The Tax Centinels

April 1938: Students at Renselaer Polytechnic Institute managed to acquire almost all the pennies in the town of Troy, New York — around 250,000 pennies in total. They did this by first going around store-to-store claiming they needed pennies for a "penny-ante poker game." Then they went to the banks and purchased their entire supply of pennies. Since each bank was unaware that the same thing was occurring at all the other banks, they happily sold the students all the pennies they had.

As a result, the town of Troy suddenly discovered that it was in the grip of a "penny famine." Shopkeepers found themselves unable to make change. And more significantly, they found it difficult to charge the state sales tax.

This had been the point of the stunt. It had been organized by a group of students calling themselves the "Tax Centinels" in order to "focus public attention on the taxes which they claim account for 25 per cent of the cost of all necessities of life."

Having cornered all the pennies, the students went into the town the next day and began making purchases, using pennies to pay for one-quarter of whatever the cost of the item was. It was a bit like the time-honored stunt of paying fines with pennies.

Philadelphia Inquirer - Apr 6, 1938

The movement quickly spread to other colleges, so that other college towns were soon beset by penny famines. New members of the Tax Centinels were required to take the following pledge:

To help fight the growth of taxes which now consume 25 cents out of every dollar spent by the average person, I hereby endorse the policies of this non-partisan, non-political organization knwon as the Tax CENTinels.

It shall be the purpose of this organization to focus public attention on the evils of the practice of keeping concealed taxes and to awaken in the public consciousness a realization that 70 per cent of all taxes now collected by more than 175,000 separate taxing bodies in the United States are obtained through secret levies tacked on to the price of necessities we all must buy daily—food, clothing, shelter, luxuries, and semi-luxuries.

Since the average man does not realize the inroads made upon his purse by these vicious hidden taxes and that he himself pays the major costs of the government instead of the Rockefellers, Morgans and du Ponts, I hereby pledge myself to pay 25% of the price of all purchases in pennies in order to dramatize the situation to the end that it may be remedied.

Wisconsin State Journal - Apr 11, 1938

As far as I can tell, the Tax Centinel movement lasted a month or two before fizzling out. But it seems to have been symptomatic of a widespread popular discontent at the time over the sales tax. See, for instance, our earlier post about the guy who in 1939 took a case all the way to the supreme court over his indigation at having been, in his mind, unfairly charged one-half cent of sales tax.

More info: "Tax Centinels," Star and Lamp (Pi Kappa Phi newsletter) - May 3, 1938. Page 4.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 30, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Money, 1930s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia, Pranks

The Stunts of TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES Radio Show

Many folks of a certain age might recall TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES as a TV show. But it began on radio in 1940, and was known for its far-out stunts, as detailed on this page.

Excerpt below.

A 1942 contestant told Edwards that her 17 year old son was serving in the Marines - as if Edwards didn’t know this in advance when she was “randomly” selected to appear on the show. Her consequence was to count pennies - pennies mailed to her home by listeners to buy War Bonds for her son. Broadcasting magazine reported within a week that the woman received 301,464 coins, mostly pennies, totaling over $3,100. Variety reported that after ten days the amount of mail had reached 236,000 pieces and the amount was $3,560. To handle the massive amount of mail Edwards temporarily rented office space and hired 200 clerks to pick it up, open it, count the money and track the postmarks to learn where it came from, valuable research for NBC and sponsor Procter & Gamble.

Edwards sent a 1944 contestant on an involved and hilarious search for a thousand dollars that climaxed after a month with listeners mailing 18,000 old books to the man‘s home which were donated to servicemen and veterans’ hospitals - after the contestant was directed to leaf through the books to find the missing half of a thousand dollar bill sent to him by the show.

The fact that they gave out big money prizes didn't hurt their popularity either.

