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10 Surprising Facts About The American Currency

Did you know that male presidents haven’t been on every dollar bill or coin? Or that the word “dollar” has old ties to the Dutch settlement of New York? You see, we walk around pulling out and stuffing our wallets and pockets with paper bills and coins. Yet we have little idea about how our American currency evolved, much less came from. Read on to learn how much of our currency is in circulation today, what the largest bill amount is (it’s more than $1,000), and why you don’t see a living president on the face of a dollar or coin that’s circulated today. (We ensure that after reading this you’ll gain a new sense of appreciation when conducting a Utah secretary of state business search, much less any other state.)

1. Women and African Americans Have Been on Our Currency

George Washington wasn’t the only Washington to be on a paper bill. His wife and First Lady, Martha Washington is on the face of the 1886 and 1891 silver certificate, in addition to being on the back of the $1 silver certificate of 1896. Also, famous African Americans—George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson—have been on the face of commemorative coins. While signatures from four African American men (William Vernon, James Napier, Blanche Brue, and Judson Lyons) who worked at the Registers of Treasury and one African American woman, former Treasurer of the United States, Azie Taylor Morton are featured on paper bills.

2. We Didn’t Make Up “Dollar”

That’s right. The New York Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, originally used Dutch currency, the leeuwendaler, otherwise known as lion dollar, which circulated around the other 13 colonies. Eventually, during the 17th century, "lion dollar" or leeuwendaler was abbreviated to “dollar.”

3. You Could Be Living In and On Money

Made out of linen and cotton, dollar bills wear down. When this happens, the Federal Reserve banks take it out of circulation and shred it. (Please know that it is a federal crime to shred money yourself.) Interestingly enough, the Federal Reserve has sold the shredded money to businesses who then use the recycled material for shingles, insulation, and other building materials.

4. There’s More to $1-Dollar Bills Than Meets the Eye

13 is everywhere on the $1-dollar bill. There’s 13 steps leading to the pyramid. The eagle on the back is holding a shield with 13 stripes as well as 13 arrows. Overall, the number 13 is important (and not for superstitious reasons); in fact, 13 represents the original 13 colonies. Other symbols you’ll find on the $1-dollar bill include roman numeral at the base of the pyramid (1776) and the olive branch the eagle is holding which symbolizes peace.

5. There’s More Than $50 Billion in Circulation Right Now

As of now, according to the Federal Reserve, there’s roughly $1.49 trillion worth of notes in circulation. To put this into perspective, $1 trillion bills weighs 10 tons.

6. It Takes About 8,000 Folds to Tear a Bill

Yes, dollar bills may be made from organic materials. However, you need to fold that $1 bill 8,000 times before “it’s totaled.” Of course, certain denominations wear down faster, with the $1 bill having a life span of roughly 5.9 years. Compared to the $100 bill, which lasts 9.1 more years, wearing down around the 15-year mark.

7. You Won’t See Currency with the Face of a Living President

During the Revolutionary War, regulation was created in which living presidents could not be on the face of dollar bills or coins. The reason being, of course, dates back to monarchical countries placing living kings on their currency. Much like the US dictating that the President was not to be called “Your Haines,” this regulation was passed to ensure America wasn’t a monarchy. However, with the Sesquicentennial of American independence, there was an exception. President Calvin Coolidge was on a commemorative coin as a symbol of celebration.

8. The Largest Note Is More Than $1,000

Actually, try $100,000. Yes, the 1934 note with President Woodrow Wilson’s portrait was $100,000.

9. We Will See New Faces on Our Currency

On April 20, 2016, the United States Treasury announced that the American currency will be updated. Such changes include adding Harriet Tubman to the $20-dollar bill (alongside President Andrew Jackson and a picture of the White House). Other prominent female and civil rights leaders will also be included on common currency denominations, such as the $1- and $5-dollar bills. According to Nerd Wallet, circulation of these new faces is set for 2020.

10. The $1-Dollar Bill Is the Cheapest

It takes 4.9 cents for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing to make the $1-dollar bill.

How is this possible?

Counterfeiters wouldn’t make that much by counterfeiting the $1-dollar bill. So, there’s little incentive for the $1-bill to be falsified. And, because of that, there’s been virtually no design changes.

Bonus: Watch Those Twenties and Hundreds

Speaking of counterfeiting, twenties and hundreds are falsified the most. Twenties are counterfeited more frequently in the states, while hundreds, abroad. The reason behind this has to do with how often they’re used; twenties are used more in the US and hundreds are used more outside of. Because of this, several counterfeiting measures have been inserted in the design which includes watermarks, threading, and raised printing to name a few.

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