Looking Back Aug 29 2012

Features column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is celebrating its 150th birthday on Wednesday. Here’s a look back at the BEP’s history, as well as a treasure trove of facts and trivia.


• Faced with the growing costs of preparing for a civil war in 1861, Congress resorted to the use of paper money and authorized a general circulation of currency notes for the first time since the failed Continental Currency of the American Revolution.

• Sheets of Demand Notes, printed by a private firm, were delivered to the Treasury Department in the summer of 1861 where clerks signed, separated and trimmed the notes by hand.

• In April 1862, presses were used in the Treasury Department to overprint seals on a new currency called United States Notes.

• Legislation authorized the Treasury Department to print and engrave notes and in August 1862, steam-powered machines were first used in what would become the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

• During the Civil War, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was called upon to print paper notes in denominations of 3 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents. The reason for this is that people hoarded coins, which created a drastic shortage. These bills, called greenbacks, were used to pay Civil War soldiers.

• By 1877, the BEP was printing revenue stamps, government securities and bonds.

• An agreement between the postmaster general and the Treasury secretary resulted in the BEP producing all postage stamps. The first stamp printed by the Bureau was the six-cent President Garfield. The regular issue stamp went on sale July 18, 1894.

• In 1914, the Stickney Press allowed printing, gumming and perforation of postage stamps in one continuous operation.

• The number of BEP employees peaked at 8,432 on Nov. 7, 1918, a result of war financing upon America’s entry into World War I. The original staff numbered five.

• The Bureau sold its last horse in the summer of 1920. Transportation was completely mechanized with electric and gasoline vehicles.

• In the most dramatic development since paper money became the legal tender, small-sized notes with standardized designs were issued in July 1929. The move allowed for the conversion from eight-note sheets to 12-note sheets.

• Allied military currency was produced in June 1943 for use by Allied invasion in Italy. The Bureau went on to produce, in part or whole, such currency for use in Austria, Germany, France and Japan.

• On July 11, 1955, legislation directed that the inscription “In God We Trust” be placed on all U.S. currency. The first notes bearing the motto were $1 Silver Certificates, Series 1957.

• From the 83 cities that responded to the initial solicitation for a production facility west of the Mississippi, Fort Worth, Texas was selected in late 1986. The new facility began production in December 1990.

• The first redesigned Federal Reserve Notes, with multiple advanced counterfeit deterrent features were released in this order: $100 bill (1996); $50 bill (1997); $20 bill (1998) and the $10 and $5 bills (2000).

• In 2005, the United States Postal Service switched to private postage stamp printers, ending 111 years of production by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

This ‘n’ That

• In addition to products mentioned above, the Bureau once produced passports. Other items produced by the Bureau include military commissions and awards, White House invitations and admission cards.

• During Fiscal Year 2011, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced approximately 23.5 million notes a day with a face value of approximately $453 million. Between the Fort Worth, Texas, and the Washington, D.C., facilities, approximately 8.5 tons of ink per day were used.

• The hands on the Independence Hall clock on the back of a $100 bill are set at approximately 4:10.

• Currency paper is composed of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. Red and blue synthetic fibers of various lengths are distribute evenly throughout the paper. Before WWI, those fibers were made of silk.

• The largest sheet of uncut currency available for purchase by the public is the 32-note sheet. The largest denomination sheets are the 16-note $50 sheets.

• There is no federal statute which mandates that private businesses accept cash as a form of payment.

• While the Bureau has exclusively designed, engraved and printed all U.S. paper currency since 1862, Confederate States Notes were not produced by the BEP and were never obligations of the U.S. Government.

• The BEP’s Office of Currency Standards processes all requests for reimbursement for damaged currency. For torn bills, full face value is reimbursed if more than one-half of the original note remains.

• Every year the U.S. Treasury handles approximately 30,000 claims for reimbursement and redeems mutilated currency valued at over $30 million. The most common causes are: fire, water, chemicals, explosives; animal, insect or rodent damage; and petrification or deterioration by burying.

• Any sizable amount of shredded U.S. currency for artistic or commercial purposes must be obtained from the Federal Reserve Bank and approved by the BEP Chief Office of Compliance.

• There are 10 rules for handling shredded currency. Among the rules is one that states that the owner must firmly seal any container in which residue is placed so that it must be broken in order to remove the residue. The container must be at least four mils thick.

• If a person had 10 billion $1 notes and spent one every second of every day, it would require 317 years for that person to go broke.