City famous for Depression-era wooden currency will print wooden cash for COVID relief

TENINO, Wash. — A Thurston County city made famous for printing wooden currency nearly a century ago is firing back up its printing press.

During the Great Depression, the City of Tenino printed wooden money to help with the cash crisis.

“Tenino became famous. This was the first place that wooden money was ever printed,” said Loren Ackerman, a Tenino wooden money printer.

In 1931, Tenino ran out of money, so the Chamber of Commerce created its own currency out of wood.

Back then, the novel cash became a collector’s item.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Tenino’s historic press is back up and running.

“This is the first time that we’ve, that this machine, will print government -funded, backed money since [the 1930s],” said Ackerman.

Nearly nine decades later, history is repeating itself. Tenino plans to print wooden money to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

The updated COVID-19 relief currency will come in $25 bills.

"It's going to be government -backed scrip for households that are eligible. People that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis will be able to come in and apply. Qualifying households will be able to receive up to $300 in Tenino wooden money,” said Mayor Wayne Fournier, City of Tenino.

People who qualify can use the special funds at grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants across Tenino. The city will reimburse the businesses.

"It'll be a little bit of a shock when somebody hands you a piece of wood and says, ‘I want my groceries,’" said Chris Hamilton, Tenino Market Fresh store manager.

Tenino plans to print $10,000 worth of wooden money, which is the exact same amount they printed 89 years ago.

The move brings the tight-knit town's claim to fame full circle.

"Small cities, I believe, are very strong because they have to be creative, they have to be resilient, they have to stand up and take care of themselves,” said Fournier.

The city hopes to start printing the new wooden money next week.

The application process will be available at City Hall. The goal is to have the money in people’s hands as soon as possible.