Federal Reserve Note: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Various Federal Reserve Notes, c.1990. Only the designs of the $1 and $2 (not pictured) are still in print.

A Federal Reserve Note is a type of banknote. Federal Reserve Notes are printed by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing on paper made by Crane & Co. of Dalton, Massachusetts. They are the only type of U.S. banknote that is still produced today[1] and they should not be confused with Federal Reserve Bank Notes.

Federal Reserve Notes "are authorized" by Section 411 of Title 12 of the United States Code.[2] They are issued to the Federal Reserve Banks "at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System".[2] The notes are then issued into circulation by the Federal Reserve Banks.[3] When the notes are issued into circulation they become liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks[4] and "obligations of the United States".[2]

Federal Reserve Notes are fiat currency, with the words "this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private" printed on each note. (See generally 31 U.S.C. § 5103.) They have replaced United States Notes, which were once issued by the Treasury Department.



The first institution with responsibilities of a central bank in the U.S. was the First Bank of the United States, chartered in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton. Its charter was not renewed in 1811. In 1816, the Second Bank of the United States was chartered; its charter was not renewed in 1836, after it became the object of a major attack by president Andrew Jackson. From 1837 to 1862, in the Free Banking Era there was no formal central bank. From 1862 to 1913, a system of national banks was instituted by the 1863 National Banking Act. A series of bank panics, in 1873, 1893, and 1907 provided strong demand for the creation of a centralized banking system. The first printed notes were Series 1914.


The authority of the Federal Reserve Banks to issue notes comes from the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Legally, they are liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks and obligations of the United States government. Although not issued by the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Notes carry the (engraved) signature of the Treasurer of the United States and the United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Section 411 of Title 12 of the United States Code provides that Federal Reserve Notes "shall be redeemed in lawful money on demand at the Treasury Department of the United States, in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, or at any Federal Reserve bank".[2] Before 1964, some notes were "backed" by silver and before 1933, by gold: that is, the law provided that holders of Federal Reserve notes could exchange them on demand for a fixed amount of metal (although from 1934–1971, only foreign holders of the notes could exchange the notes for gold on demand).[5] These notes stated on their face that they could be converted to gold or silver "on demand"[6] and were "demand notes". Demand notes for silver were also called silver certificates, while demand notes for gold were called gold certificates. Since 1964 (see Silver Certificate), Federal Reserve Notes have not been backed by any single specific asset, but are backed by all assets held in collateral by the Federal Reserve, and by the power of the government to collect assets in taxes. While 12 U.S.C. § 411 states that "Federal Reserve Notes. . . shall be redeemed in lawful money on demand" this means U.S. coins. Thus today the notes are backed only by the "full faith and credit of the U.S. government"—the government's ability to levy taxes to pay its debts. In another sense, because the notes are legal tender, they are "backed" by all the goods and services in the U.S. economy; they have value because the public may exchange them for valued goods and services in the U.S. economy.[7]

Production and distribution

Federal Reserve Notes are printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.[8] The Federal Reserve Banks pay the BEP not only the cost of printing the notes (about 4¢ a note), but to circulate the note as new currency rather than merely replacing worn notes, they must pledge collateral for the face value, primarily in Federal securities.

The Federal Reserve shreds 7,000 tons of worn out currency each year.[9] Federal Reserve notes, on average, remain in circulation for the following periods of time:[10]

$1 21 months
$5 16 months
$10 18 months
$20 24 months
$50 55 months
$100 89 months

The Federal Reserve does not publish an average life span for the $2 bill. This is likely due to its treatment as a collector's item by the general public; it is, therefore, not subjected to normal circulation.[11]

In contrast, the Federal Reserve pays the United States Mint—another Treasury bureau—face value for coins, as coins are direct obligations of the Treasury.[12]

A commercial bank that maintains a reserve account with the Federal Reserve can obtain notes from the Federal Reserve Bank in its district whenever it wishes. The bank must pay for the notes in full, dollar for dollar, by debiting (drawing down) its reserve account. Smaller banks without a reserve account at the Federal Reserve can maintain their reserve accounts at larger "correspondent banks" which themselves maintain reserve accounts with the Federal Reserve.[12]


U.S. paper currency has had many nicknames and slang terms. The notes themselves are generally referred to as bills (as in "five-dollar bill") and any combination of U.S. notes as bucks (as in "fifty bucks"). Federal Reserve Notes are sometimes referred to as "FRNs" or "ferns".

