Insights & Connections
You've heard the expression "Money doesn't grow on trees." So where does it come from?
Got a dollar bill in your pocket? Take a look at it. Notice the intricate artwork, the color of the ink, the texture. Take a minute and think about where and how your dollar bill was made.
Today your U.S. dollar bill, or bank note, is the most recognized and sought-after money in the world. But the United States did not invent paper money. Most notaphilists and numismatists credit the Chinese with the idea. From China, the concept of paper money to replace heavy coins spread to the rest of the world.
Paper notes have circulated in the United States since Colonial days. By 1836, at least 7,000 varieties of paper currency were in circulation, issued by state banks. But in 1862, the United States found itself in need of issuing government paper money to finance the Civil War. To accomplish this, it created the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC. The design of the current dollar bill is a process of 65 complicated and distinct steps. It begins with highly skilled engravers who hand-cut portraits, lettering, and ornamentation into soft steel to make the original die masters.
Look at your dollar bill again. Notice that the images are a series of fine lines, dots, and dashes. This process of engraving is the first step of intaglio printing. Next, the images of the die master are transferred to a printing plate. Printing plates are then chromium-coated and readied for the high-speed presses.
` Sheets of paper made of a special cotton-linen blend speed through the presses under 14 tons of pressure per square inch. This pressure forces the paper into the recessed lines of the plate where it picks up the ink. First the backs of the bills are printed with green ink, and then the faces are printed with black ink. Serial numbers and the Treasury and the Federal Reserve District seals and numbers are overprinted onto the notes.
The sheets are cut into smaller units, packaged into bricks, and distributed to the Federal Reserve Bank Districts. They, in turn, distribute them to individual banks. Eventually, the dollar bills wind up in our pockets. Right where you found yours!
bricks 40 units of 100 bank notes packaged together
Bureau of Engraving and Printing a government office where U.S. paper money is made. It has two locations--Washington, DC, and Fort Worth, Texas.
die master metal sheet on which the original design of the bank note is engraved. Used to make the printing plates.
Federal Reserve System the U.S. monetary organization, created in 1913, that issues and regulates U.S. currency
intaglio printing lined-engraved, recess printing process
notaphilists collectors of paper money
numismatists collectors of paper money, coins, tokens, and related objects
overprint official printing completed on a bank note after the initial printing has taken place
printing plate copies of the original engraved die master. These plates are made of plastic.
Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing 14th & C Street Washington, DC 20228 (202) 874-3186
U.S. Mint 633 Third St. NW, 7th floor Washington, DC 20226 (202) 874-5924
American Numismatic Assn. Education Department 818 N. Cascade Ave. Colorado Springs, CO 80903 (719) 632-2646
Public Information Office Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis PO Box 442 St. Louis, MO 63166-0442 (314) 444-8421 (cost of "The Money Tree" package is $25)
If you could design your own paper money, what would it look like? What images and symbols would you incorporate into your design? What security features would you provide to prevent counterfeiting? What paper would you use? Give this project a try and see how inventive you can be.
Extend the activity. Have committees design denominations of bank notes for class currency. Discuss the worth of each set of bills. Use the currency for payment of "goods and services" in the class to simulate the role of money in society.