Sharing some fun facts about American money


I recently came across a few interesting tidbits regarding American money so thought I would share with you today.

Prior to the Civil War, banks printed our paper money, not the federal government. Notes printed by the state-chartered banks could then be exchanged for gold and silver, and were the most common form of paper money in distribution. From the founding of the U.S. to the passage of the National Banking Act of 1863, some 8,000 entities were issuing money, creating a hefty money supply, and making widespread counterfeiting much easier. By instituting a single national currency, the Act eradicated the sweeping variety of paper money throughout the country and developed a system of banks chartered by the federal government. This Act also offered support in financing the Civil War.

The largest denomination ever printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 gold certificate between Dec. 18, 1934 and Jan. 9, 1935, with a picture of President Woodrow Wilson on the front. They were never circulated to the public and were only used for transactions between Federal Reserve banks.

The $10,000 bill is the highest denomination ever circulated by the federal government, graced with a portrait of Salmon P. Chase, treasury secretary at the time of the passing of the National Banking Act. Chase later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court. The federal government halted production of the $10,000 bill in 1969 along with the $5,000 bill, fronted by President James Madison; the $1,000 bill, fronted by President Grover Cleveland; and the $500 bill, fronted by President William McKinley.

When one-dollar bills are taken out of circulation or become worn, the Federal Reserve banks shred them. In some cases, the federal government has sold the shredded money to companies who recycle it and then use it for producing materials such as roofing shingles or insulation.

The $10 bill has the shortest lifespan of any denomination with a lifespan of 3.6 years. Per the Federal Reserve the estimated lifespan of a $5 bill is 3.8 years; and a $1 bill is 4.8 years. The highest estimated lifespan is for the $100 bill at close to 18 years.

The $2 bill is possibly viewed as the most unique denomination currently circulating in the U.S. with President Thomas Jefferson portrayed on the front and the signing of the Declaration of Independence mirrored on the back. Its unpopularity and discontinuation in 2003 have resulted in little circulation today. Minimal circulation has added to the misinformed belief the bills are highly valuable. Because they are still legal circulation tender today, the truth of the matter is they are worth a whopping $2 and should be used like any other paper money. As long as the $2 bills in our wallets were produced between 1976 and 2003 there is no need to hold onto them. That being said, if you find yourself with a red seal $2 bill, it might be worth tucking away. The red seal was issued between 1928 and 1966. While it won’t make you rich by any means, they are a bit more valuable than the current version. Because they are so lightly circulated their average lifespan is six years.


Gloria Wall’s column appears Fridays in the Journal Review. She can be reached by email at


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