What is a Dollar Bill Made Up of?
Cotton and U.S. Currency
Cotton and U.S. Currency
According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, US paper currency is made up of 75% cotton and 25% linen. That is, there are three-fourths of a pound of cotton in each pound of dollar bills. This same source also informs us that there are 454 bills in a pound of currency.
During Fiscal Year 2009, over six billion bills of all denominations were printed in the United States, consuming 21,476 bales of cotton. The total dollar value of these bills was two hundred and nineteen billion dollars, or $21,290.55 per pound of cotton.
Now THAT is value added.
Bills Printed (FY 2009)
Guess what? Dollar bills are made of cotton
The record run-up in cotton prices is making it more expensive to make T-shirts, socks and -- get this -- even dollar bills.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Sure, packs of T-shirts and socks are getting expensive because of skyrocketing cotton prices. Guess what else is made of cotton? The dollar bill in your wallet.
In 2010, the cost of making one note jumped 50% from what it cost the government in 2008.
The government produced 6.4 billion new currency notes last year. Each one cost 9.6 cents to produce, including the cost of paper and printing.
In 2008, it only cost 6.4 cents a note, a tiny bit more than it did in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
With the price of raw cotton at a 140-year high, things could get worse.
It's unclear for now how much more it might cost the U.S. to make dollar bills. However the U.S. Government Accountability Office said paper costs "are a significant portion of the cost of producing $1 notes, but less than half the total cost."
Ordinary paper used in newspapers, books and cereal boxes is primarily made of wood pulp. But the paper on which the greenback is printed is composed of 75% cotton and 25% linen, according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. (See correction, below)
The U.S. buys its currency paper from Massachusetts-based Crane & Company. Crane declined to comment on the story, citing the paper product as "strategic material."
Just last week, the GAO called for replacing the $1 paper bill with a $1 coin, saying that the coins are more durable and do not need to be replaced as often.
The GAO said the switcharoo could potentially save the government approximately $5.5 billion over 30 years, but didn't provide a breakdown of the cost of paper money.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the U.S. paper currency was 100% cotton. U.S. notes are 75% cotton fiber and 25% linen. Linen is derived from flax.
We're sure you've heard the phrase “money doesn't grow on trees!" Unfortunately, that's true. So where does money come from?
Two bureaus within the U.S. Department of the Treasury are responsible for making the coins and bills that fill our wallets and piggy banks. The U.S. Mint produces coins, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) produces paper currency.
Today, we're going to focus on paper currency, like the $1 bill. The BEP began in 1862, when only six people created money by hand in the basement of theTreasury building.
Today, the BEP has two facilities. The Washington, D.C., site opened in 1914. A newer facility in Fort Worth, Texas, opened in 1991 to meet increased demand for currency.
The currency production process involves highly trained workers, special equipment and a unique combination of traditional old-world printing techniques combined with cutting-edge technology. To prevent counterfeiting, the complex process of printing currency involves more than 65 steps.
U.S. currency is printed on special paper made by Crane Paper Company. Unlike traditional paper made of wood pulp, the paper used for currency is made of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. BEP specifications require this blended paper to have special red and blue fibers woven throughout.
Before the paper can be used to print new bills, the image of the bills to be printed must first be engraved onto soft steel plates by hand in a process called "intaglio." These plates are called "master dies."
To preserve the master dies for future use, a process called "siderography" is used to transfer the images on the dies to printing plates.
To produce $1 bills, ink is spread on the printing plates and then wiped off, so that ink only remains in the grooves of the plates. The plates are then pressed into the special blended paper with about 20 tons of pressure.
High-speed rotary printing presses are used to create currency. The BEP can print around 8,000 sheets per hour. After printing, bills are checked for defects.
If there are no defects, bills are “overprinted" with a simple printing process that is different from the intaglio printing. The U.S. Federal Reserve seal is printed in black ink, while green ink is used to print the U.S. Treasury seal and serial numbers.
Finally, cutters separate the large sheets into individual bills. After cutting, the bills are packaged and sent to one of the dozen Federal Reserve districts for distribution to banks.
Since 2003, the BEP has slowly introduced redesigned $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. These redesigned bills include many new security features intended to make counterfeiting more difficult.
New features include subtle background colors, a portrait watermark visible when held up to a light, an enhanced security thread that glows under anultraviolet light, microprinting and improved color-shifting ink that changes color when bills are tilted. There are no plans to redesign or include any of these advanced security features in $1 or $2 bills.