See tables below for nicknames for individual denomination
  • Greenbacks, any amount in any denomination of Federal Reserve Note (from the green ink used on the back). The Demand Notes issued in 1861 had green-inked backs, and the Federal Reserve Note of 1914 copied this pattern.
  • Deceased presidents or "Dead presidents", any amount in any denomination of Federal Reserve Note (from the portrait of a U.S. president on most denominations).
  • fin or finif (from the Yiddish word for five) is a slang term for a five-dollar bill
  • sawbuck is a slang term for a ten-dollar bill, from the image of the roman numeral X
  • double sawbuck is slang term for a twenty-dollar bill, from the image of the roman numeral XX, and in some cases can be used to denote a pair of ten-dollar bills, which would be double sawbucks, depending on the situation and type and amount of currency on hand.
  • One hundred dollar bills are sometimes called "Benjamins" (in reference to their portrait of Benjamin Franklin) or C-Notes (the letter "C" is the Roman Numeral 100).
  • One thousand dollars ($1000) can be referenced as "Large", "K" (short for "kilo"), "Grand" or "Stack", and as a "G" (short for "grand").
  • The popularity of the Saturday Night Live skit Lazy Sunday has led to $10 notes sometimes being referred to as "Hamiltons".
  • In Raymond Chandler's novel, The Long Goodbye, the protagonist Marlowe refers to a five thousand dollar bill as "a portrait of Madison," due to the president portrayed on the bill being James Madison.

Many more slang terms refer to money in general (moolah, gwop (George Washington on Paper), paper, cash, bread, dough, loot, dinero, cheese, cake, stacks, greenmail, jack, cabbage, pie, cutter, cheddar etc.).



Despite the relatively late addition of color and other anti-counterfeiting features to U.S. currency, critics hold that it is still a straightforward matter to counterfeit these bills. They point out that the ability to reproduce color images is well within the capabilities of modern color printers, most of which are affordable to many consumers. These critics suggest that the Federal Reserve should incorporate holographic features, as are used in most other major currencies, such as the pound sterling, Canadian dollar and euro banknotes, which are more difficult and expensive to forge. Another robust technology, the polymer banknote, has been developed for the Australian dollar and adopted for the New Zealand dollar, Romanian leu, Thai baht, Papua New Guinea kina and other circulating, as well as commemorative, banknotes of a number of other countries. Polymer banknotes are a deterrent to the counterfeiter, as they are much more difficult and time consuming to reproduce. They are said to be more secure, cleaner and more durable than paper notes.[13] Furthermore, recent redesigns of the $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes have added EURion constellations which can be used by scanning software to recognize banknotes and prohibit scanning them.

However, U.S. currency may not be as vulnerable as it is said to be. Two of the most critical anti-counterfeiting features of U.S. currency are the paper and the ink. The exact composition of the paper is confidential, as is the formula for the ink. The ink and paper combine to create a distinct texture, particularly as the currency is circulated. The paper and the ink alone have no effect on the value of the dollar until post print. These characteristics can be hard to duplicate without the proper equipment and materials.

The differing sizes of other nations' banknotes are a security feature that eliminates one form of counterfeiting to which U.S. currency is prone: Counterfeiters can simply bleach the ink off a low-denomination note, typically a single dollar, and reprint it as a higher-value note, such as a $100 bill. To counter this, the U.S. government has included in all $5 and higher denominated notes of 1990 series and later a vertical laminate strip imprinted with denominational information, which under ultraviolet light fluoresces a different color for each denomination ($5 note: blue; $10 note: orange; $20 note: green; $50 note: yellow; $100 note: red).[14]


Critics, like the American Council of the Blind, also note that U.S. bills are often hard to tell apart: they use very similar designs, they are printed in the same colors (until the 2003 banknotes), and they are all the same size. The American Council of the Blind has argued[15] that American paper currency design should use increasing sizes according to value and/or raised or indented features to make the currency more usable by the vision-impaired, since the denominations cannot currently be distinguished from one another non-visually. Use of Braille codes on currency is not considered a desirable solution because (1) these markings would only be useful to people who know how to read braille, and (2) one braille symbol can become confused with another if even one bump is rubbed off. Though some blind individuals say that they have no problems keeping track of their currency because they fold their bills in different ways or keep them in different places in their wallets, they nevertheless must rely on sighted people or currency-reading machines to determine the value of each bill before filing it away using the system of their choice. This means that no matter how organized they are, blind Americans still have to trust sighted people or machines each time they receive change for their purchases or each time they receive cash from their customers.

