In the United States, mining and logging camps were typically created, owned and operated by a single company. In 19th century United States forested areas, cash was often hard to come by. In Wisconsin, for example, forest-products and lumber companies were specifically exempted from the state law requiring employers to pay workers’ coal scrip coins value in cash. Lumber and timber companies frequently paid their workers in scrip which was redeemable at the company store.
Lumber company scrip was redeemable in lumber as well as other merchandise. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, such an option may have appealed to new settlers in the region, who worked in the lumber camps in winter to earn enough money to establish a farm. Taking some of their wages in lumber may have helped them build a much-needed house or barn. Coal scrip is “tokens or paper with a monetary value issued to workers as an advance on wages by the coal company or its designated representative”.
As such, coal scrip could only be used at the specific locality or coal town of the company named. The country musician Merle Travis makes a reference to coal scrip in the song, “Sixteen Tons” on the Folk Songs of the Hills album and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The practice has been documented as recently as September, 2008. On September 4, 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Wal-Mart de Mexico, the Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart, must cease paying its employees in part with vouchers redeemable only at Wal-Mart stores. Chapter 2: How Gold Coins Circulated in 19th Century America”.