American dollars: History and curiosities between past and present

US dollars are the official currency of the United States of America and are marked with the ISO 4217 code USD. In addition to the US, other nations such as the BES Islands, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, East Timor, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, the British Indian Ocean Territory and Zimbabwe use the dollar as a currency. Internationally, the USD currency is used in the world of finance as the standard unit for oil and gold.

In this article we take you to discover the history of the US currency, between anecdotes from the past and curiosities of the present.

American dollars: history

To learn about the origins of the US currency, it is necessary to take a step back in time to the days of the colonies. In fact, until the 18th century, the coins of the United Kingdom, France and Spain circulated on American soil. In view of the war, in 1775, Congress granted the issuance of a currency, the “Continental Currency”, to finance the revolution.

The US dollars were adopted as the main currency with the “Mint Act” (Act of minting also called “Coinage Act of 1792”) of April 2, 1792, using the decimal system at the international level for the first time. Subsequently, between 1793 and 1861, 1600 private banks received the authorization to print their own currency, at the time there were over 7000 different types in circulation.

In 1861 with the Act of July 17, the Treasury Department printed the first banknotes called “demand notes” or “greenbacks”, collected the following year before the issue of the “United States notes”. The government again instructed the banks to print their own currency between 1863 and 1929. To avoid the circulation of different denominations, it was established that the banknotes should be printed on government-authorized paper and have the same graphics.

US dollars

The 1907 crisis also known as “bankers panic” led Congress to institute the Federal Reserve System in 1913 with the aim of preventing further financial collapses. The Federal Reserve Act established the Federal Reserve Bank, the federal central bank divided into 12 regional offices. The act also established US dollars as the only currency of the United States. Since 1914, the central bank has issued Federal Reserve notes, the notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

US dollars - Federal Reserve

This is a souvenir from the Federal Reserve after the free visit in 2017. They are shredded notes that were no longer on the market.

American dollars: the face of currency

From the last century until the advent of the new millennium, the American currency has undergone several changes. In 1929 the banknote format was reduced by 25% and portraits on the front and monuments on the back were introduced. The writing “In God We Trust” was approved in 1957, but went into circulation with the 1963 series. To avoid counterfeiting, a watermark and small prints were added as a distinctive sign in 1990.

To counter the reproduction of counterfeit US dollars, further changes were applied in 1994. The 1997 $ 50 note incorporated a system for the blind to identify the denomination. In 2000, the Treasury reworked the design of the $ 5 and $ 10 banknotes with the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton. To stop counterfeiting, a watermark and some small prints visible with the magnifying glass have been added in this case.

US dollars

American dollars: banknotes and coins

The denominations of the first series (1928-2003) were $ 1, $ 2, $ 5, $ 10, $ 20, $ 50, $ 100, $ 500, $ 1000, $ 5000, $ 10 000, $ 100 000 and are entered into circulation between 1928 and 1976. Banknotes with a value equal to or greater than $ 500 were last issued in 1934. Between 1996 and 1999, however, a new series of US dollars was introduced with the portrait on the enlarged front.

The series in force since 2004 and currently in circulation, has introduced a number of changes, first of all the watermark also present in the small cuts, as well as changes in the images on the front and back.

US coins have been minted since 1792 and in circulation there are the following denominations 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 1 dollar. Over the years, celebratory series have been issued, such as the 1 cent coin to commemorate two centuries since Lincoln’s birth. Between 2004 and 2005 they dedicated the 5 cent currency to the Lewis and Clark expedition, while in 2007 they minted the one dollar coin with the Statue of Liberty and in 2009 the series to honor Native Americans.

American dollars: curiosity

In everyday life, Americans use different slang expressions to define American dollars, such as bucks or paper. Commonly used words are used to define coins, for example, a cent is called cent, 5 cents nickel, 10 cents dime, 25 cents quarter, 50 cents half-dollar (little used in common language).

Speaking of American English and slang, if you are interested in knowing some common words of the colloquial language, here are the two reference videos on the YouTube channel “Kiariladyboss”

On average, small-denomination American banknotes can be used for up to 18 months. Once withdrawn from the market, in some cases they are recycled by specialized companies for the production of building materials. According to a local legend, there is a 1 million euro banknote, a story never confirmed by the US government. In addition to American Presidents, some women have appeared on American banknotes, first of all First Lady Martha Washington in 1886.

Regarding the women who have made history in the United States, you can find on the blog, an article dedicated to the anniversary of women’s suffrage in the USA.

The $ 2 bill is also said to be a good omen as there are very few on the market. So if you find it, keep it tight. In this video I talk about the differences between the USA and Italy, I also show the banknotes and coins in circulation:

And finally, did you know that Berkshire is the only place in the US that uses two currencies? BerkShares are a local currency designed and issued for the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. According to the BerkShares website, residents buy BerkShares for 95 cents (USD) for BerkShare from one of sixteen branches of four local participating banks. This is a photo taken by me at the 4 banknotes I purchased last November 2019 while I was traveling with a client, on a road trip to Massachussets. What a marvel of places !!!

US Dollars Berkshire