Currency fun facts:
- The front side of bills features portraits of famous, deceased American statesmen: George Washington on the $1 bill, Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill, Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Ulysses Grant on the $50 bill and Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill.
- The back side of bills features famous images from U.S. history: the Great Seal of the United States on the $1 bill, the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the $2 bill, the Lincoln Memorial on the $5 bill, the TreasuryBuilding on the $10 bill, the White House on the $20 bill, the Capitol on the $50 bill and Independence Hall on the $100 bill.
- The first modern $1 bills were issued in 1963. Their design, featuring George Washington on the face and the Great Seal on the back, has never changed.
Of all the currency printed by the BEP, the $1 bill accounts for about 45 percent of all production. The average life span of a $1 bill is 42 months.
Our new hundred-dollar bill, like every other single piece of American folding money, is born in this rotary boiler. It's a perfect sphere, an angry kettle fifteen feet across, spinning high off the ground between two stained concrete towers. Most people swear out loud when they see it for the first time. A network of gears, each tooth the size of a fist, churns away in the darkness behind it. The towers and the gears allow the boiler to spin like a planet, like Saturn, rust-colored with wide rings of black grease. It is hot in its shadow, the steam coming off it like breath, and every surface within twenty yards is either dripping or damp. The boiler feels almost monstrous, a relic of a spitting industrial age, corrosive and mean, and it feels that way especially when it finally stops spinning and its oval maw clangs open, vomiting tons of boiling cotton that hits the floor with a heavy slap. There it is, the earliest, no-bullshit incarnation of cash: piles of raw cellulose cooked to its fibrous essence, as brown as it is white, and scalding. American money is born in a flame.
The boiler is housed in an ancient redbrick mill, built in 1863, tumbling toward the shore of the Housatonic River in tiny Dalton, Massachusetts. The mill is named for a local hero, Captain Byron Weston, but is owned and operated by Crane & Co., makers of fine paper. Today the company is under the stewardship of fifty-three-year-old Doug Crane, the seventh generation of his family to manage the business. (The Crane ledgers, which begin with Colonel Thomas Crane in 1770, include the sale of "13 reams of money paper" to a Boston silversmith named Paul Revere.) Winthrop Crane, Doug's great-great-grandfather, won the first contract to supply the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing with paper in 1879, when the mill was only sixteen years old. Crane paper has been the money in American pockets since.
In the beginning, Crane & Co. made paper from discarded rags collected by stooped men pushing carts. American currency is still made with rags — until the last decade or so, mostly from the trims and off-cuts of denim manufacturers, including Levi's. Paper money wore soft, like a pair of blue jeans, because it was made from blue jeans. But recently, Americans decided they liked jeans that stretched, so jeans companies began adding spandex to their fabric. Money with spandex in it wouldn't be money anymore, which means much of Crane's time is now spent on a global search for waste cotton that wasn't used to make elastic pants.
Today, in a big, windowed room around the corner from the kettle, there are maybe fifty rectangular bales of cotton waiting to be boiled, each weighing about five hundred pounds. They'll be dumped into the boiler by a forklift. This particular cotton was never woven into cloth. It's the shorter, coarser fibers left over from the cotton's combing, still flecked with seeds and traces of earth from Georgia or Egypt — it's impossible to tell. The better cotton has gone to places like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to be made into six-dollar T-shirts; the cotton that otherwise would be thrown to the wind has come here to be made into hundred-dollar bills.
American money also contains linen, which is made from flax. It's finer and lighter than cotton; a same-sized bale weighs only 360 pounds. There are fewer bales of it here, because the Crane family recipe calls for 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. The linen improves the paper's tensile strength, like rebar does in concrete. It also gives American money a very particular feel.
Most other currencies in the world are made either entirely from cotton or, increasingly, from polymers — plastic — first introduced in Australian banknotes in 1988. The three bodies that oversee the production of American currency — the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and the Secret Service — explored using polymers for the new hundred-dollar bill, largely for security reasons. By total value, the U.S. hundred is the most heavily counterfeited single denomination in the world. It is also the closest thing to a global currency, with about 60 percent of them somewhere other than here, making the Benjamin both the most legal and threatened of tenders. But to the great relief of the Crane family and the sweating men who work in this mill, the U.S. government decided to stick with the cotton-linen blend that fingertips across the globe instinctively recognize.
