United States banknotes: denominations, faces, history and curiosities

Everyone pays attention to the denomination of the bills, especially the $100 bills. However – when people have nothing to think about, love numismatics, history or are collectors – they pay attention to other details, such as the color of the bills, the symbols it contains and, of course, the faces of the personalities of the United States stamped on them.

Are you interested in this topic? So, let’s dig into it a little bit! The first thing you should know is that the faces of each one of the dollars that are in circulation in the country make a little bow to certain important characters, all men (at least, for now):

  • George Washington
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Ulysses S Grant
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Andrew Jackson
  • alexander hamilton

Note that of these seven characters, two are founding fathers and five are presidents of the United States. Already with this information in the pocket – so to speak – we are going to delve into the subject.

Discover in a few minutes everything you should know about the United States banknotes: denominations, faces, history and curiosities.

United States Banknotes: Dollar Denominations, Faces

Faces and denominations on United States banknotes

Let’s start by recognizing the characters that appear on the bills of one of the most important currencies in the world. Who is on the $100 bill? Who is on the $50 bill? Let’s see it!

$1 Bill Character – George Washington

George Washington is perhaps the face that everyone associates with the dollar, and not only because of his historic achievements -of which there are many- but also because is stamped on one of the most used banknotes on a daily basis, the $1.

As you know, Washington was the first president of the United States. Since when is he the star of the $1 bill? Since a long time. In fact, his face has almost always appeared on the front of the $1 bill, and there doesn’t seem to be any intention of changing this anytime soon.

Why do we say almost always? Let’s see: the issuance of the $1 bill dates back to 1862, but in its beginnings, it did not have the face of Washington, but that of the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase. This portrait that we all know on the $1 bill – the one of Washington – first appeared on the $1 bill in 1869.

$2 Bill Character – Thomas Jefferson

Although everyone is used to seeing Thomas Jefferson’s face on the $2 bill, it wasn’t always like this. So, who was the first to portray himself in this denomination? Founding father and the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton in 1862. Jefferson’s face appeared on the panorama in 1869 and has remained on the front of the $2 bill ever since.

$5 Bill Character – Abraham Lincoln

Despite having been redesigned many times, the $5 bill has always had the 16th president of the United States on the front: Abraham Lincoln. For having been introduced to the market in 1914 -more than 100 years ago- it leaves a lot to say.

$10 Bill Character – Alexander Hamilton

The first $10 bill was issued by the Federal Reserve in 1914. In its early days, it was adorned with the face of President Andrew Jackson. However, the design changed in 1929 to move Jackson to the $20 bill and put the face of Alexander Hamilton (founding father and former Secretary of the Treasury) on the $10 bill.

Remember: The first $10 bill and other denominations created under the 1913 federal law came in a larger format. It was much later that the Federal Reserve decided to issue a new, smaller format of paper money.

$20 Bill Character – Andrew Jackson

Who appears on the $20 bill? Nothing more and nothing less than Andrew Jackson, but it wasn’t always like that. The first $20 bill was issued in 1914 and featured Grover Cleveland’s face. Jackson entered the picture in 1929, while Cleveland’s face was transferred to the $1,000 bill.

$50 Bill Character – Ulysses S. Grant

Since its first broadcast in 1914, Ulysses S. Grant is the one who appears on the $50 bill. Grant, in addition to being President of the United States, was a Union General and, during his two terms, helped the country recover from the disastrous Civil War.

$100 Bill Character – Benjamin Franklin

The famous inventor and founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, it is the one that appears on the bill with the highest denomination (in legal circulation, of course). This face has been there since the government first issued the $100 bill, which is a long time ago.

$500 Bill Character – William McKinley

You may not know it -because the $500 bill is no longer in circulation- but the face that adorned this denomination of paper money was that of President William McKinley. The $500 bill was created for the first time in 1918, but it was the judge -and at the same time, president- John Marshall the initial face of that bill.

Why is the $500 bill not in circulation? Well, because the Fed and the Treasury suspended its circulation in 1969 due to lack of use. Although its last printing was in 1945, there are still some copies in the country, usually in the hands of collectors.

Note: As a curious fact, you may be interested to know that McKinley is one of the few presidents of the United States who have been assassinated.

