The History of U.S. Currency

Colonial Bills

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, one of the Thirteen Original Colonies, issued the first paper money to cover costs of military expeditions. The practice of issuing paper bills spread to the other Colonies.

Franklin's Unique Counterfeit Deterrent

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

British Ban

Following years of restrictions on colonial paper currency, Britain finally ordered a complete ban on the issuance of paper money by the Colonies.

Continental Currency

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

The Bank of North America

Congress chartered the Bank of North America in Philadelphia as the first national bank, creating it to support the financial operations of the fledgling government.

The Dollar

Congress adopted the dollar as the money unit of the United States.

First Central Bank

Congress chartered the Bank of the United States for a 20-year period to serve as the U.S. Treasury's fiscal agent. The bank was the first to perform central bank functions for the government and operated until 1811, when Congress declined to renew the bank's charter. Recognizing that a central banking system was still necessary to meet the nation's financial needs, Congress chartered a second Bank of the United States in 1816 for another 20-year period.

Monetary System

The Coinage Act of 1792 created the U.S. Mint and established a federal monetary system, set denominations for coins, and specified the value of each coin in gold, silver, or copper.


The first general circulation of paper money by the federal government occurred in 1861. Pressed to finance the Civil War, Congress authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue non-interest-bearing Demand Bills. These bills acquired the nickname "greenback" because of their color. Today all U.S. currency issued since 1861 remains valid and redeemable at full face value.

First $10 Bills

The first $10 bills were Demand Bills, issued in 1861 by the Treasury Department. A portrait of President Abraham Lincoln appeared on the face of the bills.

The Design

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

National Banking System

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

Secret Service

The United States Secret Service was established as a bureau of the Treasury for the purpose of controlling the counterfeiters whose activities were 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 began printing all United States currency.

Paper Currency with Background Color

The last United States paper money printed with background color was 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 created the Federal Reserve as the nation's central bank and provided for a national banking system that was more responsive to the fluctuating financial needs of the country. The Federal Reserve Board issued new currency called Federal Reserve Notes.

The first $10 Federal Reserve Notes

The first $10 Federal Reserve notes were issued. These bills were larger than today's bills and featured a portrait of President Andrew Jackson on the face.

Standardized Design

The first sweeping change to affect the appearance of all paper money occurred in 1929. In an effort to lower manufacturing costs, all currency was reduced in size by about 30 percent. In addition, standardized designs were instituted for each denomination across all classes of currency, decreasing the number of different designs in circulation. This standardization made it easier for the public to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit bills.

In God We Trust

The use of the National Motto In God We Trust on all currency has been required by law since 1955. It first appeared on paper money with the issuance of the $1 Silver Certificates, Series 1957, and began appearing on Federal Reserve Notes with the 1963 Series.

Security Thread and Microprinting

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

Currency Redesign

In the first significant design change in 67 years, United States currency was redesigned to incorporate a series of new counterfeit deterrents. The new bills were issued beginning with the $100 bill in 1996, followed by the $50 in 1997, the $20 in 1998 and the $10 and $5 bills in 2000. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing announced that new designs would be undertaken every 7-10 years to stay ahead of currency counterfeiters.

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.

U.S. Government Issues Redesigned $20 Bill

To stay ahead of currency counterfeiters, the U.S. government announces new designs to be issued. For the first time since the Series 1905 $20 Gold Certificate, the new currency will feature subtle background colors, beginning with the redesigned $20 bill in October 2003. Different colors will be used for different denominations. This will help everyone - particularly those with visual impairments - to tell denominations apart. The redesigned $20 bill features subtle background colors of green, peach and blue, as well as images of the American eagle.

U.S. Government Issues Redesigned $50 Bill

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

U.S. Government Issues Redesigned $10 Bill

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

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

On June 29, 2006, the U.S. government announced that it would redesign the $5 bill as part of ongoing efforts to enhance the security of U.S. currency.

The New $5 Bill "Wi-5" Digital Unveiling

For the first time ever, the U.S. government revealed a new paper currency design through an all-digital unveiling, as the new $5 bill was unveiled to the public on September 20, 2007.

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

A redesigned Series 2006 $5 bill was issued on March 13, 2008. The redesigned $5 bill retains two of the most important security features that were first introduced in the 1990s and are easy to check.

The New $100 Note: Know Its Features. Know It's Real.

Officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board and the United States Secret Service unveiled the new design for the $100 note on April 21. 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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