This President’s Day, we’re honoring the leaders who helped shape America by learning more about where we see them the most: our currency. From the rarest bills worth over $200,000 to currency used as a weapon during the Civil War, our bills and coins have a lot more stories behind them than you’d think. Check out 10 interesting historical facts about U.S. currency you didn’t know – and test your knowledge with our quiz questions, too. Answers are at the end of the blog.
1. The American dollar was created by the Continental Congress in 1785, but it was only distributed privately until the First Bank of the United States was chartered in 1790.
2. After President Jackson’s veto of the Second Bank’s charter renewal, the nation entered into the “Free Banking Era” (1837-1866). Anyone could issue paper money – from states to stores, churches to even your neighbor. Much of the currency in circulation was worthless.
Pop Quiz 1: 10 of the 14 people currently on U.S. currency are Presidents. Can you name the other four?
3. During the Civil War, Northerners used inflation as a weapon against the South by printing Confederate currency and adding it to the circulation.
4. The rarest form of U.S. currency is a series of interest-bearing notes issued between 1861 and 1865. Helping to finance the Civil War, these notes ranged from $10 to $10,000. Today, a $100 interest-bearing note from 1864, for example, is worth at least $200,000.
5. The federal government did not have full responsibility for currency production until 1877; until then, private contracting firms handled much of the banknote production.
Pop Quiz 2: What bird can be found on the $1 bill?
6. During the Great Depression, only Federal Reserve Banks were allowed to hold gold, because of all the bank runs that occurred. The Reserve Banks would then turn all the gold over to the U.S. Treasury in exchange for gold certificates.
7. During World War II, the government worried about Hawaii falling to enemy forces. As a safety measure, the Treasury circulated specially marked bills in Hawaii, which could be drawn out of broader circulation in case Hawaii was overtaken.
8. Silver was the last existing metal standard in the United States. In fact, silver certificates were circulated as late as 1965.
9. Any paper money issued by the U.S. government since 1861 may be redeemed. Of course, it may only be redeemed at its face value, so a $5 bill from 1870 is still only worth $5 in the eyes of the government.
Pop Quiz 3: How many grooves are on the circumference of a quarter?
10. Today the U.S. government uses state of the art technology to prevent counterfeit currency from being produced. The newest bill, the $100 bill introduced in 2013, includes a blue security ribbon with thousands of microlenses, a color-changing bell, raised print and other security features.
Bonus Question: Why are there no living Americans on U.S. currency?
To learn more about the interesting historical facts money, particularly about the US currency, check out the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
1. Susan B. Anthony, Sacajawea, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.
2. An owl is commonly believed to be depicted on the upper right corner of the dollar bill.
3. There are 119 grooves on the quarter’s circumference. A dime has 118.
Bonus Answer: After George Washington declined to be put on the nation’s first dollar bill, it became tradition – now supported by law – that only deceased individuals may grace our currency.
Photo: Collage of pre-1800s currency issued in the original 13 colonies. Photos courtesy of the American Currency Exhibit from Federal Reserve of San Francisco.