The one dollar bill is one of the most familiar objects in the U.S., with George Washington’s stern face on the front and the pyramid and eagle on the back. But while we’ve carried this currency in our pocket since we were allowed to use it to pay for junk food, it contains its fair share of mysteries.
From its design quirks to its unexpected history, the dollar bill is actually full of surprises. Here are 20 things you may not have known about the bills in your wallet. And if you’re looking to stack up your dollar bills this year, check out 52 Ways to Be Smarter with Money in 2018.
The Dollar Bill Has Been Unchanged for More Than 50 Years
The $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills have all been redesigned in the last decade or so, with the Federal Reserve adding color and watermarks to outsmart counterfeiters. But the dollar bill has remained unchanged since 1963. The reason it’s been so long neglected, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is that “The $1 note is infrequently counterfeited.”
But the more significant reason is likely the lobbying done by the vending-machine industry, which would have to redesign its machines to accommodate new bills. And if you prefer to use a credit card these days, you should read up on Why Real Men Carry Cash.
The Last Change to the Dollar Was the Addition of “In God We Trust”
The last change made to the dollar bill was the addition of the line “In God We Trust,” added in 1963. This phrase was added to all U.S. currency following a law passed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Curious if money is the key to happiness? Here’s Exactly How Much Money You Need to Make to Be Happy.
The First Face of the $1 Bill Was Not Washington
While we associate George Washington with the $1 bill, and including the first president on the “1” bill has a natural logic, he was not actually the first to appear on $1 legal tender. That honor went to Salmon P. Chase, whose face went on the country’s first $1 note issued in 1862, during the Civil War.
As Secretary of the Treasury at the time, Chase also happened to be the man who was designing the country’s first bank notes—so it seems he thought quite highly of himself. The first use of George Washington on the $1 note was not until 1869. And for more fun history lessons, don’t miss the 28 Most Enduring Myths in American history.
A Different Washington Once Graced the Dollar
The first First Lady, Martha Washington, was the face of the $1 silver certificate. First printed in 1886, the certificates were backed by the U.S. government’s silver deposits and featured an engraving of Martha based on her portrait by Charles Francois Jalabert. The Martha dollars had a long run, but were discontinued in 1957. And to learn more about how to save your money this year, here are 14 Money-Saving Habits You Need to Adopt This Year.
There’s a Hidden Owl
If you look closely at the top right corner of the dollar bill, peeking above the top of the “1” is what appears to be a small bird or owl, perhaps Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, whose sacred bird was the owl, and who is a common figure in Illuminati conspiracy theories. Some argue that it is actually a small spider, partly because of the webbed design that surrounds it, which has also inspired wide-ranging conspiracy theories. In fact, it’s likely just a quirk of the pattern. And for more great trivia, check out the 20 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Your Smartphone.
It Costs 5.4 Cents to Produce a Dollar
Not a bad return on investment: The Federal Reserve spends about 5.4 cents to produce every $1 bill (a much better deal than the 1.5 cents it costs to produce a penny). While the $2 bill carries the same pricetag, the bills get costlier from there. The $5 bill costs 11.5 cents, the $10 costs 10.9 cents, and the $20 bill costs 12.2 cents to produce. Looking to save more money? Here’s How to Cut $10,000 From Your Annual Expenses.
It Falls Out of Circulation in About 5.8 Years
According to the Federal Reserve, a dollar falls out of circulation on average about every 5.8 years. That’s more frequent than the average $20 bill (7.9 years), $50 bill (8.5 years), and $100 bill (15 years)—but not as common as the $5 bill (5.5 years) and $10 bill (4.5 years). Seems we just can’t hold on to our 10 spots.
It Has its Detractors
Because of the cost and need to frequently reprint the heavily circulated $1 bills, it has acquired some powerful enemies. A few years back, a group of five senators, including Arizona’s John McCain and Iowa’s Tom Harkin, united behind an effort to switch to a $1 coin. According to the senators and consumer advocates supporting them, such a shift would save the government $13.8 billion over three decades. But for various reasons (the vending machine lobby prominent among them), the effort went nowhere. And for more trivia you didn’t know, check out these 30 Hilarious Words for Everyday Problems.
