When Quintillionaires Are Paupers

1946 Hungarian Milliard Bilpengő

1946 Hungarian Milliard Bilpengő

Who hasn’t heard an older person complain that a dollar just doesn’t buy what it used to? Imagine what it was like in Hungary in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the nation encountered the worst case of hyperinflation in history.

Because of the instability of the national economy, something that cost 379 Pengö in September 1944, cost 72,330 Pengö by January 1945, 453,886 Pengö by February, 1,872,910 by March, 35,790,276 Pengö by April, 11.267 billion Pengö by May 31, 862 billion Pengö by June 15, 954 trillion Pengö by June 30, 3 billion billion Pengö by July 7, 11 trillion billion Pengö by July 15 and 1 trillion trillion Pengö by July 22, 1946.

At its peak, prices were rising at the rate of 150,000% every day. To put that into context, if that had happened today in the United States, a piece of candy that cost 25 cents this morning would cost $37,500 by the end of the day, and by the end of the day tomorrow would cost $5,625,000,000.

Prior to the start of World War II, the exchange rate was 5 Pengö to one US Dollar. By June 1944 the rate was 33 Pengö to the Dollar. At the beginning of August 1945 one Dollar could get you 1,320 Pengö. Three months later, one Dollar was worth 100,000 Pengö. Four months after that, in March 1946, the same Dollar exchanged for 1.75 million Pengö. One month later, it was 59 billion Pengö. The next month it was 42 quadrillion Pengö. By July it was 460 trillion trillion Pengö, and by then, what’s the point?

To address the out-of-control price increases, the government issued currency with increasingly-larger face value,  culminating with the Milliard Bilpengö (pictured above), worth 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Pengö. It is the highest denomination banknote ever printed. It was worth about 12 cents in US currency.

A Hungarian worker sweeps the streets, littered with with worthless money.

A Hungarian worker sweeps the streets, littered with with worthless money.


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