In the late 1980s, a new counterfeit hundred, the most perfect counterfeit yet made, began appearing in circulation. It looked identical to the real thing, betrayed visually, at least, under only the most rigorous forensic testing. (Some minor flaws were visible after enormous copies of the bills were made, but these were probably purposeful. Its makers didn't want to be suckered by their own handiwork.) Although the counterfeit came to America mostly on boats from gangs in China, it was eventually traced to North Korea, where it was believed to have been manufactured by the North Korean government on its own presses. Since then, new generations of the same counterfeit have appeared, including a big-head version, mimicking the redesigned hundred that entered circulation in 1996. This family of bogus notes has been given its own title, one that befits its almost mythical stature: the North Korean supernote.
Some stories about the supernote sound more like legend than fact — like its being laundered by a bank in Macao called the Banco Delta Asia, or several thousand of them somehow appearing overnight in Lima, threatening to tip over the entire Peruvian economy. But there remains one truth in the supernote's history that has never been forgotten: It was first detected at the Central Bank of the Philippines by a teller, given pause only by the same nebulous flaw that betrays the majority of counterfeits. It just didn't feel right.
It just didn't feel right because it wasn't printed on paper made by Crane & Co. in Dalton, Massachusetts. It wasn't boiled in this kettle.
Brian Thompson's office looks like any other standard-issue government cubicle, in a bunker of a room inside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. On the door to the room, there's a small poster of an M.C. Escher lithograph: two hands holding pens, each drawing the other's cuff. There's also a sign: OLD WORLD CRAFTSMANSHIP. BECAUSE WE CARE. Apart from the sign, there are only hints that something beautiful happens here. In Thompson's cubicle, a drawing table has been pushed against one of the half walls. Two metal trays of pencils are sitting on it, grays and colors, kept as sharp as knives. There's one long banner on the wall, a series of Escher drawings that blend seamlessly into one another, a flock of birds turning into a school of fish and back into birds again. And then there's a poster of Thompson's own latest work of art, framed in pride of place above his table: the new hundred-dollar bill.
The Artist: Brian Thompson designed the hundred, drawing many of its new images by hand at his desk.
Thompson is forty-three years old, African-American, with a closely trimmed mustache. He's dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt. He was nineteen when he began working at the bureau, a talented high school art student with no formal training in currency design. The bureau is a union shop; most craft employees here arrive as apprentices, working under journeymen until they become journeymen themselves. Thompson's father was a cylinder maker, fabricating the big rollers that draw the currency paper through the presses, and one day he saw there was an opening for an "art job." It turned out the banknote designers were looking for an apprentice. Thompson put in his portfolio, and they liked what they saw. They asked for seven years of Thompson's life, and in exchange they would teach him the trade. Twenty-four years later, he has his own note.
There's a pile of loose papers in the corner of his cubicle. He digs through it until he finds what he's looking for. "There it is," he says, and he brings a single glossy white sheet under the light on his table. It was one of his first assignments, dated July 12, 1989, hand-lettering the alphabet in what he calls banknote roman, the principal font on all American money. He had to learn, by hand and by feel, its spacing, its body weight, the proportions of every shadow and serif. "These are the fundamental principles," he says. By 1992, he had worked his way up to painting things like streetscapes and bald eagles, but only in shades of gray, from the bird's white head to the blackest tips of its feathers. This is how Thompson learned to draw vignettes — the illustrations of buildings on the backs of bills — with depth and tone even in the absence of color. But bald eagles were only momentary diversions from the hand-lettering he had to continue to do every day for years. "Letters get you to focus on the details," Thompson says. "That was the basis of my whole education: Every single detail says something. It means something."
He digs through the pile of papers again. He pulls out a simple pencil drawing of a feather, a quill digging into a curling scroll. As a physical object, the new hundred is born again and again in that boiler in Dalton, Massachusetts. As an idea, it was born on this table, with these pencils, on this single piece of paper, with this drawing of a quill.
Thompson likes money that tells a story — something that, despite the constraints of a note's size and technological necessities, could pass for narrative, for art. He's constantly looking at the cash of other countries for inspiration (current favorites include the Danish krone and the Botswana pula), but he cites two principal influences: Georgia O'Keeffe, whose paintings of landscapes and flowers taught him how to combine balance with flow, and Escher, whose intricate, mathematical drawings showed Thompson the importance of precision and the power of illusion. "He would have been an incredible banknote designer," Thompson says. "He would have freaked people out."
On the back of the new hundred-dollar bill is one of Thompson's favorite magic tricks. There is an oversized 100 bordered in white and blue, printed in orange. This new feature is primarily to help the visually impaired — like the large purple 5 on the five-dollar bill — but it's also a secondary defense against counterfeiters. While the 100 looks entirely orange, closer examination reveals that it contains alternating lines of orange and green. Through some quirk of the optic nerve, our eyes pick up mostly the orange. It dominates, and casual counterfeiters might overlook or be unable to replicate the disappearing green.
