Earlier this year, punk rocker turned History Channel program host Henry Rollins visited the Los Angeles Branch of the San Francisco Fed to film an episode for his 10 Things You Don’t Know About series.
Rollins and the show’s producers wanted to focus on a relatively obscure era in our nation’s currency history – when currency circulating in Hawaii was replaced with specially marked notes in anticipation of a potential invasion by Japan during World War II. Fed Historian Gary Richardson was interviewed about these “Hawaii notes.”
Rollins also interviewed Cash Director Rita Aguilar about the Fed’s cash operations and the use of the shredded currency to generate electricity.
Watch the episode when it airs this Saturday, October 11th, at 10:00pm ET / 11:00pm PT on H2.
The program will also be available on History.com, iTunes, and Amazon.
Also, in case you missed it: Five Things You May Not Know About Money
Andrea Abrams contributed to this post. Photo via.
This post is by guest writer Andrea Abrams, who is a Senior Coordinator with the SF Fed’s Economic Education department. Andrea leads a team of 38 staff outreach volunteers in our Los Angeles and Phoenix Branches who provide tours and personal finance workshops. Read her full bio here.
Most students know that the bald eagle features prominently on the United States cash in their wallet. When it comes to frogs, reindeer, and bison, however, students may be in for a surprise.
Wildlife meets economics in our nation’s cash past.
Some of the earliest American notes were issued by private banks, and often contained imagery that was meaningful to the local community. For example, the currency of Windham Bank, which was located in eastern Connecticut, featured a unique symbol that originated in local folklore.
A legend holds that one night in 1754, two local men were terrified by ferocious sounds of battle drawing near. Eager to protect their fellow residents, the two rushed home to gather reinforcements for what was presumed to be an enemy attack in association with the French and Indian War. No attackers were found, but in the morning the area was filled with thousands of bullfrogs who had apparently done battle the night before, possibly over the small amount of water in a nearby pond. This episode was immortalized in poetry and song…and on the local currency when Windham Bank issued a $5 private banknote depicting two frogs in combat.
Money. We use it daily, whether electronically or as cash (the demise of which is greatly exaggerated). We are all are familiar with it in its current form. But how much do you know about the history of money? Use these five surprising facts to help history come alive for your students through currency.
1. Before the Civil War, paper money could be issued by nearly anyone
Private Bank Note, Drover’s Bank, Salt Lake City, Utah, $3, 1856
Between 1837 and 1866, a period now often called the “Free Banking Era,” lax federal and state banking laws permitted virtually anyone to open a bank and issue currency. Paper money was issued by states, cities, counties, private banks, railroads, stores, and churches. In the 1860s, an estimated 8,000 different state banks were circulating bank notes in denominations from ½ cent to $20,000!
These notes came in a variety of sizes, colors, and designs, and that combined with an environment of uneven regulations from area to area is widely considered to have increased the public’s appetite for centralized banking regulation.
As the American population moved Westward, some of the issuing institutions earned the dubious nickname “wildcat banks,” in reference to their remote locations, more accessible to wildcats than people. The Free Banking Era ended with the passing of the National Bank Act of 1863.