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15 Things You Didn’t Know About US Currency

From the beginning of human civilization, if someone needed to get something done, or wanted to obtain an object or some food from another person, there would be some kind of exchange or transaction involved between the two parties. At first, these types of transactions involved currency such as livestock, wheat, or linens, and as time went on and technology continued to advance, civilizations and people began to offer currency like gold or hand-forged coins in order make some kind of purchase. In the last 300 years, currency has changed monumentally, as the world has gone from primarily using coins, to then using mostly paper bills, to now mostly using credit cards; and these transitions have affected every corner of the globe, including the United States.
The U.S. is currently home to the largest economy in the world, and has been for several decades now, which is why the U.S. dollar is the basis upon which most global transactions are made, and why the entire world entered into a long recession right after the U.S. did in 2008. Like every country, the United States possesses different forms of physical currency which come with their own artwork and depictions of famous landmarks and individuals, and it is visual aesthetics like these that make American currency quite unique. What many may be unaware of, is the fact that there is more to U.S. currency than just its varied appearance, and the purpose of this article is to identify 15 of the things that people likely did not know about the world’s most important currency.

15. The Constitution Stated That Only Coins Be Used

The constitution of the United States is by far one of the greatest political documents of all time, as it provides basically everything a person needs in order to live a truly great life free from tyranny and oppression. In the centuries since it was written, there have been multiple changes made to the constitution, primarily in regards to social issues, but there was also a section in the constitution that dealt specifically with money and what kind should have been used throughout the country. In Article 1 of the constitution, there is no mention of using paper money for currency, because at that the time it was written, it was very easy to make counterfeit bills, which was perceived to be a real threat for the economy, which is why coins were the suggested mode of currency, because they were more difficult to counterfeit. As it turns out though, people still made counterfeit coins, so the government decided to just go ahead and make paper money anyway.
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14. Banks At One Time Printed Money

A bank is a financial institution which has two main functions: to accept deposits from people, and to offer individuals credit, and they are so important to a country’s economic and financial security, that most of them are heavily regulated by their governments. In the United States, banks are just as important as anywhere else, so much so that it was primarily mistakes that they made which caused the global economic recession in 2008, but earlier on in the country’s history, the banks did more with money than just keeping it safe and loaning it out to people. Prior to the Civil War, banks were permitted to print paper money themselves, but when the war was over, the government wanted to have better control over how much currency was being printed, which is why a law was passed to ensure that only the federal government could produce American currency.
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13. Multiple Kinds Of Bills Printed

Every country in the world uses its own currency, and as we all know, the United States is no different, as the country’s base currency is the U.S. dollar, and just like other countries, the currency of the U.S. possesses several denominations. A denomination refers specifically to coins and banknotes, and in terms of actual bills, the U.S. has had seven denominations in circulation since 1946, including the $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills; but these are not the only denominations that have been issued in the country’s history. Over the course of time, the U.S. has produced a $500 bill which had a picture of president William McKinley on it, a $1,000 bill with Grover Cleveland on the face, and a $5,000 bill which featured president James Madison. All of the bills just mentioned have been out of circulation for over 60 years, but they are nothing compared to some of the other bills that were once printed for actual use.
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12. Foreign Coins Were Once Accepted As U.S. Currency

Whenever you go to visit another country, it is necessary to convert any money you bring with you into the currency used by that country, so as to not experience any problems when paying for something; and because it is illegal in many countries to use a different currency. In the United States, it is currently illegal to use coins from another country as currency, but that was not always the case, as all foreign coins actually used to be accepted as currency up until 1857 when they were all banned. This ban would go on to last for a while, but ended up being lifted when it became apparent that the U.S. did not have enough metals to make all the coins they needed to produce, which is why they began accepting coins like the Spanish dollar again, in order to then melt them down to create their own coins. Once U.S. mining began to produce more than enough metals to make coins, the government once again instituted the ban.
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11. Highest Bill Ever Issued To The Public

