Hawaii Overprint Notes

$200 million worth of U.S. bank notes were burned in a crematorium. Intrigued?

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. The aftermath of the attack caused hysteria as many feared that the isolated Hawaiian Islands would be a target for full scale invasion. The government became worried about what would happen if Japan got access to all the cash in Hawaii (estimated at around $200 million).

A Plan was Hatched

The United States Government authorized the Treasury Department to issue a special paper currency for use in the Territory of Hawaii. The new currency would be swapped for all the cash currently on the Islands. These new bills would make it easy to identify where they came from. This was accomplished by printing "Hawaii" on the back and fronts of all new bills. This way the government could declare any Hawaii notes void if they fell into enemy hands.

The New Currency

The "new" money was introduced in Hawaii in June 1942. By the time currency restrictions were lifted in October 21, 1944, more than 400 million dollars worth of overprinted $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills were printed representing a total printing of over 65 million notes.

The Old Currency

So what happened to all the old currency? It would have been too dangerous to bring all the recalled currency back to the mainland so the military decided to burn it. This was the first time in US history where currency has been destroyed outside of Washington D.C. They started to incinerate the bills in the Oahu Cemetery Crematorium but that site couldn't handle the destruction of that many bills. So they then switched to the furnace at the Aieu Sugar Mill to complete the job.

After the War

As the war continued and American victories mounted, it became apparent that the feared invasion wouldn't happen. Never fear though as the government found another use for these bills. In a February 9, 1944, statement released jointly by the Departments of the Treasury, War and Navy, it was noted that:

The "distinctive characteristics of the 'Hawaiian dollar' are of equal value for offensive purposes as well as defensive. It is in the interests of our Government to be able to identify easily the currency which is being used in areas of combat, in order to facilitate the isolation of this particular currency if it should fall into enemy hands. The rate of exchange that has been established for [the] liberated islands of the Central Pacific is 20 Japanese military yen to one 'Hawaiian dollar.'"

Hawaii overprint currency became a type of military payment certificate used to pay soldiers during the war and occupational forces following the war. The Navy even used the Hawaii overprint notes to pay their sailors all the way up until the 1960s. The currency wasn't just used overseas. There was so much of it printed that in October 1944 the Treasury Department allowed the banks in the 12th Federal Reserve District (West Coast banks) to add the notes to circulation.