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The History of the Wooden Nickel

Updated on June 29, 2020
Joey Dykes profile image

Joey is an undergrad at the University of Alabama studying History and Economics. He has many interests including the History of the World.

American currency has taken many forms. From the paper dollars to the silver copper and nickel coins. However there is one piece of currency that was only used in the United States for a short period of time, and only in a few cities. This currency was the wooden nickel.

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The Beginings

The wooden Nickel made its first recorded appearance in late1931 when the Citizen's Bank of Tenino in the state of Washington failed and closed down disrupting the economy of the town. This shutdown created a shortage of physical currency within the town, with the only other source being another town 30 miles away over mountains and streams.

The town of Tenino's Chamber of commerce held a meeting and the local newspaper company starting "minting" wooden bills to supplement the lack of currency.

Later in 1933 the town of Blaine, Washington fell to the same fate as Tenino. The town's response was the same. However, unlike Tenino, they made coins instead of bills, resulting in the first wooden nickel in the United States.

The story of the towns of Tenino and Blaine spread and as banks continued to fail in the Pacific-Northeast more and more towns began minting their own wooden currency.

Although many towns created these wooden coins, most had expiration dates and serial numbers written on them as to not cause a surplus of wooden coins in the market as well as to discourage forgeries.

Wooden Nickel form the 1934 World's Fair
Wooden Nickel form the 1934 World's Fair

After the Depression

After the depression lessened and the wooden nickels were no longer needed to sustain the economy towns stopped making them, and companies and fairs started making them. Most notably during the 1934 World's Fair at Chicago, Wood Nickels were made as souvenirs for people to take home or they could be used at certain places to purchase items.

The World's Fair wooden nickels size and design varied, from the size of an actual nickel(.835 inches) up to 3 inches in diameter. The designs varied from Indians to buffalo, to various buildings on display at the World's Fair.

After the Fair

After the World's Fair successful use of the wooden nickels, many companies and fairs soon followed.

Cities such as Binghampton in New York used wooden nickels to commemorate city celebrations and festivals up until the 1940s.

Other companies continued to use their nickels to advertise their business and fairs continued to use them as tokens for prizes and food and beverages.

Use in Modern Times

Now the wooden nickel is used as a cheap souvenir or commemorative item to remember an event in history. Many wooden nickels have been printed with images of political figures and slogans as part of their campaign

Below you can see a wooden nickel for President Ford, celebrating his presidency.

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What was once an integral part of economies in the struggling towns of post-depression America, wooden nickels are now a reminder of good times. They commemorate visits and businesses and political victories. Wooden nickels have come a long way since their inception, but they are very much a part of American history.

© 2020 Joey Dykes


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    • Ankita B profile image

      Ankita B 

      6 days ago

      Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.


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