History of U.S. Currency

Colonial Notes

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, one of the thirteen original colonies, issues the first paper money to cover costs of military expeditions. The practice of issuing paper notes spread to the other colonies.

Franklin's Unique Counterfeit Deterrent

Benjamin Franklin's printing firm in Philadelphia prints colonial notes with nature prints--unique raised impressions of patterns cast from actual leaves. This process added an innovative and effective counterfeit deterrent to notes, not completely understood until centuries later.

Continental Currency

The Continental Congress issues paper currency to finance the Revolutionary War. Continental currency was denominated in Spanish milled dollars. Without solid backing and easily counterfeited, the notes quickly lost their value, giving rise to the phrase "not worth a Continental."

Monetary System

The Coinage Act of 1792 creates the U.S. Mint and establishes a federal monetary system, sets denominations for coins, and specifies the value of each coin in gold, silver, or copper.


The first general circulation of paper money by the federal government occurs. Pressed to finance the Civil War, Congress authorizes the U.S. Treasury to issue non-interest-bearing Demand Notes. These notes acquire the nickname "greenback" because of their color. All U.S. currency issued since 1861 remains valid and redeemable at full face value.

First $10 Bills

The first $10 notes are Demand Notes, issued in 1861 by the Treasury Department. A portrait of President Abraham Lincoln is included on the face of the notes.

The Design

By 1862, the design of U.S. currency incorporates fine-line engraving, intricate geometric lathe work patterns, a Treasury seal, and engraved signatures to aid in counterfeit deterrence. The U.S. Treasury has continued to add features to thwart counterfeiting.

National Banking System

Congress establishes a national banking system and authorizes the U.S. Treasury to oversee the issuance of National Banknotes. This system sets Federal guidelines for chartering and regulating "national" banks and authorizes those banks to issue national currency secured by the purchase of United States bonds.

Secret Service

The United States Secret Service is established as a bureau of the Treasury for the purpose of deterring counterfeiters whose activities are destroying the public’s confidence in the nation's currency.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

The Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing begins printing all United States currency.

Paper Currency with Background Color

The last United States paper money printed with background color is the $20 Gold Certificate, Series 1905, which had a golden tint and a red seal and serial number.

Federal Reserve Act

The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 establishes the Federal Reserve as the nation’s central bank and provides for a national banking system that is more responsive to the fluctuating financial needs of the country. The Federal Reserve Board issues new currency called Federal Reserve notes.

The first $10 Federal Reserve Notes

The first $10 Federal Reserve notes are issued. These notes are larger than today’s notes and feature a portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the face.

Standardized Design

The first sweeping change to affect the appearance of all paper money occurs in 1929. In an effort to lower manufacturing costs, all Federal Reserve notes are made about 30 percent smaller. In addition, standardized designs are instituted for each denomination across all classes of currency, decreasing the number of different designs in circulation. This standardization makes it easier for the public to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit notes.

In God We Trust

Following a 1955 law that requires “In God We Trust” on all currency, the motto first appears on paper money on series 1957 $1 silver certificates, then on 1963 series Federal Reserve notes.

Security Thread and Microprinting

A security thread and microprinting are introduced to deter counterfeiting by advanced copiers and printers. The features first appear in Series 1990 $100 notes. By Series 1993, the features appeared on all denominations except $1 and $2 notes.

Western Currency Facility

The Bureau’s Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas begins producing currency. It is the first government facility outside Washington, DC to print United States paper money.

Currency Redesign

In the first significant design change in 67 years; United States currency is redesigned to incorporate a series of new counterfeit deterrents. The new notes were issued beginning with the $100 note in 1996, followed by the $50 in 1997, the $20 in 1998 and the $10 and $5 notes in 2000.

Secret Service Integrated Into Homeland Security Department

Protecting the security of the dollar against counterfeiting takes its place side-by-side with other homeland security efforts, as the U.S. Secret Service is integrated into the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Federal Reserve Board Issues Redesigned $20 Note

To stay ahead of currency counterfeiters, the Federal Reserve Board announces new designs to be issued. For the first time since the Series 1905 $20 Gold Certificate, the new currency features subtle background colors, beginning with the redesigned $20 note in October 2003. Different colors are used for different denominations. The redesigned $20 note features subtle background colors of green, peach and blue, as well as images of the American eagle.

Federal Reserve Board Issues Redesigned $50 Note

The currency redesigns continue with the $50 note, issued on September 28, 2004. Similar to the redesigned $20 note, the redesigned $50 note features subtle background colors and highlights historical symbols of Americana. Specific to the $50 note are background colors of blue and red, and images of a waving American flag and a small metallic silver-blue star.

Federal Reserve Board Issues Redesigned $10 Note

A redesigned Series 2004A $10 note is issued on March 2, 2006. The A in the series designation indicates a change in some feature of the note, in this case, a change in the Treasurer's signature. Like the redesigned $20 and $50 notes, the redesigned $10 note features subtle shades of color and symbols of freedom. Specific to the $10 note are background colors of orange, yellow and red, and images of the Statue of Liberty's torch and the words We the People from the United States Constitution.

A Redesign for the $5 Note

On June 29, 2006, the Federal Reserve Board announces that it will redesign the $5 note as part of ongoing efforts to enhance the security of U.S. currency.

The Redesigned $5 Note "Wi-5" Digital Unveiling

For the first time, the Federal Reserve Board reveals a new paper currency design through an all-digital unveiling, as the redesigned $5 note is presented to the public on September 20, 2007.

The New $5 Bill: Safer. Smarter. More Secure.

A redesigned Series 2006 $5 note is issued on March 13, 2008. The redesigned $5 note retains two of the most important security features first introduced in the 1990s and are easy to check, these features include the watermark and embedded security thread.

The Redesigned $100 Note: Know Its Features. Know It’s Real.

On April 21, officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, and the United States Secret Service unveil the new design for the $100 note. Complete with advanced technology to combat counterfeiting, the new design for the $100 note retains the traditional look of U.S. currency.

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