We work for it. We wish for it. We save it. We spend it. We gain it. We lose it. Above all, we need it. Yes, money certainly does make the world go round.
In America, that money takes the form of paper bills (printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing) and coins (produced by the U.S. Mint). However, the coins that jingle in your pocket and the bills you stuff in your wallet today are far different from the ones originally produced in the late 1700s.
As you would expect, over the last 200+ years our currency has seen many, many changes — both big and small. That’s a lot of U.S. money trivia to keep up with! So, WalletPop set out to uncover the most interesting tidbits about American currency and share our favorites with you.
Read our questions and answers to discover 10 fascinating facts about U.S. currency.1. What is the typical lifespan of a dollar bill?
That depends on the denomination of the note. Here are the average lifespans according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (or the BEP):
$1 bill – 22 months
$5 bill – 16 months
$10 bill -18 months
$20 bill – 24 months
$50 bill – 55 months
$100 bill – 89 months
Bills that get worn out from everyday use are taken out of circulation and replaced. Coins usually survive in circulation for about 25 years.
2. What percentage of bills are $1 notes?
Just under half of the notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are $1 notes. In fiscal year 2009, the exact percentage was 42.3%.
3. Has a woman’s portrait ever appeared on U.S. paper money?
Martha Washington is the only woman whose portrait has appeared on a U.S. currency note. It appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896.
4. Has an African American ever appeared on U.S. currency?
No portraits of African Americans have appeared on paper money, but commemorative coins were issued in the 1940s bearing the images of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, followed more recently by the release of a Jackie Robinson coin. Paper money does bear the signatures of four African American men who served as Registers of the Treasury (Blanche K. Bruce, Judson W. Lyons, William T. Vernon, and James C. Napier) and one African American woman who served as Treasurer of the United States (Azie Taylor Morton).
4. What was the largest bill every printed?
The largest bill ever printed was the $100,000 bill; it was actually a Gold Certificate issued in 1934. These notes were used for transactions between Federal Reserve banks and were not circulated among the general public. President Woodrow Wilson was depicted on the bill.
5. How wide is America in pennies?
A mile of pennies laid out is $844.80. By this standard, America is about $2.5 million wide, coast to coast.
6. What does “E Pluribus Unum” mean?
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco describes what this motto means and how it came into use:
7. What’s with that creepy single eye?
The so-called “all-seeing eye” that sits atop the pyramid on dollar bills was included as a reflection of divine providence. This was not the only option that was considered to fulfill that desired theme. A depiction of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness was also discussed as a possibility.
8. What type of paper is U.S. money printed on?
Surprise! Our so-called “paper currency” is actually not paper, but is made of cotton/linen material. It consists of a 75% cotton / 25% linen blend with silk fibers running through it. If it were made of paper, it would fall apart if you accidentally left it in your pants pocket and sent it for a whirl in your washing machine.
9. How durable is paper currency?
As we mentioned above, accidents happen. Fortunately, our “paper currency” is built to take quite a beating. The BEP says it would take 4,000 double folds (first forward, and then backwards) before a note will tear.
10. Is a torn up dollar bill still worth anything?
According to the BEP, it is. Its website explains: “The BEP redeems partially destroyed or badly damaged currency as a free public service. Every year the U.S. Treasury handles approximately 30,000 claims and redeems mutilated currency valued at over $30 million. Experts examine damaged currency and can approve the issuance of a Treasury check for the value of the currency determined to be redeemable.”