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Economy

Short on Money, Cities Around the World Try Making Their Own

Fans of “complementary currency” are betting that this Depression-era idea for keeping towns alive by printing local money can prove its worth as pandemic relief. 

Mayor Wayne Fournier of Tenino, Washington, displays $25 in wooden money. The city recently revived a Depression-era economic recovery tactic: printing its own local currency on planks of wood. 

Mayor Wayne Fournier of Tenino, Washington, displays $25 in wooden money. The city recently revived a Depression-era economic recovery tactic: printing its own local currency on planks of wood. 

Photographer: Jason Redmons/AFP via Getty Images

In a back room of the Tenino Depot Museum, a modest sandstone building in a city of less than 2,000 in Washington State, there is a rickety old machine that officials believe could help save the community from looming economic collapse: With it, money is literally being made from trees.

Printed on postcard-sized sheets of planed maple veneer by Tenino’s only resident expert using an antique 1890 Chandler & Price letterpress, these “wooden dollars” are being handed out to locals suffering financial hardship. Pegged at the rate of real U.S. dollars, the currency can be spent everywhere from grocery stores to gas stations and child care centers, whose owners can later exchange them.