It’s pretty common consensus, among people that care, that one of the greater strategic blunders of World War II was that Japan didn’t send in an invasion fleet after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor. It was a very real fear throughout the opening years of American involvement in the war when Japan was taking U.S. occupied islands throughout the Pacific Theater.
At that time Hawaii was a territory of the U.S. (it became the 50th state in 1959, Alaska beat it by two months) and one of the side effects of a successful Japanese invasion would have been all the U.S. currency that Japan would capture on the islands. In the interests of not paying Japan to make war on the U.S. some pretty austere measures were adopted. On January 10, 1942, a month after the Pearl Harbor attack, the military governor of Hawaii recalled all U.S. paper money on the islands. People were allowed to keep $200 each and businesses were allowed $500 in order to not run the economy into the ground.
Six months later the restrictions were eased by the introduction of some newly printed money. The new bills were a variation of the standard American currency because they had a brown Treasury seal (modern bills have a green seal) and the word HAWAII was prominently printed on both sides of the bills.
The bills were spendable just like regular bills, but the idea was that if Japan ever successfully invaded the islands the bills with a Hawaiian overprint would be declared worthless. The bills were also accepted in the continental because quite a few made their way to the mainland in the hands of U.S. military personnel and contractors. Businesses had to be very timely about trading them into the Treasury so they didn’t lose money if the islands were invaded.
In the mean time, Hawaiian officials ended up with around $200 million in regular money that had been collected and confiscated. It was too bulky to ship back to the mainland so a decision was made that brought tears to the eyes of spendthrifts and gold diggers world wide, not to mention the poor civil servants that had to carry it out. The money was to be burned. A crematorium was originally set up for the job, but it was taking so long that the furnaces at a sugar mill were drafted. Smoke stacks even had mesh installed so that partially burned bills didn’t float out.
Obviously this particular war time contingency never had to be put into action, so after the war the Treasury recalled all the bills. Quite a few were kept as souvenirs, and they’re worth a fair bit on the collectible market these days.
I actually learned about Hawaiian overprint notes on a recent episode of Hawaii 5 0. When I followed up on Google I found out this technique was used more than one in World War II. The U.S. troops preparing for Operation Torch (invasion of Vichy French held North Africa) in 1942 were paid with similar notes using a yellow Treasury seal. Who says you don’t learn anything on TV?