By contrast, other major currencies, such as the pound sterling and euro, feature notes of differing sizes: the size of the note increases with the denomination and are printed in different colors. This is useful not only for the vision-impaired; they nearly eliminate the risk that, for example, someone might fail to notice a high-value note among low-value ones.

Multiple currency sizes were considered for U.S. currency, but makers of vending machines and change machines successfully argued that implementing such a wide range of sizes would greatly increase the cost and complexity of such machines. Similar arguments were unsuccessfully made in Europe prior to the introduction of multiple note sizes.

Alongside the contrasting colors and increasing sizes, many other countries' currencies contain tactile features missing from U.S. banknotes to assist the blind. For example, Canadian banknotes have a series of raised dots (not Braille) in the upper right corner to indicate denomination. Mexican peso banknotes also have raised patterns of dashed lines.

Suit by sightless over U.S. banknote design

On November 28, 2006, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the American bills gave an undue burden to the blind and denied them "meaningful access" to the U.S. currency system. In his ruling, Robertson said the United States was the only nation out of 180 issuing paper currency that printed bills that were identical in size and color in all their denominations and that the successful use of such features as varying sizes, raised lettering and tiny perforations used by other nations is evidence that the ordered changes are feasible.[16]

Ruling on a lawsuit filed in 2002 by the American Council of the Blind, Judge Robertson accepted the plaintiff's argument that current practice violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. (Ruling as PDF file) The Treasury is appealing the decision. The judge has ordered the Treasury Department to begin working on a redesign within 30 days.[15][17][18][19]

The plaintiff's attorney was quoted as saying "It's just frankly unfair that blind people should have to rely on the good faith of people they have never met in knowing whether they've been given the correct change."

Government attorneys estimated that the cost of such a change ranges from $75 million in equipment upgrades and $9 million annual expenses for punching holes in bills to $178 million in one-time charges and $50 million annual expenses for printing bills of varying sizes.[20]

On May 20, 2008, in a 2-to-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the earlier ruling, pointing out that the cost estimates were inflated and that the burdens on blind and visually impaired currency users had not been adequately addressed.[21]

Fiat currency

Congressman Ron Paul, Austrian Economists, and other libertarians and constitutionalists criticize Federal Reserve Notes because they are a form of fiat currency and are not backed by tangible assets such as gold or silver. Such critics argue that Federal Reserve Notes can lose value easily and point to the currency's inflation rates for proof of this claim.[22]


Critics, including U.S. Congressman Ron Paul,[23] allege that according to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, that only the U.S. Congress has the ability

To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures; [24]

and thus Federal Reserve banknotes are not legal tender, as they were not issued by Congress and the Federal Reserve does not have the authority to print or create money.[25]

However, others contend that, since Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Reserve is constitutional as it was created by Congress and Congress retains oversight over the Federal Reserve.[26] Congress retains the ability to delegate some of its legislative powers to other branches of the government or agencies based on the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the nondelegation doctrine.

