbitant duties on dice and paper, things are put into perspective when you consider that you can buy a deck of cards today for well under $5.00—that makes the duty in excess of 100 percent of the cards’ value. Also, much like dice, the penalty for selling counterfeit cards was 20 pounds (thousands of dollars).

5. A Calendar; $1.96 in taxes

A stamp duty of four pence (or $1.96—which now seems like a bargain!) was added to one-year calendars and almanacs printed in the colonies.

6. A Pound of Tea; $1.46

Under the Townshend Acts, a duty of three pence (approximately $1.46 today) was added to every pound of tea sold in the colonies. A common misconception is that the colonists protested the tax on tea because it was too high, when if fact, the Boston Tea Party was in response to cheap, rather than expensive, tea. In order to bail out the failing East India Company, England granted the company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies and set a low tax on tea in order to undercut tea smuggling to the colonies. The colonists were angered by Britain’s attempt to restrict their trade as well as impose taxes (of any sort) against their will.

7. Foreign Coffee; $350.80 in taxes

The Sugar Act of 1764 imposed a duty of 2 pounds, 19 shillings, and 9 pence on every hundredweight of foreign coffee sold in the colonies. This is even more egregious when you consider that the tariff on British coffee was a mere 7 shillings ($41.10) per hundredweight. Foreign coffee was more than eight times more expensive than British coffee, nearly ensuring the British a monopoly on colonial coffee sales.

8. Foreign White Sugar; $129.16 in taxes

A hundredweight of foreign white sugar incurred an outrageous duty of 1 pound, 2 shillings—or nearly $130—under the Sugar Act.

9. Wine from Spain or Portugal; $58.72 in taxes

A ton of wine imported from Spain or Portugal was subject to a duty of 10 shillings (approximately $58.72 today). Not so bad, right? The crazy thing about this tariff is just how bonkers it makes the duty on wine imported from other places seem. Take, for instance…

10. Wine from Madeira; $821.94 in taxes

According to the Sugar Act, on “every ton of wine of the growth of the Madeiras, or of any other island or place from whence such wine may be lawfully imported” was placed a tariff of seven pounds. That’s 14 times more than wine from continental Europe!

11. License to Sell Wine; $469.68 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, the paper on which you printed your license to sell wine—but, significantly, not wine and spirits—was stuck with a stamp duty of 4 pounds (or $469.68 dollars today). Much like the tariff on wine itself, the absurdity of this duty comes into focus when you compare it with other kinds of liquor licenses. The paper on which you printed your license to sell spirits—but not wine—had a duty of only one pound ($117.42). And the paper on which you printed your license to sell both wine and spirits had a duty of 4 pounds—the same as the duty on your license to sell wine alone. These tariffs seem to indicate that the Crown wanted to drive the sale of liquor (which was more often English-made) over wine (which was more often foreign-made).

5 Weird American Cemetery Legends

iStock/grandriver
iStock/grandriver

These strange, spooky cemetery tales of vampires, ghosts, and bloody headstones will keep you up at night. (If you're not too scared, add them to your next cemetery road trip, and keep this guide of common cemetery symbols handy for when you visit.)

1. The Vampire of Lafayette Cemetery

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on it would invite vampire comparisons. Local legends say that a tree growing over this grave in Lafayette, Colorado, sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long nails who sometimes sits on the tombstone. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all these stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there.

2. The Green Glow of Forest Park Cemetery

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy, New York, is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light often seen right where the coffins used to be located.

3. The New Orleans Tomb That Grants Wishes

Famed "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau is buried in arguably the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Or said to be, anyway—some dispute surrounds her actual burial spot.) For years, visitors hoping to earn Marie's supernatural assistance would mark three large Xs on her mausoleum; some also knocked three times on her crypt. However, a 2014 restoration of her tomb removed the Xs, and there's a substantial fine now in place for anyone who dares write on her tomb.

4. Pennsylvania's Bleeding Headstone

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William (or Daniel) Musser, whose descendants tried to replace the tombstone repeatedly, but the blood (or something that looked like blood) just kept coming back—until they added an iron plate on top.

5. Smiley's Ghost in Garland, Texas

A single plot in the Mills Cemetery is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

16 Soothing Facts About Muzak

Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images
Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you know it as background music, elevator music, or, as Ted Nugent once called it, an “evil force causing people to collapse into uncontrollable fits of blandness,” Muzak has ruled speakers for the better part of a century. Press play on your favorite easy-listening album and scroll on for some unforgettable facts about the most forgettable genre of music.

1. Muzak is a brand name.

Much like Chapstick, Popsicle, and a certain type of vacuum-sealing plastic food container, Muzak is a registered trademark. It began as the name of the company that first produced the easy-listening instrumental tunes that played in factories, elevators, and department stores. As its popularity grew, people started to use Muzak as a generic term for all background music.

