History and facts about the US Dollar

By Magnus Hansén

Few standardized signs are as widely recognized as the $. Some may call it monopoly money, others bucks. One thing is for certain - The US dollar is more than just a currency; it is a cultural symbol for its nation and is surrounded by both myths and pride.

United States dollars, also called US dollar or USD, is the official currency of the United States of America (USA). Although it is only the official currency of one single country, the US dollar is used in plenty of other countries like Ecuador, Panama and El Salvador. It is very common that people use US dollars when travelling. Some find it convenient to use dollars as travel funds when going abroad. The US dollar is currently the largest currency in the world with its 550 million daily users worldwide.

It is the United States Federal Reserve System that is in charge of the US dollar finances. In addition to producing the US dollar bills, they are also conducting the nation's monetary policy, supervising and regulating banking institutions, maintenance as well as the stabilization of the financial system. They provide financial services to depository institutions, the US government and foreign official institutions.

The origin, history and basics of the US dollar

The US dollar originated in the 18th century. On July 4th 1776, the 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence and the new country United States of America was in dire need of their own monetary system and currency. George Washington, who was elected president for this new country, asked his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, for help. Thomas reached out to a smith named John Harper. Harper delivered the 1,500 first half dimes made out of silver in 1792. The first US dollar money was not issued until 1861.

Scientists claim that the US dollar sign $ (the most commonly used US dollar symbol) derived from Spanish coins made out of silver in the denomination 8 reales. 8 reales were common in North America before the formation of the United States of America. On these 8 reales, the number 8 was embossed as the letter S with either one or two vertical lines.

US dollar bills come in seven varieties of which six are still in extensive production. The bill with the smallest value denomination is the 1 dollar bill; the largest denomination available today is the 100 dollar bill. The largest denomination to ever be printed was the $100,000 bill, which was discontinued in 1935. This bill never circulated the official market; it was used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks. Although it still has legal tender, it has not been seen since the 1960's.

Security features

The 2004 version of US currency has updated security features that set them apart from their older companions. All US dollar bills from 1996 and forward have security features of some sort, but the nature and number of them vary depending on the bill's production year. The historical features and symbols are still the same, but the unique features were added to the 2004 bills in order for the US monetary system to keep up with the constant need of avoiding counterfeit money. Counterfeit currency is a major issue for both governments and citizens.

US dollar coins are rarely counterfeited today, but those that are usually try to mimic valuable collector coins as these generate a higher profit for the counterfeiter. All US dollar coins with greater value than five cents should have corrugated edges. An uneven or missing corrugated edge (may also be referred to as reeding) could be a sign of counterfeit coins.

The new security features of the US dollar bills as of 2004 are:

* A multi-colored background as opposed to the more traditional bi-colored US dollar bill.

* The portrait is now slightly off-centered and no longer has a border.

* Optically variable ink has been added, which allows the number in the lower right hand corner to shift from copper to green when observing it from different angles.

* Iconic symbols are printed to the right of the portrait, using metallic ink.

* There is micro printing in various areas of all US dollar bills.

Watermarks are the common denominator for all bills made in1996 or later. The watermark is an exact copy of the portrait on the bill and can be found to the right of the portrait, beneath the multi-colored ink of the paper.

The United States Secret Service handles the issue of counterfeit money and urges any suspicion of counterfeit money to be reported to the US Secret Service or local Police.

US dollar coins

In America, many of the US dollar coins have names. The 1¢ and 5¢ coins are called one cent and five cent, the one cent coin also have an other name which is penny and the 5¢ goes by the name nickel. If you have more than one penny they are called pennies. The 10¢ coin is called one dime and the 25¢ is more commonly known as a quarter. Quarters are a staple in the American economy as they are widely used to pay for laundromats, parking meters etc. Pennies are sometimes seen as a big inconvenience; most parking meters, vending machines and the likes.

Since the introduction of the US dollar in the 18th century, there has been no less than seventeen different value coins, ranging from the smallest half-cent (produced from 1792 to 1857) to the double eagle 20 dollar gold coin (produced in 1850-1933). The double eagle $20 coin has not been the only gold coin; there were also three-dollar piece, four-dollar piece, half eagle and eagle gold coins at one point in time. Today, the 1 dollar gold coin is the only gold coin still in production.

Collectible state quarter coins

An act to produce quarters printed with scenes from the 50 American states was enacted in 1997. This act, called The 50 State Quarters program, was an attempt support coin collecting in a new generation. The coins were produced for 9 years during1999-2008 with five coins being released each year with five-week intervals. The collective US states coins have generated big profits for the US government from collectors saving the coins instead of using them to make purchases.

Since 2009, quarters with US territories have also been issued, meaning there are additional coins with the District of Columbia, The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands to be collected. Not including the newer coins with US territories, the program has minted a grand total of 34,797,600,000 coins.

Delaware was the first state coin to be released and Hawaii the last minted coin. Many collectors have books with slots for placing the different state coins. Some state coins are considered harder to come by than others, and the coins differ in popularity.

There are other collectible coins minted apart from the state quarters, often portraying diseased US presidents. The presidential coins have been released every year since 2007. The 2014 presidential coins will have portraits of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Portraits for 2015 and 2016 have already been settled as well and will include Richard M. Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower among a number of others.


The beloved US dollar naturally has its share of nicknames. $100 bills are sometimes called Benjamins, from Benjamin Franklin's presence on the bill. Bills in general can be referred to as dead presidents (from the presidents portrayed on the bank notes), greenbacks (from the color of the bank notes), lettuce (also from the currency's color), long greens (from the color and shape) and much more. 1 dollar bills can be referred to as singles or ones. US dollars in general are sometimes referred to as bucks.

Conspiracies and myths

Few currencies are subject to as many conspiracies as the US dollar. There has been a surprisingly large amount presented to the world through the years, some more widespread and believable than others.

One of the most commonly known conspiracies today is the one stating that you can se pictures very similar to the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorism attacks in 2001 when folding US dollar bills in a certain way. The first "discovery" was that by following the folding instructions, you could see The World Trade Center surrounded by smoke on the 20 dollar bill. Following this first, highly unexpected discovery, it was later revealed that you could see the Pentagon before the terrorist attacks on the 5 dollar bill and the Twin Towers on fire on the 10 dollar bill. Supposedly, you could also see the building collapsing on the 50 dollar bill. The 100 dollar bill did not offer much excitement but a cloud of smoke, presumably the remains of a fallen building after the attacks.