5 Currency Facts Your History Teacher Never Told You

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-05-0134

For all you trivia buffs out there, here’s something to perk you up. The rich history behind our money affords us some notable facts about our currency, coins and cash. So here are a few to review!

FACT #1: There was a time that people made money by hand.

Duh! Like everything else in its earliest days, even money was generated manually. I wonder if people developed carpal tunnel syndrome from doing what they did.

The Federal Government started printing paper currency only in 1861. People had hoarded the coins during the Civil War, and it soon wiped out money in circulation. Congress authorized the Treasury Department to create paper currency. They were called “greenbacks” after the color ink used on one side, and Lincoln, then president, was pictured on them. It required that the money be signed by the Treasurer or anyone designated by him. When it came out in 1862, it had to be signed by hand. Six people worked in the attic of the Treasury building every day, signing, sorting and sealing them.

Cash Cow

FACT #2: All those lines on your bill are not just lines, they’re actual phrases.

If you don’t have anything better to do, take a magnifying glass to your bill and discover that some lines in your currency’s images are really the words “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” printed repeatedly.

How many times does “The United states of America” appear on a new $100 bill? The answer is twelve (two obvious appearances plus ten times around the oval). Franklin’s portrait is framed by an oval consisting of concentric rules, cross-hatching, and white space. Similar, though slightly different, ovals surround the portraits on all US bills. Using a magnifying glass, look at the outermost line of the oval. It turns our not to be a line at all but the repeated words “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”


Fact #3: The biggest bill that exists is one for $100,000.

What are the various denominations of US currency? 12 are legal tender (but 5 are not in circulation anymore). It ranges from $1 to $100,000. The highest denomination printed in the last 45 years is a $100. Everything over $100 has been officially “retired” from circulation for 30 years. The $2 bill was revived in 1976 but flopped again, and was finally assigned as a Federal Reserve Note, remaining in circulation but continues to be rarely seen. Amusingly, it has resurfaced in the spotlight in the media. On the other end of the spectrum, the $100,000 bill was never made available to the public, and was limited to transactions between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. However, it is still legal tender, if anyone can get it.


Fact #4: There’s a chance you can still spot some $1,000, $5,000 or even $10,000 bills floating around out there.

The issuance of currency in denominations of five hundred dollars, one thousand dollars, five thousand dollars, and ten thousand dollars was discontinued in 1969 because of declining use. Large denomination bills are still considered legal tender if in use, but these bills are now removed from circulation as they reach Federal Reserve Banks. Large denomination bills are no longer considered necessary since paper money has been substantially replaced by check-book money in daily business life. More recently, credit card and computer transactions have provided the basis for most large-scale monetary exchanges.


Fact #5: Do you know how the dollar sign ($) got invented?

I never really thought about it. It was one of those things that just “is”. But now you know the rest of the story right here…

Most people think the symbol for the US dollar is derived from the initials U and S superimposed on each other. Well this is false. It’s from the Spanish dollar sign. The US decided in 1782 that its basic unit of currency would be the Spanish dollar or peso. Its symbol was even then written as $, which was supposedly an ancient Phoenician sign indicating strength and sovereignty.

That’s our history lesson for the day folks. Check back for more installments as there is more where this came from!

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie May 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Want some more weird money facts? It turns out credit cards aren’t healthy for you to eat. Who knew?

The Digerati Life May 2, 2007 at 12:12 am

Carrie, LOL! I enjoyed that piece. On that note, I need to warn everyone that though they may want to eat their hat (or foot) on occasion, they should avoid eating their wallet altogether.

Golbguru May 2, 2007 at 5:52 am

Wow..interesting list. I would like to get my hand on the $100,000 bill ! I guess with the rarity and all it’s asking price should be around $1 million by now.

One more thing – I think the original $ symbol had two vertical lines as opposed to the single line in the modern version. 🙂

FMF May 2, 2007 at 10:22 am

Interesting. Would have beaten ancient Eurpoean history at my school!

limeade May 2, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Pretty interesting list of facts. I wasn’t aware that the $2 bill is discontinued though since I still get them at the bank and they’re crisp.


Silicon Valley Blogger May 2, 2007 at 9:38 pm

Well limeade, I double checked the fact on $2 bills and they are indeed in circulation. Thanks for the point. I better spank my sources! 😉

From the wikipedia: The Treasury states that the best way for the $2 bill to circulate is if businesses use them as they would any other denomination.

Q at $1 Million to My Name May 3, 2007 at 7:11 am

What about the trillion dollar bill that Monty Burns had on The Simpsons?

Colin June 14, 2007 at 8:57 am

Correction: the $100,000 bill was only printed as a special gold certificate and is actually illegal to own.

see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_denominations_of_United_States_currency

Ted Zennfer June 14, 2007 at 9:39 am

Never knew the last one!

Sam June 14, 2007 at 9:51 am

I’d like to get my hands on that $100,000. I’d be curious to know what actual law states that you can’t own one of those things!

jenny June 14, 2007 at 9:57 am

i’m a good money maker


Vitamin Jim June 14, 2007 at 10:37 am

Fact #5 surprised me the most at first, but then I realized how American that made me. Most things we take for granted as “American” or as originating here–including much of our language–actually started someplace else. Now that I’m living abroad, I get to see it all the time.

Yim Cueryas June 14, 2007 at 10:43 am

The $100,000 was never made available to the public, and was limited to transactions between the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. However, I’d agree with this article that the bill is still legal tender, “if anyone can get it.” It’s a big, hypothetical, impossible IF, since the bill was never destined to reach private hands. With or without a specific law on the matter, the presumption is that you can only possess a $100,000 bill by stealing it from the government. This is probably what Wikipedia means when it says its illegal to own the bill.

repo June 14, 2007 at 12:31 pm

“Fact 5” is a legend and not a fact.

Shaun Apple June 14, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Interesting facts!

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Ali Hasnain Ghumman December 11, 2007 at 11:54 am


Dividend growth investor March 5, 2008 at 8:05 am

The $2 are indeed in circulation. However most people do not like having $2 bills. When i worked as a cashier and I was giving people $2 bills for change, they always stopped me and reuqested $1 bills or even coins instead.

mike February 9, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Very fun facts I never knew about.

Sean May 5, 2009 at 8:45 pm

People really doubt the $2 bill exists? I used my collection of them to pay for gas the other day.

Leanne Coffman August 14, 2009 at 11:36 am

I quoted your article in my recent blog, “For love of money” on Mrs Bankrupt. Thanks for some great tips and info (as always). I love your blog!
Leanne Coffman
Mrs. Bankrupt

paul c gassenmayer November 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

The US of America inscription around the outer oval of the 100 dollar bill is not very legible if at all, even with a 10 power magnifier.

Nat January 16, 2010 at 9:48 am

I Love Money!!!!

Jake March 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

School blows major a**.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

You are thinking that now but when you’re older you’ll probably appreciate it more. But then again, I always loved school and learning. Also it’s probably another story if your school environment isn’t the best there is. If so, then my sympathies to you and hope you find some other alternatives to your situation.

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