by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we learn about the dollar bill!


The dollar bill hasn’t changed since 1963. The $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills have all been redesigned in the last decade, with the Federal Reserve adding color and watermarks to outsmart counterfeiters. But the dollar bill has remained unchanged because this denomination is infrequently counterfeited.

• Another possible reason that the dollar bill never changes is the lobbying done by the vending-machine industry, which would have to redesign its machines to accommodate new bills should the current design get an overhaul.

Merchants National Bank

• The last change made to the dollar bill was the addition of the line, “In God We Trust” which was added in 1963. This phrase started to be included on all U.S. currency following a law passed by President Eisenhower in 1956 making it the country’s official motto.

• The first face to appear on U.S. money was Salmon P. Chase on the $1 bill issued in 1862 during the Civil War. As Secretary of the Treasury, Chase was also the designer of the country’s first bank notes. George Washington took his place on the $1 bill in 1869. (cont)


We may call it “paper money” but currency is composed of 75% cotton and 25% linen.

• A normal piece of paper can withstand 400 folds but a dollar bill can withstand around 8,000 folds before it tears.

• The Federal Reserve spends about 5.5¢ to produce every $1 bill, which is a much better deal than the 2.06¢ it costs to produce a penny. While the $2 bill carries the same price tag, the bills get costlier from there: the $5 bill costs 11.4¢, the $10 bill costs 11.1¢, and the $20 bill costs 11.5¢ to produce. The $100 bill is the most expensive to produce, costing 13.2¢ each.

• While the $100 bill costs the most to produce, it’s not the costliest in terms of the proportion of the final product. While 5.6¢ represents 5.6% of the value of a $1 bill, the 13.2¢ required to print a $100 bill comes to just 0.132% of its value.

• According to the Federal Reserve, a dollar bill lasts about 5.8 years before being retired. That’s more frequent than the average $20 bill (7.9 years), $50 bill (8.5 years), and $100 bill (15 years). However, the dollar bill lasts longer than the $5 bill (5.5 years) and $10 bill (4.5 years).

• After a bill is removed from circulation, it’s may be shipped to a farm in Delaware where it is mulched and turned into compost.

• More than 70% of the new bills printed are used to replace worn-out currency.

• Because of the cost of reprinting the heavily circulated $1 bills, solutions have been proposed. In 2013, 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. This 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. (cont)


A study found over 100 different strains of bacteria on the dollar bills tested.

• Two-dollar bills are not all that rare, even though there are fewer of them in circulation than any other denomination. Currently, around 1.3 billion of them are in circulation. By comparison, there are about 12.4 billion $1 bills in circulation; 9.4 billion $20 bills; and 13.4 billion $100 bills.

• The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing uses 9.7 tons of ink to make approximately $974 million in currency every day.

• The Latin words above and below the dollar bill’s pyramid are all about American exceptionalism: “Annuit Coeptis” means “He favors our undertaking,” and “Novus ordo seclorum” means “New order of the ages.”

• Across the bottom bricks of the pyramid are the letters “MDCCLXXVI” which are the Roman numerals for 1776, the year America declared its independence.

• The eagle on the back of the $1 bill holds an olive branch (representing peace) in its right talon and arrows (symbolizing war) in its left talon. But on silver coins from 1801 to 1807, the eagle held them in opposite talons. European diplomats and journalists claimed putting the arrows in the eagle’s dominant talon was a symbol of aggression (assuming eagles are right-handed), and called it a reason to start a war, so America decided to switch the peaceful symbol to the dominant side on the dollar.

• The number 13—the original number of American states—appears on the $1 bill not just once but over and over: There are 13 arrows, 13 olive branch leaves, 13 olive fruits, 13 stars above the eagle, 13 steps of the pyramid, and 13 bars on the shield. Plus, although this is probably a coincidence, “annuit cœptis” and “e pluribus unum” both have 13 letters. (cont)


A stack of dollar bills one mile high equals $14.5 million.

• $1 million worth of $1 bills weigh almost as much as a ’66 Volkswagen Beetle, while $1 million worth of $20 bills weighs almost as much as a car tire.

• There’s nearly $1.7 trillion worth of U.S. currency in circulation.

• Legislation preventing living presidents from appearing on U.S. currency was established to ensure that the United States would not appear like a monarchy since other countries were distributing currency featuring the face of their current king or queen.

• Some of the paper money in Canada is marked in the upper right-hand corner with Braille-like raised dots indicating the denomination so blind people can discern between values. Euro notes get bigger with their value for this reason.

• U.S. bills are printed in only two places around the world. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints money, and it has facilities in both Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas. The Fort Worth facility was opened in 1990 and helps serve the Western United States, providing a backup in case something happens to the D.C. facility.

• The word “money” comes from the Roman goddess Juno Moneta, who stood guard over the temple where coins were minted around 300 BCE.

• In the 1500s there was a silver mine near the town of Joachimsthal, in what is now the Czech Republic. Silver coins minted from silver mined there were first called “Joachimsthaler” which was shortened to “thaler” before being transformed into “daler” before becoming our “dollar.”

• The dollar sign $ originated with the Spanish abbreviation meaning “peso” being a combination of the letters PS.