At a meeting the day after Roosevelt’s inauguration, a banker named Wayne Wing made a half-joking motion “to do something.” The minutes, kept by Adolph Berle, soon to be an important Roosevelt administration official, read: “Approved. (Futility! Gosh!).”
The group considered all kinds of wacky ideas, including one from FDR himself. Recalling his days selling bonds in the 1920s, Roosevelt suggested that all $21 billion in government bonds be immediately redeemable in cash, regardless of maturity date. The assembled bankers and government officials were horrified by the idea, which they said would spark ruinous inflation. The U.S. was still on the gold standard (though not for long) and the financial orthodoxy of the day held that simply printing more money wasn’t an option.
Others suggested creating “scrip,” which is temporary currency. The city of Chicago and Dow Chemical Co., among others, had already begun issuing such funny money. But William Woodin, Roosevelt’s new Treasury secretary, figured people would just hoard the scrip the way they were hoarding gold and silver.