A Current History of Currency.

I believe that most of the time history should be used for serious and in-depth analysis of our past.

But, sometimes we get to explore some fun and interesting side stories that we wouldn’t otherwise think about. I figured since today is Friday — it would be good time to take a break from the serious.

So, here we go.

Have you ever wondered how our currency was designed? When official currency first came to America? Who created it?

And yes, I do recognize that my definition of fun is widely different than most.

But, nonetheless…

It all started in 1690 with ‘Colonial Notes.’ This is officially when currency was born in America. They were first issued in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to fund military exhibitions. Other colonies quickly copied the practice.


Benjamin Franklin takes on counterfeiting. I don’t mean he began printing false notes. He worked to fight back against those who did. Using his printing firm he started producing colonial notes with ‘nature prints’ – which were raised patterns cast from real leaves on the notes themselves. This was not only a unique and creative process but it also served as a deterrent to the practice of counterfeiting.


We began creating ‘Continental Currency.’ If you have ever heard the phrase “not worth a Continental” this is where it came from. This currency came about as the Continental Congress began issuing paper currency to fund the Revolutionary War.

However, this currency was rather short lived as it had no real monetary backing.


The first $2 notes were Continental’s and are just nine days older than America. The Continental Congress authorized the $2 denominations in ‘bills of credit’ for the defense of America


In 1861, in an effort to finance the Civil War, Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Treasury to issue ‘non-interest-bearing’ Demand Notes. These notes quickly earned the nickname ‘greenbacks’ because of their color. Since 1861, all U.S. currency has remained valid and redeemable at full face value.

Also coming in 1861 were the first $10 notes. These are also Demand Notes. They featured President Lincoln’s portrait.


In this year, Congress authorized a new class of currency known as “United States notes” or “Legal Tender notes.” These were identified by a red seal and a serial number. They went out of circulation in 1971.

Also coming in 1862, and more notably perhaps, was a more modern design of the bill. The Demand Notes would use a fine-line engraving, geometric lathe work patterns, a U.S. Department of Treasury seal, and an engraved signature. This, all in the effort to prevent counterfeiting. All U.S. currency utilizes these features to this day.


If you’re going to have money…you’ll probably need a bank.

So, in 1863, Congress established a national banking system and authorized the Department of Treasury to oversee the issuance of National Banknotes. In short, this system sets Federal guidelines for chartering and regulating national banks.


Interesting fact alert!

In this year, The U.S. Secret Service is established to deter counterfeiters. It wouldn’t be until 1901, with the assassination of President William McKinley, that they assumed their current responsibility.


The Bureau of Engraving and Printing begins, well…engraving and printing the faces and seals of U.S. banknotes. Before this, banknotes were produced by private companies.


As previously mentioned, banknotes included the portraits of U.S. Presidents. But, it wasn’t until 1889 that legislation mandated their name accompany the portrait. Now we can know who all these old guys are and why they’re on our money!


1913 is a rather important year in terms of money. Why? The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve (which exists under constant scrutiny) to exist as the nations central bank.

Is is the Federal Reserve Board that issues currency known as Federal Reserve notes…clearly they didn’t have time to get creative with the names.


The Federal Reserve Board began issuing large denomination banknotes such as: $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000.

If anyone has any of these and would like to send them my way…for research…just message me.


In 1929, U.S. banknotes drastically changed their appearance. First, they were made to be about 30 percent smaller than before. Furthermore, standardized designs were instituted for each denomination. This decreased manufacturing costs and the possibility for counterfeiting.


Another interesting fact!

It wasn’t until 1955 that legislation passed requiring that “In God We Trust’ appear on all currency. In 1957, that had come true as all $1 silver certificates were printed with this motto. Then in 1963, all Federal Reserve notes adopted this motto.


On July 14, 1969, the Federal Reserve announced that large denomination banknotes would be discontinued.


The Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Facility was built in Fort Worth, Texas. It would be the first government facility outside of Washington D.C. to print Federal notes.

Then, between 1993 and 2013 there would be a series of notes that were redesigned.

Thanks for reading!

-History Hero

P.S. for those wondering…the cover photo for this blog is an original 1690 Colonial Note.


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