On Aug. 8, 1786, the Continental Congress established the U.S. monetary system. Americans mark the milestone by celebrating the unofficial holiday National Dollar Day, which happens on Aug. 8 every year.
Most people don't give much thought to the humble dollar bill nowadays. While it's true that there's not much you can buy for a buck any more, the dollar is still a complicated piece of legal tender. Read on to learn more about the history of the dollar bill, as well as a number of conversation-worthy dollar bill facts.
Martha Washington Was Once on the Bill
Did you know that Martha Washington, America's original first lady, once graced the $1 silver certificate? These days, the collectible bill could be worth a nice chunk of change — even more than $1,000, depending on its quality.
The First Dollar Didn’t Feature George Washington
The first legal tender $1 note, which was issued during the Civil War, did not feature George Washington. Instead, it featured Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury at the time, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
The Dollar Bill Has Remained the Same for a Long Time
In the past decade or so, the Federal Reserve has redesigned the $5 bill, the $10 bill, the $20 bill and the $50 bill. But not the $1 bill.
Unlike the $10 bill that's expected to get a makeover, the $1 bill's design has remained unchanged since 1963, reported The Atlantic in 2014. The main reason is "because the $1 note is infrequently counterfeited," according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
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The Dollar Bill Is the Most Common Bill
In 2016, there were 11.7 billion $1 bills in circulation, according to the Federal Reserve System. That compares to:
- 11.5 billion $100 bills
- 8.9 billion $20 bills
- 1.9 billion $10 bills
- 2.8 billion $5 bills
The $2 bill had the fewest in circulation at 1.2 billion bills.
The Dollar Bill Costs Only 5.4 Cents to Make
While it's worth the least of the bills in circulation, the dollar bill is also the least expensive to produce, costing only 5.4 cents per note — the same cost to produce a $2 bill, according to the Federal Reserve. The $50 bill is the most expensive at 19.4 cents per bill. The $100 bill costs only 15.5 cents per note.
The Dollar Bill Is Not Made of Paper
We might call it paper money, but it's not actually paper. In fact, currency paper in the U.S. is 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
A Dollar’s Life Is Short
A $1 bill falls out of circulation, on average, after 5.8 years, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. That's compared to the $10 bill's low 4.5-year lifespan and a high of 15 years for the $100 bill.
Most Dollar Bills Are Dirty
In 2002, a study by the U.S. Air Force found that 94 percent of 68 dollar bills that were tested had bacteria on them. The bacteria included some that could cause pneumonia and other infections, reported the Scientific American magazine.
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A Majority of Bucks Have Encountered Blow
Bacteria is not the only thing residing on your dollar. Ninety percent of paper money in U.S. cities holds traces of cocaine on it, reported CNN in 2009. In fact, cocaine showed up 100 percent of the time in the cities of Detroit, Boston, Orlando, Miami and Los Angeles.
Three-Quarters of a Bill Still Equals $1
If you think that a mutilated, torn or even incomplete dollar bill is worthless, think again. You can tape two halves of a dollar bill together and a bank will replace it, reported TIME Money. In fact, as long as you have three-quarters of the bill, you should be able to exchange it for a whole $1 bill.
You Can Track Your Dollar Bill
Want to know where your dollar bill has been? It could be possible, thanks to a site called Where's George. You enter the serial number of your bill and the site tracks it. To date, there have been more than 270 million bills entered.
The Great Seal Took Years to Approve
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, it took six years for Congress to agree on and approve the design of the Great Seal of the U.S., which is featured prominently on the back of the dollar bill.
War and Peace Are Represented on the $1 Bill
Look at the eagle on the back of your $1 bill. The arrows in the eagle's left talon represent war, while the olive branch in the proud bird's right talon represents peace, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
The Latin Around the Pyramid Speaks to American Exceptionalism
"Annuit Coeptis," which is written above the pyramid, means "Providence Has Favored Our Undertakings." Below the pyramid, the words "Novus ordo seclorum" mean "A New Order of the Ages," which refers to our historic form of government.
Thirteen Is an Important Number on the Dollar Bill
Remember those arrows in the eagle's left talon? There are 13 of them. On the Great Seal, there are 13 stripes and 13 stars to denote the original 13 colonies. There are also 13 "steps" on the pyramid.
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The Eagle on the Bill Was Almost a Turkey
Benjamin Franklin advocated for the national bird to be a turkey because he thought it was a "more respectable bird," according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. He and Jefferson wanted the seal to include an Egyptian pharaoh, too.
The Roman Numeral MDCCLXXVI Has Meaning
At the base of the pyramid on the back of every dollar bill are the roman numerals MDCCLXXVI. That is the symbol for 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
You Can Tell Which Federal Reserve Bank Issued Your Bill
On your dollar bill, there are serial numbers with two letters and eight numbers. The first letter (which will be between A and L) indicates which bank issued the bill. The letters stand for:
- A = Boston
- B = New York
- C = Philadelphia
- D = Cleveland
- E = Richmond
- F = Atlanta
- G = Chicago
- H = St. Louis
- I = Minneapolis
- K = Dallas
- L = San Francisco
There’s a Spider Hiding on the $1 (Or Is It an Owl?)
Grab a magnifying glass and check out the top right corner of your dollar bill. Just to the left of the top of the "1" there is what appears to be either a tiny spider or owl in the "webbing" pattern.
There Might Be a Ghost Lurking on Your Buck
Look very closely at the fourth row of the pyramid on the back of the dollar. You'll see what appears to be a smiling face, somewhat ghostlike. Was it purposely designed? We might never know.
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