Famous Short Snorters
When a civilian aviator by the name of Jack Ashcroft went out for a night on the town, he couldn’t have imagined that this would inspire him to start one of America’s quirkiest traditions.
Legend has it that Jack, a heavy drinker, went AWOL from the Gates Flying Circus where he worked. Upon his return he calmed his irate boss by coaxing him into handing over two dollar bills.
On one bill he wrote “Short Snorter No 1, Pangborn (the name of his employer), Aug 1925.” He handed this back and pocketed the other dollar. And so was born the first Short Snorter.
For the American forces in World War II, Short Snorters became not only a record of who a military-man had served with but also a drinking game and a status symbol.
The word ‘snort’ is derived from the slang for a stiff drink, and a ‘short’ is less than a full measure. When servicemen were out drinking they challenged each other to produce their Short Snorters. Anyone who failed to do so was obliged to buy the round of drinks.
But they also served as a kind of membership card to a special club. Officially Short Snorters were pilots who had flown across the equator, or from country to country. They added other currencies as a sign of their worldliness and asked the foreign fighters they met to sign their bills.
As the craze caught on Short Snorters became longer and were signed by famous names rather than just colleagues. One famous example was owned by Grover Criswell. His 200 foot long Short Snorter was made from between 400 and 500 notes taped together and rolled into a bundle 15 inches thick.
But quantity did not always mean quality. While the most famous autograph on Criswell’s roll was that of John F. Kennedy’s older brother Joe, many were signed by presidents and prime ministers.
The tradition was brought up to date in the 1960s as America entered the space age. The tradition of ‘Astronaut Signed Dollar Bills’ began at the grand opening of the Houston Astrodome in 1965.
Throughout the Gemini III-XIII and Apollo 7-11 missions, the astronauts all carried $1 bills signed by their fellow crew members, some even sporting Neil Armstrong’s signature.
And in true Short Snorter tradition, anyone unable to produce their bill during the mission would be the one buying the drinks when they got safely back to earth.