At first sight, you would not think a simple, green piece of paper would have such a long history before it. However, the United States Dollar is currency that has been in the making since 1690 when the first colonial bills were created in Massachussetts. What was then a simple piece of paper with ink has become a bill backed by anti-counterfeit technology.
In spite of Great Britain’s ban on colonial currency in 1764, the Continental Congress had created its own currency to finance the Revolutionary War starting in 1775. The bills were not well-backed and lacked any counterfeit deterring features, thus the “Continental”, as it was called, quickly lost value.
It was not until 1785 that the young American Congress finally adopted the dollar and in 1792 created the U.S. Mint and a federal monetary system with the Co that established denominations and values for gold, silver and copper coins.
In 1861, Congress authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue bills to finance the Civil War. The household nickname, the “greenback” came from the color of these new notes and stuck with them to this day.
The 20th century was a time of change for the dollar, and the first of those changes came with the founding of the Federal Reserve in 1913. The first Reserve notes were valued at $10 and featured President Andrew Jackson on a bill larger than today’s dollar. Rattled by the deficit and desperate to cut costs wherever possible, the Mint standardized sizes and designs applied to the different denominations of the dollar.
In the second half of the century, the dollar saw newly added designs and security features. In 1957 the National Motto In God We Trust was to be printed on all bills. The first Federal Reserve notes with the motto printed on them appeared in 1963. Almost thirty years later, security threads and microprint were new anti-counterfeit measures used on all bills except the $1 and $2 bills.
The money we use will keep up with counterfeits and continue to add features that are both easily checked and hard to reproduce. Though centuries of change have ushered the greenback into a modern age, it will be interesting to see how America’s currency will change in the coming years.