It goes without saying that the chances of being robbed at gunpoint increases significantly depending on how much physical money the assailant believes you may be carrying in your wallet, which is why the U.S. government has placed a cap on the denominations it issues to the public. The highest bill currently available for the public is $100, and although it may be a rather large amount of money represented on a single bill, it is nothing compared to the $10,000 bill which was once issued to the public. This bill had a picture of Salmon P, Chase on it, the man who served as Treasury Secretary when the National Bank Act which established the banking system was passed in 1863. This bill continued to be printed until 1934, when the U.S. government came to the realization that it was better to stop issuing it rather than having people walk around with $10,000 in their pocket which could easily be stolen.
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10. The Two Dollar Bill

Whether it is a living thing or an inanimate object, it can usually be bought at a relatively cheap cost if there is a known abundance of it, and when it is perceived to be unique or limited in number, the price tends to always get higher. Sometimes though, there are unique things of limited supply which are worth very little, and one of those things is the $2 bill, which unbeknownst to many, is still in active circulation. There are actually two versions of the $2 bill, the first of which was printed between 1862 and 1966, and the current version which has been printed since 1976, and overall, there is about 2 billion dollars worth of these bills in circulation. If people come into possession of this bill, they assume that it is so rare that it is worth more than the amount printed on it, which is why they hold onto it, but in reality, it is in fact worth exactly $2.
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9. Multiple Attempts To Discontinue The Penny

There are many things out there that no longer need to be made, primarily because new things have come around which have now made them obsolete, which is why we now buy Blu-rays instead of VHS tapes. Now that currency is primarily used online, physical money is becoming more and more obsolete, with the most tedious of this money being change, especially the penny which has very little use anymore. The U.S. Mint has been manufacturing the penny since 1793 and has had a profile of president Abraham Lincoln on it since 1909, and ironically, it costs more to make a penny than it is worth. Several countries have already discontinued the penny, including Australia, Finland, Sweden and Canada; and the United States would be on that list as well, if not for the fact that they have unsuccessfully tried to discontinue it multiple times. The argument can be made that removing the penny would take away a part of the country’s heritage, and retailers would have to adjust all their computers, but the regardless of this the penny’s days will soon be numbered.
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8. Counterfeiting Used To Be Punishable By Death

Ever since currency started being distributed to the public, there have been those who have taken it upon themselves to create counterfeit currency so as not to pay real money for a certain product or service. We may in fact live in a digital world where currency is now primarily based on bank and credit cards, but bills are still widely used, which is why $100 and $20 bills are still the most counterfeited in the country. Right now, if someone were to be caught producing counterfeit bills, they would find themselves paying a hefty fine while also serving a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and although that is what a maximum sentence could be, it is better than what the punishment used to be. At the time of the nation’s founding, it was Benjamin Franklin who started printing currency, and on those bills/certificates, the words “to counterfeit is death” were visible, meaning that counterfeiters could face the death penalty if they were caught.
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7. American Presidents Were On Confederate Money

In the grand scope of things, the United States is still a relatively young country, but despite its youth, it is a country that has seemingly been involved in some kind of war every decade, and although all wars are bloody, the bloodiest war in its history is still the Civil War. The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, and was the direct result of slavery being abolished, which caused eleven southern states to group together to try and secede from the rest of the country. These states came to be known as the Confederacy, and like all wars, the Civil War needed to be paid for, which is why the Confederates printed their own money, to the tune of $2 billion (over $53 billion in today’s money). These states may have wanted to leave the country, but they still respected its history, as they placed U.S. presidents on their bills, specifically George Washington on the $50 and $100 bills, and Andrew Jackson on the $1,000 bill; and the reason for this is because both those presidents were once slave owners.
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6. The Highest Bill Denomination Ever Issued