What Thompson hopes you'll see instead is the story he's trying to tell.
Shortly after Rosa Gumataotao Rios was sworn in as treasurer of the United States in July 2009, she returned to her corner office in the Treasury Building and was met by a man with a book with lined white paper. She had been practicing for this moment for months.
"I have awful penmanship," Rios says today. "My third-grade teacher is probably in disbelief that I'm signing money." That nervous morning, it took her thirty tries to get it right. On the day after Thanksgiving — it takes several weeks for a new signature to be incorporated into the design — she, her husband, and her children joined the then-secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and his family at the bureau. They stood next to the chugging presses and watched their names appear for the first time on a sheet of fresh twenty-dollar bills. She pressed her thumb against her name on one of the notes. "The ink was still wet," she says. "It was surreal." Not only was it her name on money; it was also her husband's name and her children's name: Gumataotao, the first Chamorro name to appear on U.S. currency. "It was very emotional," she says, "the loveliest experience." Her name and Geithner's will also be the first to grace the new hundred-dollar bill. The recently appointed secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew — who had to change his illegible loopy autograph for public consumption — will have to wait for the presses to catch up. His evolving signature made its nationwide debut on the letter asking for the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS instead.
Rios now chairs the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee, which helps coordinate a process made complicated by a similarly messy bureaucratic past. Most currencies are issued by central banks — the Bank of England issues the British pound, the Bank of Canada the Canadian dollar. The Federal Reserve fulfills the same role in the U.S., but because of a long-standing American aversion to central banks, it wasn't created until 1913, a delayed response to the bank panic of 1907. By then, the Treasury Department, through its Bureau of Engraving and Printing, founded in 1862, had been printing paper money for decades. Today, the issuing authority and the manufacturer remain oddly distinct enterprises. That American money still bears the signature of the treasurer rather than, say, the chairman of the Federal Reserve is an accident of history that has never been corrected.
Further confusing matters was the establishment of the Secret Service in 1865. Long before it was given its mission of protecting important people, the Secret Service protected American money, as it still does. It sits on the committee, often making recommendations in the face of new threats.
A man named Edward Lowery is the special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Criminal Investigative Division. He looks and sounds exactly like a special agent, put-together and deep-voiced. Asked about the North Korean supernote, he won't say a word, refusing to acknowledge that it even exists. But he will acknowledge that the Secret Service shut down more than three hundred counterfeiting plants around the world in 2012, and for the agency, each one was a kind of school.
For instance, the five-dollar bill, like the dollar bill, is protected against counterfeiters mostly by its low value. But then the Secret Service discovered that counterfeiters were bleaching five-dollar bills of their ink to get their hands on clean paper, which they were then using to make counterfeit hundreds. (Unlike the dollar bill, the five-dollar bill has a security thread in it, which makes it a better large-denomination dupe.) The Secret Service reported this discovery to the committee, which asked Crane & Co. to add new watermarks to the five-dollar bill, overfortifying one of its smaller denominations in order to protect its largest one. If you hold up a new five to the light, you'll see a large watermarked 5 on the right-hand side and a column of three small 5's on the left. This is a good bill. If you hold up your hundred-dollar bill and see those watermarked 5's, that's a fire starter.
In the case of the new hundred, the members of the committee recommended several dramatic changes to beef up its defenses, each of which had to be approved by the secretary of the Treasury. Together they decided on the individual components of the bill, its parts. They trusted Brian Thompson with the sum of it.
At its essence, the new hundred-dollar bill is a tiny, complex machine fueled by light. Transmitted light reveals the Franklin water-mark and the thin, embedded security thread. Ultraviolet and infrared lights reveal features used by banks and vending machines. Reflected light trips some mysterious trigger that tells most photo-copiers not to print — try it sometime — and highlights the raised printing and color-shifting ink. Light also reveals the most striking component of the new bill: the bright-blue security ribbon that dominates its face.
The Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee told Thompson only that it had to go somewhere — where, exactly, was essentially up to him — and it represented perhaps his greatest design challenge. (In the end, after forty different drafts of the design, he settled on a vertical stripe, just right of center; pushing it toward the edges would have violated Georgia O'Keeffe's principles of balance.) While the ribbon really is a spectacular sliver of technology, it also slashes through Thompson's careful design like graffiti.
