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BUREAU OF ENGRAVING AND PRINTING
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U.S. Currency

 

History of the BEP and U.S. Currency

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) had its foundations in 1862 with workers signing, separating, and trimming sheets of Demand Notes in the Treasury building.  Gradually, more and more work, including engraving and printing, was entrusted to the organization.  Within a few years, the BEP was producing Fractional Currency, revenue stamps, government obligations, and other security documents for many federal agencies.  In 1877, the BEP became the sole producer of all United States currency.  The addition of postage stamp production to its workload in 1894 established the BEP as the nation's security printer, responding to the needs of the U.S. Government in both times of peace and war.  Today, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing no longer produces government obligations or postage stamps, but it still holds the honor of being the largest producer of Government security documents with production facilities in Washington, DC, and in Fort Worth, Texas.
The centrality of the BEP to the financial, monetary, postal, and printing developments of the United States since the Civil War has made it a repository of numerous invaluable historic items.  At the same time, the BEP's history reflects and provides a unique perspective on the development of modern America. These facts have long been recognized by the BEP, which is devoted to the preservation and exploration of its own past.  Some of the work of the curatorial, archival, and historical efforts of the BEP and its Historical Resource Center (HRC) is presented on this website.

The BEP had its foundations in 1862 with workers signing, separating, and trimming sheets of United States Notes in the Treasury building. Gradually, more and more work, including engraving and printing, was entrusted to the organization. Within a few years, the BEP was producing Fractional Currency, revenue stamps, government obligations, and other security documents for many federal agencies. In 1877, the BEP became the sole producer of all United States currency. The addition of postage stamp production to its workload in 1894 established the BEP as the nation's security printer, responding to the needs of the U.S. government in both times of peace and war. Today, the BEP no longer produces government obligations or postage stamps, but it still holds the honor of being the largest producer of government security documents with production facilities in Washington, DC, and in Fort Worth, Texas.


The centrality of the BEP to the financial, monetary, postal, and printing developments of the United States since the Civil War has made it a repository of numerous invaluable historic items. At the same time, the BEP's history reflects and provides a unique perspective on the development of modern America. These facts have long been recognized by the BEP, which is devoted to the preservation and exploration of its own past. Some of the work of the curatorial, archival, and historical efforts of the BEP and its Historical Resource Center (HRC) is presented on this website.

Colonial Notes

1690
The Massachusetts Bay Colony, one of the 13 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

1739
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

1775
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

1792
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.

 

Greenbacks

1861
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. All U.S. currency issued since 1861 remains valid and redeemable at full face value.

 

First $10 Bills – Demand Notes

1861
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.

 

Treasury Department Authorization

1862
The Treasury Secretary is authorized to engrave and print notes at the Treasury Department; the design of which incorporates fine-line engraving, intricate geometric lathe work patterns, a Treasury seal, and engraved signatures to aid in counterfeit deterrence.

 

Spencer Clark

1862

Spencer M. Clark, Chief Clerk in the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Construction, obtains presses for the Treasury’s Loan Branch for overprinting seals on notes. About the same time, Clark experiments with two hand-crank machines for trimming and separating. Later that year, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase directs Clark to proceed with trials using steam-powered machines to trim, separate, and seal $1 and $2 United States Notes.

 

National Banknotes

1863
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. These notes are printed by private companies and finished by the BEP until 1875, when the BEP begins printing the faces.

 

Fractional Currency

1863

Fractional Currency notes, in denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents, are issued.  This is the first currency produced entirely at the Treasury Department.

 

1864

The 5-cent note of the second issue of Fractional Currency features the portrait of Spencer Clark, causing a public uproar.  It is unclear how Clark’s portrait ended up on the note, but in 1866, Congress prohibits the portrait or likeness of any living person on currency notes, bonds, or securities.

 

Secret Service

1865
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.  The Secret Service is now part of the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Gold Certificates

1865

Gold Certificates, backed by gold held by the Treasury, are first issued.  Along with Fractional Currency, Gold Certificates are one of the first currency issues produced entirely by the BEP.

 

Revenue Stamps

1866

The BEP begins producing revenue stamps to be placed on boxes of imported cigars.

 

United States Notes

1869

The BEP begins engraving and printing the faces and seals of United States Notes, Series 1869.  Prior to this time, United States Notes were produced by private banknote companies and then sent to the BEP for sealing, trimming, and cutting.

 

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

1874

For the first time, Congress allocates money specifically to a “Bureau of Engraving and Printing” for fiscal year 1875.

 

1876

Congress passes an appropriation bill that directs the Internal Revenue Service to procure stamps engraved and printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing – provided costs do not exceed that of private firms.  As a result, the BEP begins producing almost all revenue stamps in fiscal year 1878.

 

1877
The BEP begins printing all United States currency.

 

Silver Certificates

1878

Silver Certificates are first issued.  Backed by silver held by the Treasury, the certificates are authorized by legislation directing an increase in the purchase and coinage of silver.