Series detail

Series overview
Large-size notes
Series $1 $2 $5 $10 $20 $50 $100 $500 $1000 $5000 $10 000 Obligation clause[27] Remarks
1914 v v v v v This note is receivable by all national and member banks and Federal Reserve Banks and for all taxes, customs and other public dues. It is redeemable in gold on demand at the Treasury Department of the United States in the city of Washington, District of Columbia or in gold or lawful money at any Federal Reserve Bank.
1918 v v v v
Small-size notes
Series $1 $2 $5 $10 $20 $50 $100 $500 $1000 $5000 $10 000 Obligation clause Remarks
1928 v v v v v v v v v Redeemable in gold on demand at the United States Treasury, or in gold or lawful money at any Federal Reserve Bank Branch ID in numerals
1934 This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private, and is redeemable in lawful money at the United States Treasury, or at any Federal Reserve Bank Branch ID in letters; after the Great Depression in 1929
1950 v v v v v Slight design changes: branch logo; placements of signatures, "Series xxxx", and "Washington, D.C.",
1963, 1969, 1974 v v v v v v This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private First FRN $1; "Will pay to the bearer on demand" removed; Seal in Latin replaced by seal in English in 1969[11]
1976 v First FRN $2, Bicentennial
1977, 1981, 1985, 1988 v v v v v v
1990 v v v v
1993 v v v v v v
1995 v v v v v
Large-portrait ($1 and $2 remain small-portrait)
Series $1 $2 $5 $10 $20 $50 $100 $500 $1000 $5000 $10 000 Obligation clause Remarks
1996 v v v This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private
1999, 2001 v v v v v v
2003 v v v v v
Color notes ($1 and $2 remains unchanged)
2004 v v v This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private
2006 v v v v v v

Series 1928–2003

Small size notes
Image Value Description Date of
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse first series last series
United States one dollar bill, obverse.jpg United States one dollar bill, reverse.jpg $1 George Washington Great Seal of the United States 1963 current (2006)
US $2 obverse.jpg US $2 reverse.jpg $2 Thomas Jefferson Trumbull's Declaration of Independence 1976 current (2003A)
5 28abf.jpg 5dollarreverse.jpg $5 Abraham Lincoln Lincoln Memorial 1928 1995
US $10 1934 Note Front.jpg US $10 1934 Note Back.jpg $10 Alexander Hamilton United States Department of Treasury Building
US-Series-1995-$20-Obverse.jpg 20dollarreverse.jpg $20 Andrew Jackson White House
US $50 1993 Federal Reserve Note Obverse.jpg US $50 1993 Federal Reserve Note Reverse.jpg $50 Ulysses S. Grant United States Capitol 1993
US $100 1990 Federal Reserve Note Obverse.jpg US $100 1990 Federal Reserve Note Reverse.jpg $100 Benjamin Franklin Independence Hall
500-2f.jpg 500-2b.jpg $500 William McKinley Value 1934
1000-2f.jpg 1000-2b.jpg $1000 Grover Cleveland
US $5000 1934 Federal Reserve Note.jpg US $5000 1934 Federal Reserve Note Reverse.jpg $5000 James Madison
10000-2f.jpg 10000-2b.jpg $10 000 Salmon P. Chase
US $5 obverse.jpg US $5 reverse.jpg $5 As small-size, small-portrait notes 1999 2006
US $10 Series 2003 obverse.jpg US $10 Series 2003 reverse.jpg $10 1999 2003
US $20 Series 1996 Obverse.jpg US $20 Series 1996 Reverse.jpg $20 1996 2001
US $50 Series 1996 Obverse.jpg US $50 Series 1996 Reverse.jpg $50
Usdollar100front.jpg US $100 reverse.jpg $100 2009

Post-2004 Redesigned Series

Beginning in 2003, the Federal Reserve introduced a new series of bills, featuring images of the symbols of freedom. The new $20 bill was first issued on October 9, 2003; the new $50 on September 28, 2004; the new $10 bill on March 2, 2006; the new $5 on March 13, 2008. Introduction of a new $100 has been repeatedly delayed,[28] but is now expected to be revealed April 21, 2010.[29]

Color series
Image Value Main Color Description Date of
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse Watermark first series Issue
US $5 Series 2006 obverse.jpg US $5 Series 2006 reverse.jpg $5 Purple President Abraham Lincoln; Great Seal of the United States Lincoln Memorial Two Watermarks of the Number "5" 2006 March 13, 2008
US10dollarbill-Series 2004A.jpg US $10 Series 2004 reverse.jpg $10 Orange Secretary Alexander Hamilton; The phrase "We the People" from the United States Constitution and the torch of the Statue of Liberty United States Department of Treasury Building As portrait 2004 A March 2, 2006
US $20 Series 2006 Obverse.jpg US $20 Series 2006 Reverse.jpg $20 Green President Andrew Jackson; Eagle White House 2004 October 9, 2003
Series2004NoteFront 50.jpg Series2004NoteBack 50.jpg $50 Pink President Ulysses S. Grant; Flag of the United States United States Capitol 2004 September 28, 2004
These images are to scale at 0.7 pixels per millimeter. For table standards, see the banknote specification table.