$1000 Bill Character – Grover Cleveland

The first character to appear in a $1000 bill It was Hamilton’s but the face of President Grover Cleveland was the second. Cleveland was chosen for the $1,000 bill after taking the $500 bill out of circulation.

When did the $1,000 bill cease to be in American hands? Since its official discontinuation issued in 1969. However, the Fed and the Treasury recognize that there are some citizens with bills like these in their hands, mainly collectors.

$5,000 Bill Character – James Madison

Since 1918, the year it was issued, James Madison has been the face of the $5,000 bill.. The Fed and the US Treasury discontinued this denomination in the year 1969. Although it was last printed in 1945, there are still Americans with this bill in their hands.

$10,000 Bill Character – Salmon P Chase

Salmon P Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, is the face of the $10,000 bill dating from 1918. This bill was discontinued in 1969 and, like the $500 bill, went out of print in 1945. However, some people and collectors still have one of these bills in their hands.

$100,000 Bill Character – Woodrow Wilson

Did a $100,000 bill ever exist? Yes, even if it seems incredible. But nevertheless, this denomination was a gold certificate note and was only used by Federal Reserve Banks.

Therefore, they did not reach the hands of the Americans, so they were not considered legal tender. Of course, there are few collectors who could get their hands on this banknote and, if it is in good condition, they would have a collector’s item that It would be worth about a million dollars on the market..

Who appeared on this millionaire bill? Well, President Woodrow Wilson.

Curiosities of United States banknotes

There are some interesting facts you may need to know about US banknotes, especially if you are passionate about this world or want to enter the country’s collector sector (which is quite important and diverse).

The first piece of information we will give you is that the faces of the largest dollar denominations that are out of circulation today -that is, the $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $100,000 bills- they were also presidents and secretaries of the North American Treasury, just like the ones you have in your pocket today.

Although the Treasury stopped printing these bills in 1945, most of them continued in circulation until 1969, the year in which the Federal Reserve decided to start destroying the copies that were deposited in the different banks.

The few notes that exist in these denominations could still be spent in a shop, but they are so rare and valuable that their owners prefer to sell them on the collectors’ market.

How is it decided who will appear on US banknotes?

Do you wonder who has the power to choose each of the faces on the United States banknote? Well, this person is the secretary of the treasury department. However, the selection criteria are not entirely at your disposal.

What does this mean? That you do not have full freedom to choose. In general, the Department of the Treasury only accepts on bills those historical figures well known to the American people.

If you look closely, this criterion adapts perfectly to all the faces that today adorn the American currency, perhaps with the exception of Salmon P. Chase. However, the bill on which it appears, which is the $10,000 bill, is no longer in the hands of the American people.

Furthermore, the importance of Chase is historical because is responsible for the design of US paper money.

Fun fact: the face of a living person is not allowed on a US bill

Federal law prohibits the face of a living person from appearing on a United States bill or any other public instrument..

Rumors have been spread throughout history of putting one or several living characters on the dollars – even Barack Obama has been promoted as one of the preferred candidates – but, as important as they have been, these characters cannot be considered as an option for the printing of American paper money, at least not while they live.

Have US bills always been the same?

No. In fact, both its size and design have changed over time. Recently, there has been talk of reintroducing the same denominations that exist today, but with some changes to honor the female vote.

The Treasury Department announced in 2016 that it was considering putting Jackson on the back of the $20 bill and decorating the front with the face of Harriet Tubman, late black activist and former slave to celebrate the 100th. anniversary of the 19th constitutional amendment, which is the text that recognizes and guarantees women’s right to suffrage.

This would make Tubman one of the first women to be depicted on an American legal circulation bill.. Let us remember that the first woman to be portrayed on an American bill was the First Lady Martha Washington, who appeared on the $1 bill with silver certificate at the end of the 19th century.

Within the project, it was also planned that the $5 and $10 bills would remain intact on the obverse, while the reverse would be adorned with key figures from the suffrage and civil rights struggles, such as Marian Anderson Y Martin Luther King ($5 bill), Lucretia Mott, Susan B Anthony, sojourner truth, Alice Paul Y Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the $10 bill.

Unfortunately, this project never saw the light of day. It is said that the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States had something to do with it. In this regard, the authorities have declared that this project is quite ambitious and that it has not been cancelled: it has only been delayed. Apparently, it will not be ready for 2020 but in 10 more years.

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