A Brief History of U.S. Currency


Why Is Money GreenAnswered: Why Is Money Green And Other Questions About The History of US Currency

Our paper currency is printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is one of the most visited buildings of the U.S. Government. U.S. currency has enjoyed a very colorful history, but why exactly is it green — the color of spring and St. Patrick’s Day?

First, let’s get some basic history

The use of coins

At our nation’s beginning, coins were the main form of exchange. Paper bills known as “continentals” were issued by the Continental Congress to finance the Revolutionary War. After the war, they became worthless. That destroyed faith in paper money, so the U.S. Constitution made coins the only form of exchange.

Until they were discovered in the west in the mid-1800s, gold and silver were in short supply. There wasn’t enough of either metal to produce the amount of coins needed. Because of that, foreign coins were acceptable as payment for goods and services. The use of foreign coins as a form of money was not stopped until 1857.

The introduction of paper bills

The highest dollar bill ever printed was never put into public use. That value was the $100,000 note. The $100,000 note was printed only during a period of 22 days — between December 18, 1934 and January 9, 1935. It had the picture of President Woodrow Wilson on it, and its only use was among Federal Reserve banks.

Prior to the Civil War, only banks issued money. Over 8,000 different banks issued money. As a result, counterfeiting was common. You may have more dollar bills than you think. Your house may be made out of paper bills. Seriously. When bills are taken out of use, the individual Federal Reserve banks shred them. The banks then sell the shredded bills to companies that recycle the “remains.” Recycled money is used in materials such as roofing shingles and insulation. So, you may live in a house made out of money.

According to the federal government, it takes over 4,000 double folds (forward, then backward) to tear a note. The $10 bill has the shortest lifespan of any of the different values. To compare, the estimated life time of a $100 bill is about 18 years, a $1 bill almost five years, but a $10 bill lasts a mere 3.6 years.

Why are U.S. paper bills green?

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing point out this is their most asked question. It is believed that in 1929, at the time of the introduction of the smaller notes we use today, pigment of that color was very plentiful. Also, it is not likely to be damaged by chemicals and other physical hardships, as it cannot be destroyed by acid.

It has also been noted that green has taken on an association with the strong and stable credit of the U.S. Government.

Last but not least, green doesn’t photocopy very well, thus lowering the occurrence of counterfeiting.