 

First Facility

1880

The first building constructed specifically for BEP operations is completed at the corner of 14th Street and B Street (Independence Avenue).

 

Treasury Coin Notes

1890

Treasury Notes, also known as Treasury Coin Notes, are first issued as part of legislation requiring the Treasury Secretary to increase government purchases of silver bullion.

 

Postage Stamps

1894

The BEP begins printing postage stamps. The first BEP-printed stamp issued is the 6 cent President Garfield.

 

1900

The first issue of postage stamps in small booklets is produced.

 

Paper Currency with Background Color

1905
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.

 

Offset Printing

1912

Offset printing is first used in the BEP for the production of checks, certificates, and other miscellaneous items.

 

Federal Reserve Act

1913
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.  Federal Reserve Bank Notes are authorized by the Federal Reserve Act and used as a form of emergency currency in the early twentieth century.  The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System then issues new notes called Federal Reserve notes.

 

The first $10 Federal Reserve Notes

1914
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.

 

New DC Facility

1914

The BEP moves into a new, larger facility, later known as the “main” building.

 

Federal Reserve Note Standardized Design

1929
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.  The reduced size enables the BEP to convert from eight to 12 notes per sheet.  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.

 

Annex Building

1938

BEP operations begin in the “annex” building.  The building is officially dedicated in November, 1938.

 

Food Stamps

1939

The BEP begins printing Food Order and Surplus Food Order stamps.  The Cotton Order and Surplus Cotton Order stamps follow in 1940.  The stamps encourage consumption of surplus farm commodities while providing assistance to low-income consumers.

 

Hawaii Overprints

1942

The BEP receives an order for special $1, $5, $10, and $20 notes overprinted with the word “Hawaii.”  The overprinted notes replace regular currency in Hawaii.  In the event of enemy occupation of the islands, the overprinted currency can be declared worthless.

 

Allied Military Currency

1943

The War Department places an order for Allied Military Currency (AMC).  The first AMCs are used by Allied forces in Italy.  Production begins in July, 1943.

 

Military Payment Certificates

1946

The BEP begins work on Military Payment Certificates for use by U.S. troops.

 

Congressional Appropriations

1951

The BEP begins operating on a reimbursable basis in accordance with a legislative mandate to convert to business-type accounting methods.  As a result, annual Congressional appropriations cease.

 

18-Subject Sheets

1952

The BEP begins conversion from 12- to 18-subject sheets in currency production.  The use of larger sheets is made possible by new non-offsetting ink.  By reducing wetting and drying operations, distortion of paper is decreased.  By September 1953, all currency is produced from 18-subject plates.

 

In God We Trust

1957
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.

 

32-Subject Sheets

1957

The BEP begins producing currency on high-speed rotary presses that print notes via the dry intaglio process.  Paper distortion caused by wetting is now completely eliminated and sheet sizes increase from 18- to 32-subjects.  The first notes printed by this process are the series 1957 silver certificates.

 

Barr Notes

1968

Joseph W. Barr served as Secretary of the Treasury from December 21, 1968 to January 20, 1969.  There are fewer notes bearing his facsimile signature than notes imprinted with signatures of other Secretaries of the Treasury because of his short tenure in that office.

 

High-Denomination Notes

1969

The Treasury Secretary announces that currency in denominations larger than $100 will no longer be issued.  Last printed in 1945, the high-denomination notes had been used mainly by banking institutions, but advances in bank transfer technologies preclude their further use.

 

$2 Federal Reserve Note

1976

The $2 Federal Reserve note is re-introduced on the 233rd anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth.  Issuance of the $2 United States Note had been halted in 1966 as United States Notes were phased out of existence.

 

Security Thread and Microprinting

1990
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

1990
The BEP’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.  The facility is intended to better serve the currency needs of the western half of the nation and to act as a contingency operation in case of emergencies at the DC facility.

 

Currency Redesign

1996
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 are 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.

 

Redesigned $20 Note

2003
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.  The redesigned $20 note features subtle background colors of green, peach and blue, as well as images of the American eagle.

 

Redesigned $50 Note

2004
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.

 

Final Postage Stamp Run

2005

The BEP produces its final run of postage stamps, printing the 37-cent Flag on the Andreotti gravure press.

 

Redesigned $10 Note

2006
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.

 

Redesigned $5 Note

2008
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: the watermark and embedded security thread.

 

Redesigned $100 Note

2013
On October 8, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System issues the redesigned $100 note. Complete with advanced technology to combat counterfeiting, the new design for the $100 note retains the traditional look of U.S. currency.
 
50-Subject Printing
2014
On February 14, the BEP ushers in a new era by completing its first $1 note 50-subject production order.  Fifty-subject and 32-subject notes are distinguishable by one minor technical change.  On a 50-subject produced note, the letter and number of the alpha numeric note-position identifier, is the same font size and smaller than the alpha letter of the 32-subject note.  In comparison, on the 32-subject note, the number is a smaller font size compared to the letter.
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