All small-sized bills measure 6.14 in × 2.61 in (156 mm × 66 mm).

See also


  1. ^ Sullivan, Arthur; Steven M. Sheffrin (2003). Economics: Principles in action. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall. pp. 255. ISBN 0-13-063085-3. http://www.pearsonschool.com/index.cfm?locator=PSZ3R9&PMDbSiteId=2781&PMDbSolutionId=6724&PMDbCategoryId=&PMDbProgramId=12881&level=4. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Section 411 of Title 12 of the United States Code". http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/12/411.html. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  3. ^ Bryan A. Garner, editor, Black's Law Dictionary 8th ed. (West Group, 2004) ISBN 0-314-15199-0.
  4. ^ Section 415 of Title 12 of the United States Code. Section 415 describes circulating Federal Reserve Notes as liabilities of the issuing Federal Reserve Bank.
  5. ^ Answers.com. "Gold standard". http://www.answers.com/gold+standard?cat=biz-fin. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  6. ^ http://www.friesian.com/NOTES.HTM
  7. ^ U.S. Treasury - FAQs: Legal Tender Status of currency
  8. ^ United States Department of the Treasury. "Organization chart of the Department of the Treasury" (PDF). http://www.ustreas.gov/organization/org-chart-122005.pdf. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  9. ^ Fleur-de-coin.com. "US Coin Facts". http://www.fleur-de-coin.com/coinfacts/unitedstates_3.asp. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  10. ^ Federal Reserve System (2005-06-27). "Currency: Notes and Coin - Frequently Asked Questions". http://www.federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/faq/faqcur.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  11. ^ a b USPaperMoney.info. "History of Currency Designs - A last few changes, and then stability". http://www.uspapermoney.info/history/1969.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  12. ^ a b Federal Reserve Bank of New York (April 2007). "How Currency Gets into Circulation". http://www.newyorkfed.org/aboutthefed/fedpoint/fed01.html. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  13. ^ Note Printing Australia (March 2008). "Polymer substrate - the foundation for a secure banknote=2008-03-15". http://www.noteprinting.com/banknotes.html. 
  14. ^ Anti-Counterfeiting: Security Features. The United States Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Accessed 1 October 2009.
  15. ^ a b CNNMoney.com (2006-11-29). "Judge rules paper money unfair to blind". http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/28/markets/treasury_ruling/index.htm?postversion=2006112818. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  16. ^ http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-12-12-currency-redesign_x.htm Retrieved 2010-02-07
  17. ^ Court Says Next Gen Currency Must Be Accessible to the Blind
  18. ^ Court Says the Blind Will Have Meaningful Access to Currency, Tells Government ‘No Unnecessary Delays’
  19. ^ Federal Court Tells U.S. Treasury Department That It Must Design and Issue Accessible Paper Currency
  20. ^ Article about the Court Order from the San Francisco Chronicle
  21. ^ CNNMoney.com (2008-05-20). "Court rules paper money unfair to blind". http://money.cnn.com/2008/05/20/news/blind_money.ap/index.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  22. ^ http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec2002/cr091002b.htm
  23. ^ U.S. Congressman Ron Paul. "Speech at U.S. House of Representatives, 9-10-02". http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec2002/cr091002b.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  24. ^ U.S. Constitution. "Article 1, Section 8". http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.articlei.html. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  25. ^ American Institute for Economic Research. "The Federal Reserve Conspiracy". http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/aier_on_conspiracy_04.html. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  26. ^ Jim Saxton. "Joint Economic Committee Report, 3-97, The Importance of the Federal Reserve". http://www.house.gov/jec/fed/fed/fed-impt.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  27. ^ Devoted to Truth. "Evolution from Gold to Fiat Money". http://ecclesia.org/truth/fiat.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  28. ^ Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "The Redesigned Currency: Safer, Smarter, More Secure". http://www.moneyfactory.gov/section.cfm/4. Retrieved 2008-02-17. 
  29. ^ United States to unveil new 100-dollar note April 21, 2010

This article incorporates text from the website of the US Treasury, which is in the public domain.

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