"Most people think it's fake," Treasurer Rios says. "They wonder why it's on there, whether it's a mistake." The ribbon is not a mistake. It is the new note's first defense, its moat, and it will prove impossible for even North Korean counterfeiters to replicate. ("We can't say that," Special Agent Lowery says, "but it will be very, very difficult.") Only one company in the world owns the technology and fully understands how it works: a venerable family-owned paper concern in tiny Dalton, Massachusetts.
Some of Thompson's tools.
Doug Crane can remember the first time he saw the ribbon, maybe fifteen years ago. It was invented by a small Georgia company by the name of Visual Physics, which gave a hint about its product, or at least the idea behind it: the microscopic interplay of light and the human eye. Crane has advanced degrees in paper science and biomedical engineering, and he is fiercely protective of his family's legacy. After Visual Physics paid a visit, Crane & Co. bought the company and every scrap of its intellectual property, effectively trapping its ribbon in this redbrick mill. "Literally nobody else can make it," he says.
The ribbon takes advantage of our primal, extraordinary ability to detect even the slightest movement in a sea of stillness. Looking at the ribbon on the new American hundred — or, more accurately, into it — you'll see three-dimensional images of two icons floating within that bottomless blue: several 100's and several cracked Liberty Bells. If you tip the bill left to right, the digits and bells will somehow move up and down; tip the bill up and down and they will move left to right.
"It meets the test we have for public security features," says Michael Lambert, an associate director at the Federal Reserve. "It's really easy for people to use, but it's really hard for counterfeiters to replicate."
Even the printers at the bureau marvel at it, as much as it has driven them to distraction. The new hundred was supposed to come out in 2011, but the entire manufacturing process had to be fine-tuned to accommodate the ribbon, which was partially responsible for causing an unacceptable number of sheets to crease. Today it's visible only on the face of the bill, and even though it's plastic, it is only one-third the thickness of the note itself. "That is unreal," says Dave Smeltzer, who manages the bureau's offset-printing division. "In and out in less than five thousandths of an inch." It looks as though it's been threaded through the paper somehow, like a basket's weave, but that's not how it's done. "No, we make it all at once," Crane says. "The sheet of paper gets made around the ribbon. And that's all I can real-ly tell you about that." That part of a second mill — where the boiled cotton and linen become paper that somehow swallows great lengths of blue plastic ribbon at appropriate intervals — is protected from view by enormous red curtains. What goes on behind them is secret.
The ribbon itself is a collection of microscopic lenses, like the pixels on your TV, but much, much smaller. (Asked what the lenses are made of, Crane says, "Stuff. They're made of stuff.") On a single note, the quarter-inch-wide ribbon contains 875,000 of those lenses. When they catch the light, they magnify the icons — the 100's and the Liberty Bells — that have been printed on the ribbon beneath them. That printing is among the smallest accomplished in the history of the world. If, instead of symbols, Crane wanted to magnify text, the font would be small enough to print the entire Bible on the surface of a single dime — twice.
The hope is that every time you receive a new hundred-dollar bill, you'll see the movement in the ribbon and be stopped by it, if only for a fraction of a second. Counterfeiters rely on our inattention. Their edge is that we've come to see Benjamin Franklin and are blind to everything else. Now that blue ribbon is the new Benjamin Franklin. It will be responsible for triggering whatever part of our brain thinks That's money.
Brian Thompson, however, wanted the new hundred to be more than an instrument of light; he wanted light to be an element of his design. There is no record of why each bill bears the particular face it does, originally put on money so that even the illiterate could recognize its value. Why Benjamin Franklin was specifically honored on the hundred has been lost to time. But Thompson decided this new note should tell at least part of Franklin's story: namely, that he was one of the drafters and signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hence the new quill, which has survived every version of the design from Thompson's first pencil drawing, even though the accompanying scroll did not. Hence the addition of the inkwell at the base of the quill and the date, July 4, 1776, and the inclusion of script from the Declaration itself. (The words have been cut and pasted in random sequence so that counterfeiters can't just copy the document and include it in their own work.) And hence, most of all, the hundred-dollar billas a source of light — specifically the 100 on the note's bottom-left corner.
If you look closely at the bill, if you look at where its shadows fall, at the gleam on the inkwell, at the illumination of Franklin's great noble head, that bottom-left 100 is the bulb from which a single beam stretches across the rest of the darkened stage. That beam lifts us square into Franklin's gaze, over the visual speed bump of the security ribbon, and on up the quill, pointed purposefully and dramatically to the 100 in the top-right corner. Light draws our eyes across the entire face of the new hundred-dollar bill, just as it has carried us through time. Light is what brings us from there to here.