You Can Track Your Dollar
You can see where your dollar has been and where it is going by using the site Where’s George. Just enter the serial number of the dollar in your wallet, and you can find out what zip codes it’s passed through to get to your wallet, or keep an eye on where it heads after you spend it.
The Pyramid Represents the Young Country
The pyramid on the back of the bill represents the young United States, with 13 steps, representing the original 13 colonies, and an unfinished top, reflecting the growing and expanding the country still had to do. The “Eye of Providence” at the top represents an all-seeing god—but not, as some conspiracy theorists would tell you, the illuminati.
The U.S. Once Produced $100,000 Bills
The largest denomination of official U.S. currency ever printed was the $100,000 Series 1934 Gold Certificate. Featuring a portrait of President Woodrow Wilson, these notes were printed over just a couple weeks between December 1934 and January 1935 and were mainly used for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks—so it was unlikely a member of the general public would get his hands on one. (Despite rumors to the contrary, the Treasury Department never produced a $1 million currency note.)
Bigger Bills Are Hard to Come By
Decades ago, the Federal Reserve Board printed currency in denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000. These were primarily used for bank transfer payments, which became unnecessary after more advanced (and secure) ways of transferring money were introduced. Production ceased on these big bills during World War II and in 1969, the Secretary of the Treasury announced that the department would stop distributing the currency.
They are still legal tender, but you might want to hold on to them if you come into possession of them—there are just a few hundred $5,000 and $10,000 bills in existence. You might not be able to find these bill around but here are 5 Millionaire Money Secrets You Can Use.
The Eagle Represents War and Peace
The eagle on the back of the dollar bill is meant to convey both war and peace, with arrows held in its left talon (representing war) and an olive branch in its right talon (representing peace). If love animals like eagles, read up on these 15 Animal Species Miraculously Saved From Extinction.
13 Is Everywhere
We already mentioned the 13 steps on the pyramid, but look further and you will see that the number 13 pops up everywhere—there are 13 arrows in the eagle’s talon as well as 13 stripes and 13 stars on the Great Seal.
11.7 Billion One-Dollar Bills Are in Circulation
According to the Federal Reserve’s latest calculations, there are a total of 39.8 billion bills circulating in the United States, which roughly breaks down as:
- 11.7 billion $1 bills
- 1.2 billion $2 bills
- 2.8 billion $5 bills
- 1.9 billion $10 bills
- 8.9 billion $20 bills
- 1.7 billion $50 bills
- 11.5 billion $100 bills
It’s Not Paper
We may call it “paper money” but currency is actually composed of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. Love learning random facts, check out these 40 Facts So Funny They’re Hard to Believe.
It Takes a Lot to Tear Them
According to the Treasury Department, you would have to fold a bill back-and-forth about 4,000 times before it actually tears.
You Can Still Use Them When They’re Torn
But if you do happen to tear your bill, it is still okay to spend. As long as three-quarters of a bill are intact, it can be exchanged for a whole bill. If it’s torn in half, as long as the serial number matches on both sides, it can be used. If it’s badly mutilated, you can actually send the bill to the Mutilated Currency Division of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where it is reviewed and often replaced (the group deals with about 30,000 claims a year).
Look for the Stars
A “star” on a bill means it’s a replacement for a messed-up one. When an imperfection is detected on a bill after a serial number has already been overprinted, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing replaces it with a “star note” before it goes into circulation—a note with the same serial number, but with an asterisks, or “star,” added to the end of it. These are scarcer than notes with traditional serial numbers, but the exact same value as any other dollar.
They’re Full of Bacteria
Changing so many hands, it’s probably no surprise that dollar bills are not the cleanest objects. A 2002 study by the U.S. Air Force that examined 68 $1 notes found that 94 percent of them contained bacteria—some of which could lead to pneumonia or serious infection. In case you do touch an infected bill, here’s how to Stop a Cold Before It Starts.
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