Brother, Can You Sketch a Dime?

If you want to see what a national emergency looks like, take a trip back eighty-six years to the beginning of 1933.  The country was in the midst of the Great Depression and FDR was taking the helm.

One of his first acts as president was to declare an emergency in the financial system and order all the banks in the United States closed.  The economic downturn had caused many banks to fail and there were runs on the deposits of the banks that remained.  The entire system was on the verge of collapse. 

Depositors lined up outside a closed bank in March 1933. National Archives.

Many state governors had ordered their banks closed prior to FDR’s order.  The closing of banks in Michigan at the end of February 1933 led to a drain on the banks in northern Ohio as the Michigan banks withdrew deposits from their correspondent banks in Ohio.  On February 28, 1933, George White, the Governor of Ohio, closed banks in the Buckeye State.

The closing of the banks did not put an end to commerce in the country.  But it did put a halt to deposits and withdrawals at banks as well as check cashing and clearing.  Government and business scrambled to find a way to keep the economy moving despite its weakness.  Taxes, rents, wages and other debts had to be paid but there was limited cash available.

Many communities took to issuing scrip as a cash substitute to keep business moving.   The scrip was local currency that was intended to circulate as long as necessary and would be redeemed at a later date.

Wisconsin was the only state to have state-wide scrip issued during the 1933 Bank Holiday.  Over $3,000,000.00 in scrip was issued to Wisconsin state chartered banks between March and June 1933.

March 4, 1933 was a Friday and with many banks already closed, scrip was necessary to make the payroll.  In Bryan, OH, the businesses that could not make their payroll had a uniform style scrip printed that carried the name of each issuing business.

One of those businesses that had difficulty making its payroll in Bryan, OH on March 4, 1933 was the Ohio Art Company.  Then (and now) the company specialized in metal lithography.  A generation later millions of children would know the Ohio Art Company as the producer of the Etch-a-Sketch.

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