William Fleishell, a fifty-two-year-old engraver, owns the first set of hands responsible for turning Thompson's vision into a physical reality. His principal instrument is called a burin, or graver. Burins are passed down within the bureau; some here are more than a century old. It's a simple, ancient tool with a wooden handle topped by a small knob that fits into the palm of his right hand. It has a blade shaped like a diamond; he runs it over a stone to sharpen it. Today Fleishell is working on a portrait of Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist. Most significant American public figures — presidents, Supreme Court justices — are the subjects of official engraved portraits. The Douglass portrait will probably be used to make prints to sell in the gift shop. It will also be placed in the bureau's vault, in case one day the committee decides that Douglass is worthy of money.
The Engraver: William Fleishell painstakingly revised the vignette of Independence Hall.
Fleishell has silver hair, a cherubic face, and the demeanor of someone who is very particular and has arranged his universe exactly the way he likes it. He began working here in 1988 and served the portraitist's ten-year apprenticeship — ten years to master the engraver's three means of expression: lines, dots, and dashes. Despite his having worked here for twenty-five years, his studio is spare. "North light," Fleishell says, pointing to the angled skylight above him. "What more could I ask for?"
He's already transferred the portrait of Douglass onto a shining steel plate, in the way a tattoo artist might use a stencil; now he's doing the actual engraving. Fleishell looks through a loupe and angles the burin into the steel, pushing out the smallest sliver, carving a miniature ditch. His burin makes no sound. The change in the portrait is almost imperceptible. But slowly, Douglass will come more and more to life. Fleishell has already completed Douglass's intense eyes — most engravers start with the eyes, because they are the hardest part — and his mouth, because teeth are the second-hardest part. Now Fleishell is working on Douglass's hair, each strand requiring another push of the burin. This single portrait will take him hundreds of hours of work, four or five months of careful labor.
The engravings on the new hundred-dollar bill are, in fact, old engravings. The Franklin portrait is the same one used on the current hundred, created by Thomas Hipschen in 1992; when Hipschen was deep into his work, Beethoven poured out under his door. The vignette of Independence Hall on the back of the bill was made by Joachim Benzing in 1929.
Benzing also engraved some of the more cryptic symbolism on the back of the one-dollar bill. A section of the Treasury's annual appropriations bill has ensured his work on the Great Seal will be timeless, or at least as timeless as the dollar bill itself: It hasn't been redesigned because the bureau is prohibited by Congress from doing so. A former Arizona congressman named Jim Kolbe led that effort beginning in 1986 — not out of any sense of nostalgia or tradition, but because he was, and remains, a vocal advocate of the dollar coin. (Arizona also happens to be home to the copper mines that would supply the necessary metal.) Despite the failure of three different dollar coins — today more than a billion sit in Federal Reserve vaults — he hoped to kill the dollar bill through mandatory neglect. Why redesign something that should soon be made extinct? New legislation, the COINS Act, sponsored in part by Arizona senator John McCain, was introduced again this June. If it's passed, the dollar bill will be eliminated within four years. And yet Benzing's art will survive, more than eighty years after it was made, on the back of the new hundred instead.
Fleishell digitally touched up Benzing's engraving, making the windows crisper and changing the look of the sky. The use of computers rather than burins is a sensitive topic within the bureau. Hipschen left not long after the introduction of digital engraving, believing that it flattened the job, made it common. Experienced engravers can spot the differences in one another's handiwork as easily as painters can separate a Picasso from a Monet, and that built-in signature makes the art more beautiful and harder for counterfeiters to replicate. But computers enable the work to be done much more quickly — a portrait might take weeks rather than months — and mistakes to be erased more easily. Fleishell engraved the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the five-dollar bill by hand, but he understands that computers will likely take his burin's place. He still sees something almost
transcendent in this quiet testament to patience and care. "This place is Valhalla for me," he says. Fleishell and the other engravers whose work is in our wallets — most of the other modern portraits are Hipschen's — are perhaps the least famous American artists with the most widely viewed art. "They don't know who I am, but that's okay," he says. "That's still my work. I did that."
