The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a monstrous building just a half block south of the Washington Monument, on 14th Street here in D.C. When I contacted California Senator, Barbara Boxer to request a White House tour for the time my mom is joining me for my stay in Washington D.C., they offered up the tour of the BEP, of course I said yes. The BEP website touts this as;
“a great place to learn all about U.S. paper currency. You can see millions of dollars being printed as you walk along the gallery overlooking the production floor! The free 40-minute experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process.”
I was more than disappointed. I pried myself out of bed at 6:30 and walked the two miles over to 14th Street for this special tour of the sacred place where our country’s money is printed at 8:45 am. The tour didn’t last 40-minutes as promised. I was walking out of the door of the gift shop at 9:08 am, which I had spent at least five minutes walking through in search of some prize of the day (there was none!) That’s 23-minutes, sans the gift shop, the tour lasted a whopping 18-minutes.
Our monotone, tour guide was just was bored with the tour as we were, as he mechanically walked us through the various stops on the tour and explained the printing process. What did I learn in my 18-minute tour? Not a thing….I already know how printing works, I know that money is printed in sheets, and I was not surprised that they performed multiple quality inspections.
With extra time to kill – I spent ten minutes with my friend Google and learned these tidbits of information about US currency.
- The $100 bill has been the largest denomination of currency in circulation since 1969.
- Currency is printed on 3/4 cotton and 1/4 linen. Which as small red and blue synthetic fibers woven throughout each bill.
- The most valuable piece of currency ever produced in the U.S. was worth $100,000. Printed in 1934, $100,000 Gold Certificates bearing a portrait of Woodrow Wilson were used, but only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks.
- Civil War coin hoarding caused the US government to create paper currency bills for the first time in 1861. Each and every one of the first bills was signed by one of the six people who worked at the US Treasury.
- One million dollars in one-dollar bills is 361 feet high and weighs exactly 1 ton
- US currency is made to be extremely durable. The average bill is meant to take up to 4000 folds in each direction before it rips.
- 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%.
- 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.
- When an imperfect note is detected during the manufacturing process after the serial number has been overprinted, it must be replaced with a new note. A “star” note is used to replace the imperfect note. Reusing that exact serial number to replace the imperfect note is costly and time consuming. The “star” note has its own special serial number followed by a star in place of a suffix letter. The serial number of the imperfect note that was removed is not used again in the same numbering sequence.
- E Pluribus Unum” is used on many of our country’s seals and most of our currency and coins. “E Pluribus Unum” — “One From Many.” The motto first appeared on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. The Great Seal, however, didn’t appear on U.S. currency until 1902
There. You’ve learned a little about US currency and you didn’t have to get out of bed too early to waste 18-minutes winding through an under-whelming tour.