When I was a kid I loved mechanical banks. Ingenious toys that made saving your coins fun. For those who have never seen one, a coin was placed on a lever or other portion of the mechanism, and a spring loaded lever is pressed to activate the toy. The banks were made of cast iron or tin, and were done as promotional items for businesses and political movements.

My favorite was “William Tell”. He had a crossbow that would shoot the coin into a slot in a tree. Others had human or animal figurines that would eat the coin, or perform some other action to feed the coin into the slot so the coin would be deposited in the box that forms the base.

Many of these banks would be considered incredibly politically incorrect and outright racist today, but they were popular in the early 1900s, and are quite collectible bits of Americana today.

As a child I was fascinated with these wonderful toys and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the bank worked without batteries. Being a child of the Space Age, I thought every machine that moved required batteries or a wall outlet in order to function.

Of course I would never take one apart. Especially after that time I got hold of a screw driver and an alarm clock. Mom’s vacuum cleaner never worked right after it ingested all those tiny screws.

The first mechanical bank I recall seeing was the “Uncle Sam” bank. This bank had a figure of Sam in all his red, white, and blue glory standing next to a big satchel with “U.S.” on the side of it. The user put a coin into Uncle Sam’s hand and pressed the lever. The big satchel on the platform opened up and Sam’s arm lowered a bit, dropping the coin into the satchel.

While that was great fun when I was a kid, as an adult the theme has taken on a much more sinister aspect…