All that work is upstairs, silent and sunlit; the rest is done downstairs, in the heat and the noise. Steve Olszowy, twenty-one years on the job, reproduces the engravings on stunning printing plates, thirty-two Benjamins a sheet. They will be wrapped around the rollers that Brian Thompson's father used to make; they should be hanging on a wall instead. They are the art that no one sees. The plates are first made of thin black plastic — as with Crane's papermaking, the way in which the engravings are translated into plastic is kept secret — sprayed with silver nitrate, and dunked into tanks filled with electrified liquid nickel sulfamate, a bright green. "You don't want to drink that," Olszowy says. Plate makers talk about "growing" plates. Over the course of about seventeen hours, the nickel will slowly grow, ion by ion, into a mirror image of the plastic plate, which is then removed. The nickel plates are then rinsed and ground and punched with mounting holes, and then dipped into a bath of hexavalent chrome, "probably the nastiest stuff the bureau's got." Little plastic balls float on the surface of the baths, each of which bubbles away like a cauldron; the balls knock down the fumes. The chrome coats and binds to the nickel, giving it strength. The plates wear down inside the presses, however, meaning the bureau has to make about seven hundred of them each year. "They're pretty, aren't they?" Olszowy says, holding one up.
Dave Smeltzer, the offset printer, twenty-eight years on the job, comes next. He pushes sixteen-thousand-sheet loads of Crane & Co. paper into his Super Simultan II, a beast of a machine. Those same sheets come out the other end with their carefully blended foundation inks in several shades of blue, and Brian Thompson's quill and magical 100 in orange. After drying for seventy-two hours, they're taken to the intaglio printers, who literally operate in parallel, just a few feet away. These masters of raised inks are managed by Bob Smith, twenty-four years on the job, with a thick mustache and a Bronx accent to rival it. He and his men have mounted Steve Olszowy's plates onto their cylinders, and now they coat the plates with thick waves of ink.
That ink is made by a Swiss company called SICPA, which once made a "special fat used in the milking of cows" but now supplies much of the world's security inks. Countries buy the rights to a particular "shift" — a particular color change. On the new hundred, it's green to copper rather than the current green to black, a more noticeable change. Color-shifting ink contains microscopic metallic flakes that reflect different wavelengths of light, which means the ink can change color. On the new hundred, there's a bell inside the inkwell that appears and disappears depending on how the light strikes it. Even the ink is a mirror of many facets.
The color-shifting and black inks fill every crevice of the plates, which are then wiped clean of the excess. The intaglio printers take the dried sheets from the offset boys and put them into their own machines, which squeeze together the paper and plates with enough pressure to strip a careless man of his skin. The backs of the notes are printed first. Before the fronts can be printed, the sheets are hand-jogged and -cracked by the pressmen to make sure the paper doesn't stick together. This is physical labor. Now come the iconic fronts, rolling past. Now there's Benjamin Franklin, his face like a fingerprint, and the note's borders and Rosa Gumataotao Rios's signature, still wet to the touch. Now it's money.
The sheets are taken to a drying vault by the pile. It looks like a warehouse for cheap plastic shower curtains, but in fact there's something like a billion dollars in it, steaming away, watched over by Ronald Perkins, twenty-seven years on the job. There's a smell in the vault that's heavy but not unpleasant, cotton and chemicals. "That's the smell of money," Perkins says.
Once the sheets have dried, Perkins and his team run them through computer inspection. Notes that are even slightly flawed get kicked off the line. To demonstrate, Perkins marks a single note on a single sheet with a red marker, just a dot. Seconds later, at the other end of the belt, there it sits, ready to be destroyed.
The sheets are cut in half and wheeled on hand jacks over to Carson Green, twenty-six years on the job. He's African-American, with a beard and a raspy voice. His press applies the finishing touches — the serial numbers and seals, black and green — and then the sheets are trimmed and cut from 16's to 8's to single notes. The last knives must be impossibly sharp. They plunge down into stacks one hundred notes thick, cutting through them as though they were wedges of cake. "We don't mess around with that," Green says as he watches the blades drop, nearly three decades in and still mesmerized. "That is so cool," he says to no one in particular. "Another perfect cut." At last, each tidy pile of notes is machine-counted and bound with a band of glossy paper: $10,000 in a strap. There are ten straps in a bundle. There are four bundles in a brick, or $400,000, about nine pounds of money, now wrapped in clear plastic. Four bricks make a cash pack, $1.6 million, and forty cash packs make a skid, $64 million of American money in a square-shouldered pile on a pallet at the end of the line.
This load is destined for the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City — but it might have gone to branches in Minneapolis or Kansas City — from where it will be shipped to financial institutions and central banks across the country and around the world. On October 8, these bills will join the 8.9 billion U.S. hundreds already in circulation — 8.9 billion pieces, not dollars — this $64-million skid some tiny fraction of the more than 2.5 billion new hundreds printed this fiscal year alone by people named Crane and Thompson and Gumataotao Rios, Lowery and Lambert, Fleishell and Hipschen and Benzing, Olszowy and Smeltzer and Smith, Perkins and Green.
