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30 Hidden Secrets of the $1 Bill

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Most people don’t give much thought to the dollar bill nowadays. Although there’s not much you can buy for a buck anymore, the dollar remains a strange piece of money.

And even though it’s not used on its own much, it’s still so common. But there’s a lot you probably don’t know about it. After all, with all the wallets it has been in and out of over the years, the U.S. dollar bill has a lot of history.

National Museum of American History / Wikimedia Commons

1. Martha Washington Has Appeared On It

Martha Washington, America’s original first lady, once graced the $1 silver certificate. These days, the collectible bill could be worth a nice chunk of change — even more than $1,000, depending on its quality.

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National Museum of American History / Wikimedia Commons

2. George Washington Wasn’t on the Original

The first legal tender $1 note, which was issued during the Civil War, did not feature America’s first president, George Washington. Instead, it featured Salmon P. Chase, the secretary of the treasury at the time.

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3. The $1 Bill Design Hasn’t Changed Since 1963

The $1 bill design has remained unchanged since 1963. The main reason is that the $1 bill is infrequently counterfeited. In addition to counterfeiting, there’s also a legislative reason. Section 116 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act prohibits spending money to redesign the $1 note.

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4. It’s Not the Most Common Bill

In 2018, there were 12.4 billion $1 bills in circulation, according to the Federal Reserve. Surprisingly, there are more $100 bills than $1 bills floating around the country. Here’s a circulation breakdown:

  • 13.4 billion $100 bills
  • 1.8 billion $50 bills
  • 9.4 billion $20 bills
  • 2 billion $10 bills
  • 3.1 billion $5 bills
  • 1.3 billion $2 bills
  • 12.4 billion $1 bills

More on the $100: What $100 Was Worth in the Decade You Were Born

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5. It Only Costs 5.6 Cents To Make

The $1 bill is also the least expensive to produce, costing only 5.6 cents per note — the same cost to produce a $2 bill, according to the Federal Reserve. The $100 bill is the most expensive at 13.2 cents per bill.

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6. It’s Not Made of Paper

We might call it paper money, but it’s not actually paper. In fact, currency paper in the U.S. is 75% cotton and 25% linen, according to the Department of the Treasury.

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7. It Has a Short Lifespan

According to the Federal Reserve, a $1 bill falls out of circulation after an estimated 5.8 years. That’s compared to a low of an estimated 4.5-year lifespan for the $10 bill and a high of about 15 years for the $100 bill.

 

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8. They’re Disgusting

In 2002, a study by the U.S. Air Force found that 94% of 68 $1 bills that were tested had bacteria on them. The bacteria included some that could cause pneumonia or other infections, as reported in Scientific American magazine.

Find Out: How Much Would You Have If You Saved $1 a Day for Your Entire Life?

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9. Most Bucks Have Drugs on Them

Germs are not the only thing residing on your dollar. Almost 80% of dollar bills hold traces of cocaine, reported CNN in 2017. Beyond cocaine, researchers found traces of multiple other types of drugs, from methamphetamine to heroin.

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10. 50% Still Equals $1

Think twice if you consider a mutilated, torn or even incomplete dollar bill as worthless. If you have at least 50% of the bill remaining, along with sufficient remnants of any security feature, you might be able to redeem a bill for its value by submitting your bill to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Even if you have less than 50%, you might still be in luck if you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Treasury Department that the rest of the bill has been destroyed.

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11. You Can Track $1 Bills

It could be possible to learn where your $1 bill has been, thanks to a site called Where’s George? You enter the serial number of your bill and the site tracks it. To date, there have been more than 281 million bills entered.

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12. It Took Years To Approve the Great Seal

According to the U.S. State Department, it took six years for Congress to agree on and approve the design of the Great Seal of the U.S., which is featured prominently on the back of the $1 bill.

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13. War and Peace Are Represented

Look at the eagle on the back of your $1 bill. The arrows in the eagle’s left talon represent war and the olive branch in the proud bird’s right talon represents peace, according to the State Department.

