Money in the U.S.: History of the Dollar Bill

About the history of the dollar bill in the United States, its size and origins, the use of paper versus coins, the value of money.

The Dollar Bill

The $1 bill--people will pray for it, work for it, lie and cheat for it, but few ever take a good look at it.

It is a piece of paper measuring 2 5/8" by 6 1/8" with a thickness of .0043". The composition of the paper and ink is a state secret. New notes will stack 233 to an inch, if not compressed, and 490 notes weigh a lb. Every thousand notes cost the Government $8.02 to print. At the same time, over 2 billion bills are in circulation, each with an average life span of 18 months.

The word "dollar," which appears on both sides of the bill, is a variation of the German word Taler, the name of a silver piece that was 1st coined in 1518 and, under Charles V, Emperor of Germany, King of Spain, and ruler of Spanish America, became the chief coin of Europe and the New World.

The dollar bill is a relatively recent innovation in American currency. Before 1862 only dollar coins were issued. At the time of the signing of the Constitution, the people had little faith in paper currency due to the constant depreciation of paper money during the Colonial period. As a result, the new Government decided to mint only coins. A paper currency of sorts was issued during this early period of American history, but it was in the form of interest-bearing bank notes used to finance urgent undertakings such as the War of 1812.

In 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Congress decided to print the 1st noninterest-bearing paper currency, which became known as "greenbacks" or "legal tenders."

The dollar, as we know it today, is a Federal Reserve note. It is issued by the 12 Federal Reserve banks scattered across the U.S. under the auspices of the national Government which prints the bills. Unlike previous notes that were redeemable for gold or silver, the Federal Reserve notes are guaranteed only by a pledge of collateral such as government securities or special drawing-right certificates.

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