Their work is in demand in Russia, in Saudi Arabia, in California and Delaware, more in demand, more desired than ever before, to be locked in safes and stuffed under mattresses and thrown onto felt tables. There has never been more American money, and there have never been more people who want it. Different people, the people who talk about the end of cash, futurists and credit-card companies, people who believe in invisible things, sometimes forget how the rest of us think, and in particular they forget how we think in times of crisis, when we seek comfort and security and trust. There were spikes in demand big enough to chart, like tremors, after September 11 and especially after September 2008, when the global financial markets woke up and realized how little cash they had. Lies turn true objects sacred, and in them we seek shelter. That's when art wins. When darkness falls, we want straps and bundles and bricks. We want Benjamin Franklin. We want light we can hold in our hands.
The Printing of Money
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITH
The inked-up nickel plates on an intaglio printer.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITH
After this it's money...
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITH
...awaiting serial numbers and seals.
What is the Dollar Bill Made of?
Currency notes are usually made of paper. However, the US one dollar bill is not made of paper, but of a material that will come as a surprise to you. Find out all about what is the dollar bill made of, by going through the following article.
If you ever have held a dollar bill in your hand, you will find it feels a bit different. And if you happen to forget a bill in your pocket and find it after you get your pants from the dryer, your doubts about it being a bit different will come true. This is because the dollar bills are not made of paper. They are made from a different material that is more long-lasting and sturdy.
What Material is a Dollar Bill Made of?
It's not paper or plastic, but the US $1 bill is made up of cotton and linen. Yes, 'cotton' and 'linen', the same material that makes up your clothes. Over the years, the percentage of cotton and linen has changed, but today most dollar bills are made of 25% linen fibers and 75% cotton fibers. Red and blue silk fibers were incorporated to the cotton-linen mix as a security. These red and blue fibers were made of silk early on, but today these are synthetic fibers. Nowadays, in many one dollar bills, linen is fast being replaced by synthetic fibers. Thus, the composition is now about 80% cotton and 20% synthetic fibers.
If you are wondering, why doesn't your dollar bill disintegrate when wet, then the reason is rag fibers. These 'rag fibers' are actually the material that is used to make a dollar bill. And the material is cotton, linen as well as some synthetic fibers. When preparing these rag fibers, a watermark and thread is incorporated. This helps in distinguishing the genuine $1 bill from counterfeit notes. The ink used is also special and contains a secret blend. After the symbols are printed and overprinted on the bill, it is starched in water. As it contains cotton, starch helps make the note appear crisp. Once starched, the notes are pressed hard before distribution. Apart from this interesting information, there are many more intriguing facts about the $1 bill. Let's read about these in the following points.
Interesting Facts About the Dollar Bill
$ The first 1 dollar notes were issued by the Federal Government in the year 1862. These notes were called the United States Notes or 'Legal Tenders'.
$ The initial notes featured a picture of Secretary of Treasury Salmon P. Chase (1861-1864).
$ Since the Series 1869 United States Notes, the $1 bills features a portrait of George Washington.
$ The $1 note makes up 45% of all the currency production undertaken by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
$ The portrait of George Washington on the $1 note was followed by the words 'ONE SILVER DOLLAR'. These words were changed to 'ONE DOLLAR' in the year 1934.
$ The gray numerical 1 was changed to blue color in the year 1935. In the same year, the treasury seal was made smaller and the words 'ONE DOLLAR' were superimposed over the seal.
$ The reverse side carries the same design as it was in the year 1935.
$ Above the pyramid on the $1 bill, one can spot the Latin words 'ANNUIT COEPTIS'. It means "God has favored our undertaking". The Latin words placed below the pyramid 'NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM', mean "a new order for the ages".
$ One dollar bills are often referred to as 'Greenbacks'. This is because the Demand Note dollars created in late 1800's by Abraham Lincoln were printed in black and green on the reverse side.
$ If you were given a total of $10 billion dollars in $1 dollar bill and you spent a note every second of a day, it would take you at least 317 years before you went bankrupt.
$ The front side of $1 bill features the seal, the scales, a carpenter's square and the key to the US Treasury apart from the portrait of George Washington.
$ The reverse side of the note features the Great Seal of the US, a pyramid with an Eye of Providence and the words "IN GOD WE TRUST".
These were some facts regarding the US $1 bill. It's not just a bill, but history in your pocket. It is a living proof of all the great men and women, who helped make the dream of the United States of America a success.