This list has already made it abundantly clear that there have been many bill denominations issued by the United States throughout its history, but in terms of overall worth, there is one denomination which stands above the rest. In 1934, the U.S. government issued the $100,000 gold certificate, but decided to discontinue it the very next month due to the risk associated with so much currency allocated to a single bill. This Bill had a picture of former president Woodrow Wilson on it, and was only used to complete transactions between the Federal Reserve and the banks. Based on an earlier entry on this list, this bill was surprisingly not released to the public, probably because government officials realized there would be a safety issue if people thought their fellow citizens were carrying such a bill around in their wallets. This ban is still in effect today, as no one in the public is allowed to own this bill, not even if they are a currency collector.
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5. The Lifespan Of Paper Money

No matter what it is, everything is effected by the ravages of time and contains a set lifespan, whether it be a living, breathing organism that dies from old age, a piece of wooden furniture that succumbs to rot, a river that dries up, or a mountain which crumbles from wind erosion. This inevitability truly affects everything, including money, which has its own set of expected lifespans depending on the bill and how often each denomination is expected to change hands. In the U.S. it is expected that a $10 bill has a life expectancy of around 3.6 years, while a $1 bill should be good for about 4.8 years, and the $100 bill happens to have the longest lifespan of them all, as it is expected to last about 18 years before time renders it an unusable piece of colored cloth.
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4. The Reason Why No One Living Is Printed On Money

Ever since winning its independence from the British Empire, the United States of America has made it abundantly clear that it is a country that will never again be ruled over by any sort of monarchy, which is why the country does a number of things to illustrate this point. The U.S. has people on its money, just like other countries in the world, but in many of those countries, there is still an active monarchy in place, and it is the current king or queen who gets depicted on the money, but in America, no one living is permitted to appear on the country’s currency. It was during the American Revolution that this law was passed, in order to keep the U.S. from appearing like a monarchy, and it is law that is still in effect today; but there was one exception in 1926 when President Calvin Coolidge’s face was placed on a coin to commemorate the country’s 150th year of independence.
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3. There Was Already A Woman On A Bill

All bills in the United States are printed with the visage of an influential individual on them, with these individuals primarily being men who were either instrumental in the birth of the nation, or who once served as its President. Like every nation that has existed on Earth, the United States has had a multitude of influential women in its history who deserve similar recognition, and last April, there was a bit of controversy when it was announced that Harriet Tubman, who was a spy during the Civil War, and who saved over 70 slaves and their families, would be placed on the front of the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, but she will not be the first woman to appear on a bill, as Martha Washington has already appeared on one. Martha was married to George Washington, making her the country’s original First Lady, and at the end of the 19th century, she appeared on the 1$ silver certificate.
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2. The Original Job Of The Secret Service

The President of the United States is single-handedly the most influential and powerful person in the world, which is why not everyone likes him, and why several presidents have fallen victim to both successful and unsuccessful assassination attempts. No matter where the president goes, he is constantly followed by the Secret Service, an agency whose job it is to keep the president safe and alive, and they have been operating since 1865. The Secret Service may be known as a part of the Department of Homeland Security, but that has only been true since 2003, as it was a part of the Department of the Treasury for the first 137 years of its existence. Initially, the Secret Service was originally created solely to deal with financial crimes, which at that time focused primarily on keeping money from being counterfeited, keeping the treasury secure, and investigating major cases of fraud; and it was not until after the Lincoln assassination that they became the permanent bodyguards of the president.
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1. Many Bills Carry Cocaine

Drugs have been a problem in the United States for decades now, and although there have been steps taken to reduce the flow of these illegal substances, the drug trade continues to rake-in millions upon millions of dollars. Marijuana may in fact be relatively cheap and easy to find, while heroin is extremely deadly, but neither one has the kind of relationship with money that cocaine has. During the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, cocaine use skyrocketed in the United States, which is why so many television shows and movies set in that time portray the distribution and use of the drug, and in these depictions, we saw that people would roll up their bills and use them to snort the cocaine. To give an idea of just how widespread cocaine use was, a study which was conducted in 2009, found that at the time, roughly 90% of all paper money in the U.S., contained at least some traces of cocaine.
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