Because I have spent my career working for Financial Institutions, I’m often asked questions about money. Not just about loans, savings accounts or other products and services, but about actual currency. Questions like, “What does a million dollars look like?” “Have you ever seen a counterfeit bill?” “What is the largest bill printed?” Some of the answers to these types of questions are interesting and surprising.
When you are in the business of working with currency, like our Mission Fed tellers do, it becomes part of your everyday life. Money is counted, procedures are followed and cash drawers are balanced—and you may not think twice about interesting factoids. But I thought it would be fun to visit these questions and provide some answers for them.
- What does a million dollars look like? I don’t have an actual picture, but it would, of course, depend on the denomination of bills. If we used weight as a gauge, a million in $1 bills would weigh over 2,000 pounds! If the bills were in $100 bills, it would only weigh about 20 pounds. And, the only time that I have ever seen one million dollars was in Las Vegas, displayed at a casino.
- Have you ever seen a counterfeit bill? Yes, quite a few times! The interesting part about counterfeit currency is that it feels quite different than authentic bills, because U.S. currency is not made of paper—it’s made out of fabric and fiber. The mixture of cotton, linen and silk fibers makes it difficult to duplicate, and therefore counterfeit currency ends up feeling “funny.” So while the bill may look real, it does not feel real. We have other procedures for identifying currency as counterfeit as well.
- What is the largest bill ever printed? I had to look this question up once, and it was a $100,000 bill. It was printed in 1934, and Woodrow Wilson was the U.S. President pictured on the bill. It was only used between the Federal Reserve banks and never in circulation. The highest denomination bill that I have personally seen is only a $500 bill and it was in a private collection, not at a credit union or bank.
I do find the history of American currency interesting. In the time since our government was established, our currency has gone through many changes. Coins were our primary currency before the first paper bills were printed. In the late 1800s during the Civil War, people started hoarding coins since they were made of silver and gold. On the brink of bankruptcy, the government started printing bills in 1861 to help finance the Civil War. The bills were printed for 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents. In 1996, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced a redesign of American currency, and we saw changes to each denomination over the course of the next 10 years to the current designs today.
The amount of money printed by the U.S. Department of Treasury is staggering. In 2011, the government printed almost 3 billion $1 bills and over 900million $20 bills. Each denomination printed was in the hundreds of millions. Just think how much more money we would need to print if we did not have debit cards and credit cards in our society!
All this talk about money reminds me that I have to go to the ATM and get cash for the weekend—too bad it won’t be anything close to $1 million.
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