For over a 100 years, people have been building ukuleles out of old and used cigar boxes. Much of today sucess of the Ukulele can be traced to one instrument and one family, The Kamaka Ukulele.
In fact, Sam Kamaka Jr. started early in his instrument building carrear by making several small ukes out of redwood cigar boxes.
Below is a ukulele made by him in the early 1960's. Nobody knows how many he built, but it is belived to be one of only 5 or so surving exaples. Have a listen to a recording of the orginal 2 strings found on this neat piece of history.
In the early 20's and 30's their were many "how to's" published in news papers and magazines across the county that showed people how to build a cigar box ukulele from a used cigar box.
As the ukulele craze took over the mainland in the early 1900's, it didn't take long for people with little money yet long on passion for music to join in. These instruments were great for playing both Jazz music as well as other types of Americana.
In fact much more than Hawaiian music can be played on the ukulele. Bluegrass and clawhammer sounds just terrific because of the reentrant tuning.
Due the the many tuning possibilities, - Appalachian and folk music which is played on a 4 string banjo or duclimer could easily be played on these instruments and the nylon strings can bring those old songs from a 100 years ago back to life.
I'm still learning to navagite this type of 4 string tuning, but here is a quick demo.
June 1922 newspaper story