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U.S. Currency Facts

In 1658, Johann Palmlstruck, a Swedish businessman, introduced a paper banknote that the Swedish State Bank accepted as legal currency.

It had a stable value equivalent to certain weights of gold and silver.


Great Britain had established 13 colonies in America and, in 1690, the British colony of Massachusetts Bay copied the Swedes and began making paper money valued in British pounds. 

The American Revolution and Continental Currency

Some colonists were not happy being dictated to by Britain and took up arms against the British soldiers. They were called militiamen, rebels, or the Continental Army.  


In 1775, Great Britain ordered their soldiers to round up and disarm all the rebels (revolutionaries) and arrest the leaders. 

During this war, the Continental Congress issued Continental currency to finance the war against the British.


However, the British began counterfeiting those bills which eventually caused the Continental currency to have almost no value.

France came to the aid of the Continental rebels Army and the war ended in 1781.


The American Civil War

The American Civil War (1861 – 1865) was a conflict between the northern and southern states. The war was mostly about Lincoln abolishing slavery.  

During this time, there were about 1600 different kinds of paper money and almost one-third of that was counterfeit.

crime and corruption

Stable U.S. Currency

In 1861, the United States Congress authorized the printing of new paper money. This paper money had different sizes, designs, and many denominations.

Forgers were still out there counterfeiting this new money.

Four years later, President Lincoln established the Secret Service to track and arrest counterfeiters. Over the years, the look and makeup of the U.S. bills changed.


Modern Paper Money

The paper used to make modern paper money is a blend of cotton and linen with a scattering of colored fragments.

Modern $5 bills have threads added to the paper that can only be seen under certain light. The inks used are blended with various oils and extenders and each color is a special mix to confuse counterfeiters.

US paper money
Modern American banknotes

Designs for Paper Money

A group of engravers make a die for each denomination and the front and the back of each bill by cutting an intricate design, portrait, numerals, and words into a soft steel plate.

In 1955, the words “In God We Trust” were engraved on all U.S. bills and coins, but since 1957 those words appear only on the backs of all paper money.

In 1990, the words “The United States of America” were added in microprinting around the outside edge of the printed portrait on all bills except the $1 bill.

one dollar bill

The Treasury Seal and Serial Numbers

The sheets of currency paper are subjected to various printings. 

For example, the portrait is added, followed by some words in black or a combination of colors, and then the background with various inks in separate stampings.


Each sheet has 16 bills. The sheets are examined for defects. When no defects are found, each sheet goes into a letterpress and a colored Treasury Seal and serial numbers are stamped onto the front of each bill.

Quiz – Time to Test Your Knowledge



What country established 13 colonies in the New World?

What happened to the Continental Currency during the American Revolution?


What was significant about the paper currency in America during the Civil War?

What is a die?

What are the last two things that are stamped onto the modern bills?



The 13 colonies were established by Great Britain.

Britain started counterfeiting the Continental Currency to devalue it.

During the American Civil War, there were about 1600 different kinds of paper money.


A die is a soft steel plate that has been engraved.

The last 2 things to be stamped on modern paper money are the colored Treasury Seal and the serial numbers.

Money & Finance For Kids