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14. The Latin Around the Pyramid Speaks To American Exceptionalism

“Annuit Coeptis,” which is written above the pyramid, means “Providence Has Favored Our Undertakings.” Below the pyramid, the words “Novus ordo seclorum” mean “A New Order of the Ages,” which refers to the United States’ historic form of government.

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15. ‘13’ Is Everywhere

Check out the arrows in the eagle’s left talon: There are 13 of them. On the Great Seal, 13 stripes are present to denote the original 13 colonies. And there are also 13 “steps” on the pyramid.

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16. The Eagle Almost Didn’t Make It

Benjamin Franklin fought against the bald eagle as the national bird, finding it to be “a bird of bad moral character,” since the bird didn’t fish for itself. Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted the seal to include an Egyptian pharaoh, too.

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17. MDCCLXXVI Is the Symbol for 1776

At the base of the pyramid on the back of every dollar bill are the Roman numerals MDCCLXXVI. That is the symbol for 1776, which is the date of the Declaration of Independence.

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18. You Can Tell Which Federal Reserve Bank Issued It

On your dollar bill, there are serial numbers with two letters and eight numbers. The first letter — which will be between A and L — indicates which bank issued the bill. The letters stand for:

  • A = Boston
  • B = New York
  • C = Philadelphia
  • D = Cleveland
  • E = Richmond, Virginia
  • F = Atlanta
  • G = Chicago
  • H = St. Louis
  • I = Minneapolis
  • J = Kansas City, Missouri
  • K = Dallas
  • L = San Francisco

Calculate: How Much Is Your Dollar Worth Around the World?

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19. There’s a Spider on It (or Is That an Owl?)

Grab a magnifying glass, and check out the top right corner of your dollar bill. Just to the left of the top of the “1,” there is what some believe appears to be either a tiny spider or owl in the “webbing” pattern.

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20. You Might See a Ghost

Look very closely at the fourth row of the pyramid on the back of the dollar. You’ll see what appears to some to be a smiling face, somewhat ghost-like. Was it purposely designed? We might never know.

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21. They’re Durable

It might be easy to rip a $1 bill in half, but simply wearing them out is difficult. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing states that you would have to fold a bill back and forth 4,000 times before it would tear.

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22. Some Have Stars on Them

If the BEP notices a mistake with a bill after it is printed, the bill is replaced with a new note that has its own serial number followed by a star. This indicates that the bill is a replacement and is dubbed a “star note.”

23. Senators Tried To Eliminate It

In 2017, Sens. John McCain and Mike Enzi proposed to replace the $1 bill with a $1 coin. An effort to transition to the $1 coin was previously introduced in 2012.

24. The Top of the Pyramid Is Incomplete

On the back of the $1 bill, the top of the pyramid is incomplete. Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, stated that the unfinished pyramid signifies “strength and duration,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

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25. It Also Has Hidden Security Features

In addition to the red and blue fibers woven into the bill, printing is raised on all Federal Reserve $1 notes issued 1963 to present.

26. You Can Buy Uncut Sheets of $1 Bills

The general public is allowed to buy uncut sheets of currency from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. You can order by phone or on the bureau’s website.

 

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27. You Can Buy Shredded Currency

The BEP destroys currency notes that are found to be imperfect after being printed, and the Federal Reserve System shreds any that are worn out. You can get these souvenirs at the BEP’s visitor centers in Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas.

See: The Best and Worst Decades for America’s Money

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28. 1 Pound of Dollars Equals $454

Every Federal Reserve Note weighs approximately 1 gram. As there are 454 grams in 1 pound, you’ll need 454 notes — of any denomination — to equal 1 pound.

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29. Defacement of the $1 Bill Is a Crime

When you mutilate, cut, disfigure, perforate or otherwise deface a Federal Reserve Note with the intent to render it unfit to be reissued, you just committed a crime. You can be fined or imprisoned up to six months, or both.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing / Wikimedia Commons

30. It Was the First Note To Have ‘In God We Trust’

As the result of a 1955 law requiring “In God We Trust” to appear on all currency, dollar bills issued in 1957 were the first to bear the slogan.

Keep reading to learn some more fascinating facts about money.

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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting for this article.