Have you ever wondered how many people have touched the cash sitting in your wallet? Maybe you’re curious as to what all those strange symbols mean on the dollar bill? It’s no secret that U.S. currency has a strange and fascinating history. Listed below are ten strange facts about U.S. currency that will change the way you look at money forever. Hopefully when you’re done reading this, you’ll be an expert about the one thing everybody wants: cold, hard cash.
10. The most counterfeited bill is the $20 bill.
Logic would dictate that if a person wanted to create counterfeit money, they would simply rake in as many Benjamins as their printer would allow. However, the truth is a bit more complex. Instead of going for the obvious answer, counterfeiters think they can be more successful if their fake currency is a harmless $20 bill. Using a $20 bill is more inconspicuous than whipping out a $100 bill for your movie tickets. A lot of people carry around multiple $20 bills in their wallet. Rarely do you see an average joe strolling the streets with a wallet full of $100 bills. Nobody suspects the sweet old lady at the local grocery store to be handing over faux $20 bills. Next time you grab a $20 bill, be wary. It might not be real.
9. Currency is actually made of linen and cotton.
What is currently sitting in your wallet is not really “paper” money. U.S. currency is created using a combination of linen and cotton. Specifically, it consists of 25% linen and 75% cotton. So, if a pound of dollar bills are being made, that means three-fourths of its contents are cotton. From these ingredients, approximately 454 bills are created for every one pound of bills made. In 2009, over 21,000 bales of cotton were used to create all of the denominations for that year.
8. A bill’s life cycle depends on its denomination.
Depending on the bill in question, a bill’s life cycle ranges from the short term to the long term. As you might expect, $1 bills are used quite often. Many small items can be bought using $1 bills, tipping is usually done with $1 bills, and any odd amount of money owed is usually rounded off by a couple of $1 bills. Since this denomination is used so much, its life cycle lasts approximately 18 months before it’s pulled from circulation. On the other end of the spectrum, people who are lucky enough to use $50 and $100 bills can expect these to last around nine years. This long life cycle is due to the fact that these bills aren’t used nearly as much as $1’s, $5’s, $10’s, and $20’s.
7. The most valuable bill ever produced was the $100,000 gold certificate.
At least once in your life, you’ve probably heard stories that tell the tall tale of someone who owned a one million dollar bill. It may make for a great story, but it’s far from the truth. Let’s cut that value down by about 90% and you’ve got the largest denomination ever produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). The bill was never circulated in the public sphere. Rather, it was used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks when an equal amount of gold bullion was deposited. Printing for less than a month (December 18th, 1934-January 9th, 1935), the bill featured President Wilson on the front. So, one million dollar bill? No. Gold certificate? Absolutely.
6. Living presidents cannot be featured on currency.
Washington. Lincoln. Two names forever intertwined with the foundation of America. Two heroes of a nation. Also, two former Presidents who have their faces forever adorned on the currency of the United States. So, why only dead people on the currency? The answer might surprise you in its simplicity: tradition. When Washington became President, the people wanted his face circulated all around the colonies. Washington politely declined, declaring it dishonorable to place a living face on the currency. So, the idea just stuck. Today, they have taken George Washington’s words and cemented them into law. It is against the law to place a living President’s face on currency. They have to be dead two years before being considered to be placed in the Presidential Dollar series.
5. Money is extremely dirty.
Yeah…you might want to grab some hand sanitizer after reading this. Paper money is a hub of bacteria, including (on average) about 3,000 types of bacteria living on its surface. In a world of neat freaks and pharmaceuticals, this may alarm some people. The good news is that most of these bacteria are harmless. Notice I said “most” of it. Some of the bacteria that have been found on bills include those that cause acne. Other bacteria found in a scientific study include mouth microbes. Also found on bills? Vaginal microbes. Yes. You read that right. Another hazard of dirty money is anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Since money is handled by so many people, this specific type of bacteria gets passed around to thousands, spreading resistant bacteria to everyone. So, what lesson have we learned? Always wash your hands. Especially after touching all those bills.
4. It costs more to produce a nickel than a dime.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, producing nickels is a more costly venture than producing dimes. When you look into it, all it comes down to is simple supply and demand. Take, for example, the penny. Originally, the penny was created from copper. Once the price of copper began to rise, manufactures switched over to zinc. The same situation has overtaken the nickel. Decades ago, the nickel cost less than ten cents to make. Now, a nickel costs 11.2 cents to make. This is absurd, since dimes and quarters come in at about half of their respective values (5 cents to produce a dime and 11 cents to produce a quarter). As the price of nickel rises, there is a good chance nickels will become a thing of the past.
3. The Secret Service’s original objective was to suppress counterfeiting.
Some may believe the Secret Service was created to protect the President. After all, this now shadowy branch of the government was formed a mere two months after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. However, the truth is a bit more mundane. In reality, the Secret Service was established to suppress the act of counterfeiting. Since every state had its own currency in the 1800s, counterfeiting became a very profitable and easy practice to perfect. It is reported that at the time of Lincoln’s presidency, one-third of the nation’s currency was fake. With so many faux bills and coins being circulated, someone had to step in and clean up the frenzied currency system. Hence, the Secret Service was created.
2. The pyramid on the back of the dollar bill represents the growth of a nation.
Many theories abound about all of the symbols and artwork located on the dollar bill. Included in these theories are that the Freemasons use these symbols as a secret way to convey power. While it’s easy to take this theory as truth, the evidence points to a more rational and explainable reason for these symbols. The uncapped pyramid represents a nation that is not done growing. Since America was newly born when these symbols were created, it makes sense they had confidence that the country would continue to grow and prosper. While you may read about theories of aliens and world domination, just know that the founding fathers had faith in Americans. This faith is encapsulated in the pyramid.
1. Coins are pickled prior to minting.
Just like pickled pig’s feet or pickled eggs, the blanks of coins are soaked prior to their minting. However, unlike pickled foods, the coins are soaked in a different type of mixture. Rather than soaking in vinegar, coins are pickled in a special chemical solution. So, why would coins need to be given the same treatment as pickled eggs? The chemical solution used on these coins polishes and cleans them. Since these coins are blank, the chemicals wash away any blemishes found on the surface of the coin.