The Day Cash Died in America

Rohit Khare (
Sat, 5 Apr 1997 02:03:30 -0500 (EST)

> Date: Fri, 04 Apr 1997 12:26:05 -0500
> From: The Old Bear <>
> To: Digital Commerce Society of Boston <>
> The current issue of Smithsonian magazine (April 1997) from the
> Smithsonian Institution has an interesting article on what happened
> to available cash during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the
> full text is not available on line, but there is an abstract
> (the text of which is reproduced below) available at:
> Bang! went the doors of every bank in America
> ---------------------------------------------
> Cashless, we carried on with nothing to fear but fear
> itself; by the time FDR opened them again, something
> called the New Deal was hard upon us
> On March 1, 1933, a hood named Mark Massey had everything he
> needed for a profitable day: a plan, a gun and a bank to rob.
> Only trouble was, when he got to the bank it was crowded with
> desperate folks trying to get their money out before a feared
> permanent closing. Massey couldn't handle the mob and was
> caught. "I never got a break in my life," he said from the
> hoosegow. But on that day bank customers all over America had
> reason to feel sorry for themselves.
> The Great Depression was firmly in place. Bankers had foreclosed
> on millions of farms and homes, but there was no one to resell
> the properties to, so banks had been closing all over the country.
> Then on March 6, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt, just sworn in for his
> first term as President, suddenly shut all 18,000 banks in America,
> aiming to overhaul them as fast as possible, and so reestablish
> people's faith in government and America's banking system.
> While the banks were closed, Americans lived without cash or credit.
> People bartered with all manner of things. The price of admission
> to see the Irish Players in Chicago was two potatoes. Scrip began
> to circulate, including "dollars" fashioned from clamshells, strips
> of buckskin and pieces of wood.
> After FDR reopened the banks, he created the Federal Deposit
> Insurance Corporation and rushed through the Gold Reserve Act and
> other laws.
> DCSB-L readers may wish to pick up the magazine (which also had a
> bunch of cool pictures of Komodo Dragons) and read through this
> historical article about the time when cash disappeared.
> The article includes a photograph of various 'scrip' including the
> clamshell mentioned in the abstract above. Also mentioned is
> John D. Rockefeller's inability to pay his household staff -- because
> he could not get hold of enough paper currency to meet payroll.
> Cheers,
> The Old Bear