Just for kids


July 02, 1998

Bread, dough, greenbacks and moolah all mean the same thing: money. You may love it, hate it or wish you had way more of it ` but our country couldn't run without it. Have you ever wondered how money gets made in the U.S.?

A coin shortage during the Civil War forced the U.S. government to print paper money for the first time in 1861. By 1862 the Department of the Treasury took over the printing of currency. Although it's hard to believe, six people in a basement office hand-printed the first $1 and $2 notes with the seal and signatures of Treasury officials.

Now the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the part of the U.S. Treasury that prints money, covers a Washington, D.C., city block and prints more than 22 million notes a day. Passing from person to person wears and destroys money, so 95 percent of those newly printed bills will replace money already in use. People spend twice as many $1 bills as any other, and the average life of a dollar spans only a year and a half.

The journey from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to your pocket begins with a master engraver who carefully carves the design of a bill into metal. A master plate of this etching is placed inside a large, rumbling press and engraves the front and back of large sheets made of linen and cotton.

The press spits out 8,000 pages per hour with 32 bill faces on each sheet. Then the green and black ink needs two or three days to dry.

The stacks of paper move to the examining and trimming room when finally dry. Examiners inspect for ink smears, discoloration and other irregularities and then shred the defective sheets. A book-binder gathers the good sheets and feeds them into another machine, which cuts them in half.

After being trimmed, the printed sheets transfer to currency printing and processing. Although they look like money, the sheets are worthless until green Treasury seals, Federal Reserve seals, bank numbers and serial numbers are printed on their faces. Then the sheets pass through razor-sharp cutters and are sliced into single pieces. Once money leaves this room, it has value.

Come this fall, start looking closely at $20 bills -- they just got a facelift. The U.S. Treasury added security precautions to prevent counterfeiting, or faking of money. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving has enlarged the portrait of Andrew Jackson, set it off to the side and added a watermark visible when the bill is held up to the light. Enhancements the average eye can barely spot include a thread that glows red under ultraviolet light, micro-printed words too teensy to be copied and special color-shifting ink that changes the number "20" from green to black when you shift it from side to side. Re-creating these new bills is almost impossible.

Mini Ha-has

Why did the nose cross the road?

'Cause everyone was picking on him!

How do chiefs in Arabian villages dance?

Sheik to sheik!

Why did the window-washer hate his job?

It was a real pane!

What's the best way to make a horse float?

Combine two scoops of vanilla ice cream, some root beer and one horse!

1997 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune, Inc.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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