2. Muzak was invented by a U.S. army general.

Major General George Owen Squier
Library of Congress // Public Domain

During World War I, Major General George Owen Squier used electrical power lines to transmit phonograph music over long distances without interference. He patented this invention in 1922 and founded Wired Radio, Inc. to profit from the technology. The company first devised a subscription service that included three channels of music and news and marketed it to Cleveland residents for $1.50 per month. When Squier and his associates realized their product was a little too close to regular (free) radio, they started pitching it to hotel and restaurant owners, who were more willing to pay for a steady broadcast of background music without interruptions from radio hosts or advertisements.

3. The name is a portmanteau of music and Kodak.

In 1934, Squier changed the name of his business from Wired Radio to Muzak, combining the first syllable of music with the last syllable of Kodak, which had already proven to be an extremely catchy, successful name for a company.

4. Muzak has been releasing instrumental covers of pop songs since its inception.

The first-ever original Muzak recording was an instrumental medley of three songs performed by the Sam Lanin Orchestra: “Whispering,” by John and Malvin Shonberger, “Do You Ever Think of Me?” which was covered by Bing Crosby, and “Here in My Arms,” by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers from the 1925 Broadway musical Dearest Enemy.

5. Muzak was briefly owned by Warner Bros.

The sound of Muzak was wafting across the country by the end of the 1930s, which caught the ears of Warner Bros. The company bought Muzak in 1938, fostered it for about a year, and then sold it to three businessmen: Waddill Catchings, Allen Miller, and William Benton (Benton would later publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica and serve as a U.S. senator for Connecticut).

6. Muzak was designed to make factory workers more productive.

Muzak manufactured soundtracks, based on a theory called “stimulus progression,” that consisted of 15-minute segments of background music that gradually ascended in peppiness. The method was meant to tacitly encourage workers to increase their pace, especially during the productivity lulls that often occurred during the late morning and mid-afternoon.

7. Muzak helped calm anxious elevator passengers.

Since more advanced electric elevators diminished the need for elevator operators in the mid-20th century, passengers were often left alone with an unsettling silence that made them all too aware that they were hurtling upward or downward in a steel box. Soft, calming Muzak played through speakers offered the perfect distraction.

8. There’s a reason Muzak's tempo is slower in supermarkets.

Just like factory workers might move faster while listening to fast-paced tracks, you might slow down while shopping to slower-tempo Muzak—which is exactly what supermarket owners want you to do. The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you are to toss a few extra snacks in your cart. (It's unclear whether the slower music might inhibit the productivity of supermarket workers.)

9. More than one U.S. president endorsed Muzak.

Muzak was installed in the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, but he was arguably only the second biggest presidential fan of the genre. Lyndon B. Johnson actually owned Muzak franchises in Austin while serving as a U.S. Senator from Texas.

10. Andy Warhol was also a fan of Muzak.

Andy Warhol
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pop culture aficionado Andy Warhol supposedly said, “I like anything on Muzak—it’s so listenable. They should have it on MTV.”

11. Ted Nugent offered to buy Muzak for $10 million to “shelve it for good.”

In 1986, the Whackmaster put in a bid to purchase Muzak from parent company Westinghouse just to shut it down. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he called it an “evil force” that was “responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation.” Westinghouse rejected the bid.

12. Muzak didn’t formally introduce vocals until 1987.

As part of a rebranding campaign to modernize Muzak, the company started adding voice-accompanied tunes in 1987. Before that, Muzak broadcasts had only featured voices twice. The first was an announcement that Iran had freed American hostages in 1981, and the second was as part of a worldwide radio broadcast of “We Are the World” in 1985.

13. 7-Elevens blared Muzak in parking lots to chase off loiterers.

7-Eleven storefront at night
Mike841125, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1991, 7-Eleven parking lots in Southern California became well-trafficked watering holes for youth who evidently had no place else to go. To deter them from loitering with skateboards, beer, and lots of teen angst, the stores blared Muzak—and it worked. “It will keep us away,” one young loafer told the Los Angeles Times. “But they’re torturing themselves more than us because they have to sit inside and listen to it.”

14. Seattle is the capital of Muzak.

Though it's well known as the birthplace of grunge, Seattle also had a thriving elevator music scene. Muzak based its corporate headquarters there in the 1980s, and three other leading background (and foreground) music corporations opened in the city over the years: Yesco Foreground Music, Audio Environments Inc., and Environmental Music Service Inc.

15. Kurt Cobain wanted Muzak to cover Nirvana songs.

When an interviewer told the Seattle-based rock star that Muzak didn’t recreate Nirvana tracks because it found them too aggressive for its purposes, an amused Cobain said, “Oh, well, we have some pretty songs, too. God, that’s really a bummer. That upsets me.”

16. It’s no longer called Muzak.

In 2013, an Ontario-based sensory marketing company called Mood Media acquired Muzak. The company, which provides music, smells, signs, lights, and interactive displays to businesses to achieve a certain mood, consolidated all of its services under the Mood brand, effectively killing the Muzak name (at least officially).

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