Monday, September 9, 2013

Military Monday (September 9, 2013) -- So What Is A "Short Snorter?"

Molly arrived home late afternoon yesterday following a visit to her mother.  As usual, they spent a day together enjoying one another's company and accomplishing some errands like a little grocery shopping.  [I stayed home to attend to some long-delayed sorting and elimination of a mother-load of financial paperwork.  That exercise will be the subject, believe it or not, of a future post here at The Prism.]

At the conclusion of our supper last night, Molly got an unusually impish smile on her face and informed me that after I cleared the table I should wash my hands carefully and return to the table. She had something from her mother that she thought was going to set my genealogy receptors positively aquiver!

When I returned to the table with sanitized and dried hands, Molly smiled again and handed me a small rectangular brown-colored  item about 4" x 2".  I immediately recognized it from the words "War Department" on the cover as what must be her father's World War II Army identification book.  I had never seen this item before and, indeed, my genealogical receptors began to vibrate.  When I opened the tripartite sections of the small book, my belief was confirmed as I saw a photo of my father-in-law  at age 22 looking out from the center panel.  His fingerprints were on the right panel and his rank, serial number and signature were on the left panel.  But also tucked loosely inside the ID was a dollar bill folded in fourths.  I asked if the dollar bill was for me even as I went back to looking at the ID itself.  Molly took the bill, unfolded it and handed it back to me.  My genealogy and history receptors began a distinct quivering and I had to immediately agree with Molly that the bill was indeed very cool -- and a mystery.

When the dollar bill was unfolded and held horizontally, there was writing on the face of the bill.  Across the bottom in the aged white of the margin was distinctly written "W -   E 28 Nov 43."  This date was interesting because it happened to be my father's 21st birthday, but otherwise it did not have any immediate meaning to me except that it was during the time WWII was still raging.  When the bill was held vertically so that GW's noble head pointed to the right, there were about 16 signatures written across the face of the bill and down most of its length.  And in the top aged white margin were the initials of Molly's father, "D.J. O'K." with two very distinct words in block letters.  The two words sent me directly to Google and in less than two minutes I had the answer.  I was looking at the first "Short Snorter" I had ever seen and once I learned what a Short Snorter was I thought the bill was very, very cool indeed.  Have a look . . .

Silver Certificate One Dollar Bill "Short Snorter" belonging to Daniel J. O'Kane, Jr.

Short Snorter vertical view showing 16 signatures
inscribed on the bill on November 28, 1943.

According to Wikipedia, what became known as a "Short Snorter" was any banknote upon which people who were traveling together on an aircraft wrote their autographs.  It is said that the fad began among bush flyers in Alaska in the 1920s and later spread through the military and commercial aviation.

During WWII, Short Snorters were often signed by the flight crews to bring good luck to soldiers who were being flown across the Atlantic.  It later broadened to include any local currency that friends would sign for each other to provide a memento of one's war comrades.  Many famous people participated in autographing Short Snorters.  You can see who some of the famous participants were and look at scanned images of the bills they signed at The Short Snorter Project.  

So where did the name "Short Snorter" come from to describe these bills with autographs on them? The story is that if you possessed a bill designated as a "Short Snorter" and you were unable to produce the bill later when asked by one of the signatories to see his/her autograph on the bill, then you were required to buy the signer a small drink -- known in the aviation community as a "short snorter" because aviation and liquor did not mix well.  [For a more detailed explanation of the history of the "Short Snorter" go here where, among other things, you will learn that throughout the Gemini and Apollo space missions the astronauts carried $1 bills signed by their fellow crew members.]

My father-in-law's Short Snorter has some remaining mystery to it and sadly we are not able to solve it because Dan passed away in late December 2007.  The bill does tell us that Dan and the signatories on the bill were traveling from West to East (across the Atlantic because Dan was not in the Pacific theater) on November 28, 1943. [1]  What it does not tell us is whether the autographs were from the flight crew, a group of colleagues from Dan's unit, or just a random group of soldiers who all happened to be on orders to get to Europe in late November 1943.  At this point in time, the answer will probably never be known.

The signatures on the short snort bill are difficult to read.  Some have been smudged with age.  Some were inscribed over dark areas of the bill obscuring the writing.  Still others are simply not legible enough to clearly decipher the name that was written.  Examination of the original bill with a magifying glass indicates that the following names are the only ones that are distinct enough for a clear translation or a more than decent approximation:

 1.  ???                                                         2.  Ray Strasener
 3.  James W. Campbell                              4.  Frank P. Thomas
 5.  ???                                                         6.  W.J. Allen, Jr.
 7.  Ken Kilborn                                            8.  Hal Flood
 9.  Jack Hanasen                                      10.  E.W. Stoffelbach
11.  Clarence C. Chiles                              12.  H.M. Carlisle
13.  A. __. Thompson                                 14.  ???
15.  R.W. Pittman                                        16.  ???

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Scanned images of Daniel J. O'Kane, Jr.'s November 28, 1943 "Short Snorter" dollar bill from the original in the possession of his wife, the author's mother-in-law.

[1]  For more information on the troop air ferry routes used across the North Atlantic during WWII, see  For information about the Air Transport Command that took responsibility after July 1, 1942 for ferrying of all aircraft to destinations outside the U.S. as directed by the commander of the Army Air Forces, see
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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  1. What an amazing treasure, John. Hope you find out more about these signatures. I'd never heard of a Short Snorter before this - maybe it's only in the US?

  2. Hi Celia! Thank you for commenting on this post. I enjoyed learning about this fad myself. Legend is that the fad developed in the US among Alaskan bush pilots, but if you go to Google and enter "short snorter" and then click on the Google images search, you will see an amazing and colorful display of sample short snorters from all over the world on a variety of currencies. I think Canada must have participated too, but it cold be one of those victims of time and history so that it is lost to most of us. There are images of short snorters from Australia, Philippines, Haiti, Japan, India, Bermuda, New Zealand, and the "Government of Newfoundland" based on a quick scroll through the images.

  3. I've never heard of Short Snorter before either. What a fun piece of history!

  4. I agree Michelle. It was quite a surprise to me and I really enjoyed putting together the story of this silver certificate. Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. I appreciate it!