Source: Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) 08 Dec 1947, Mon Page 3

Posted By: Paul - Sat Sep 25, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Money, Publicity Stunts, Radio, 1940s

Paying Back Your Parents

In the news recently was a story about a teenager whose parents asked her to pay back her school expenses:

When she was 15, her parents sent her to a private school for a couple of years, convinced she needed straightening out due to her rebellious behavior. Now that she is more mature, they expect her to pay back thousands of dollars in school fees.

This reminded me of the story that the artist Ernest Thompson Seton told in his 1940 autobiography (Trail of an Artist-Naturalist). He claimed that when he turned 21 his father presented him with an itemized bill for $537.50, which his father said was what it had cost to raise him, including the doctor's fee for his delivery. His father expected him to pay it.

According to Seton, he briefly considered paying the bill, but then decided against it, figuring he needed to keep all the money he had to establish himself as an artist.

Ernest Thompson Seton

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 09, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Money, Parents

Seelye’s Wasa Tusa

Patent medicine earned Dr. A. B. Seelye a fortune that allowed him to build a fine mansion that is open to the public today.

What was in his fabled Wasa Tusa?

A.B. Seelye made his fortune in patent medicines with the A.B. Seelye Medical Company. At one time he had over 500 salesmen traveling through 14 states. The Wasa Tusa they sold contained 65 percent “non-beverage alcohol, chloroform and sulphuric ether.”

Source of quote.

You can read his digitized ALMANAC, HEALTH GUIDE AND COOKBOOK here.

Posted By: Paul - Tue Sep 07, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Domestic, Money, Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century

The Odd Downfall of Mary Carolyn Davies

From pulp writer and poet to Skid Row: writing has never been an easy career.

Read the whole arc of her life here.

Read some of her fiction at the Internet Archive.

Newspaper clip from The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) 08 Feb 1940, Thu Page 20

Posted By: Paul - Sun Aug 29, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Eccentrics, Literature, Money, Twentieth Century

Effective Emulation

A simple, psychological trick maximizes church giving:

The ushers, with contribution plates, started on their rounds. The evangelist said she had instructed them to say "Amen" whenever 25 cents was dropped into the plate; when 50 cents the usher was to say "Hallelujah!" and when $1 the usher was to say "Glory hallelujah!" in a loud tone. The collection amounted to $1,100...

the evangelist knew that no person with money to give would be content with an "Amen" when a neighbor, sitting in the next pew, was acclaimed with a "Glory hallelujah!"

New York Times - May 18, 1919

Posted By: Alex - Wed Aug 18, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Money, Religion, Psychology

Yachtley Crew

Yachtley Crew is the Nations first-class tribute to the best soft rock of the 70's and 80's also known as "yacht rock"

Their home page.

Posted By: Paul - Wed Jul 14, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Money, Music, Parody

Widow wills millions to help pay U.S. debt

In 1960, the late Mrs. W.L. Clayton reportedly left $25 million in her will to the U.S. government to help pay down the national debt.

The amount she left for this purpose may have been unusually large, but it turns out that leaving behind money to help pay off the national debt isn't unusual. The Associated Press reports that, every year, the U.S. government receives about $1 million in bequests to help with the national debt. And since 1961, it's received $100 million.

However, the AP also notes that all these bequests, though well-intentioned, are "pointless" and "essentially, useless". This isn't just because the amounts are like a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the national debt. It's because: "The donations are recorded on the receipts ledger of the federal government’s general fund. So, rather than actually paying down the national debt, these donations just reduce the amount of money our government will borrow."

Los Angeles Times - Jan 30, 1960

Posted By: Alex - Sat Apr 24, 2021 - Comments (0)
Category: Government, Money


The Wikipedia page.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Apr 18, 2021 - Comments (1)
Category: Exercise and Fitness, Fads, Money, Music, 1960s, 1980s

Your Money Or Your Kid!


Posted By: Paul - Sun Dec 27, 2020 - Comments (6)
Category: Education, Money, 1930s, Europe

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Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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