In 1864 a number of packages of notes shipped to western banks were found on reaching their destination to be short of the required amount by one sheet in each package, each sheet containing four notes. Similar shortages were subsequently discovered at intervals of several months. For a period of nearly a year following these discoveries no additional losses were reported. In the fall of 1865, sheets of money began to be missed from the packages of notes in the vault of the Bureau, and in December of that year a package containing $4500 in fifty and one hundred dollar notes of the National City Bank of Lynn, Mass., was missed. These thefts ceased again until about May, 1867, when a package containing $12,000 in fifty and one hundred dollar notes of the First National Bank of Jersey City, N. J., disappeared.
Investigation was made at the time each of these thefts occurred, and efforts were made to discover the culprit, but without success, until the last package was taken. The theft of this package was discovered almost immediately after its disappearance, and a prompt investigation led to the arrest of a colored messenger, who was employed in the Issue Division of the Comptroller's office.
It appears that while some changes were being made in the room of the division, this messenger was sent into the vault with some books and during the short time he was in there concealed a money package under his vest. He had been previously granted leave of absence for several days, and after stealing the package left Washington for the South, where he put some of the notes in circulation after clumsily affixing signatures to the notes other than the names of the president and cashier of the bank. The aggregate of the notes stolen amounted to $17,560. The messen-ger was arrested and indicted, but escaped conviction on legal technicalities. It was shown at the trial of the case that other employees of the Comptroller's office had access to the vault in which the money was stored, and the evidence offered was not considered sufficient to fasten the theft upon him. A motion was also made to quash the indictment on the ground that it recited that money had been stolen, when as a matter of fact, incomplete national bank notes, it was contended, are not strictly money until signed by the officers of the issuing bank.
The Act of July 28, 1892, settled this contention by providing for the redemption of all lost or stolen notes, or notes put in circulation without signatures or upon the forged signatures of the officers of the bank.
It is believed that this messenger was responsible for all the thefts reported, as no further shortages occurred after his dismissal from the office.
Occasionally sheets of notes were misplaced or small discrepancies were found by counters of worn-out or mutilated notes sent in for redemption, but these shortages were generally accounted for.
About the time these money shortages were being discovered, a package of vault currency was missed at the close of the day's business, which gave the clerks of the Issue Division several hours of anxiety and trouble. The entire force of the Division was detained as late as ten o'clock at night while search was being made for the missing package. A young man, an employee of the Division, had an important social engagement for that evening which he was prevented from keeping because of his detention at the office and he naturally became considerably exasperated. After the vault had been thoroughly searched for the missing package, without results, this young man in temper gave one of the desk chairs which was in his way, a kick, upsetting it, and the lost money package fell off the chair on the floor. Upon inquiry as how the package came there it was learned that an absent-minded money counter had used the package during the day as a cushion, her chair being too low for her desk, and had covered it over with some brown wrapping paper which concealed it from view, and had forgotten placing it on the chair.
The comments of the clerks who had been detained so late in the search for the package, especially those of the young man who was compelled to break his social engagement, may be better imagined than described.
Great Chicago Fire of 1871
The great Chicago fire in 1871 occurred during the closing year of Mr. Hulburd's administration. The buildings in which seventeen of the eighteen national banks in that city were located were totally destroyed. The loss on the buildings and the furniture and fixtures of the banks was estimated at about $176,000, and on discounted paper at about $600,000.
The bills receivable held by the banks at that time amounted to over $21,000,000, and their liabilities to correspondent banks and depositors to over $26,000,000. The contents of the vaults, however, when opened, were found to be in a good condition, and notwithstanding the great destruction of property the banks resumed business in eight days after the conflagration, in temporary quarters which they secured in dwellings remote from their former locations. At the close of the first day's business the deposits of customers and correspondent banks exceeded the disbursements, instead of balances being largely withdrawn as was anticipated.
A glowing tribute was paid Mr. Hulburd by his successor in his first annual report to Congress, for the skillful manner in which he handled the Chicago situation at that time, and the valuable service he rendered in bringing about so early a resumption of business.