to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
Barbara Klein. Today on our program, we visit the Bureau of Engraving and
Printing in Washington, D.C. to learn about how American dollars are made. Last
year, the Bureau produced about thirty-eight million bills a day. Printing
money requires both artistic and technological skills. The bills are made so
that they are interesting to look at but very hard to copy. In total, there are
sixty-five separate steps required to make a dollar bill.
(MUSIC: "Give Me Money?")
tours of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington D.C. are a popular
activity for visitors. These tours are a good way to learn new and interesting
facts about the history of money and its complex production methods. It is also
very exciting to stand in a room with millions of dollars flying through
TOUR GUIDE: "All right,
Ladies and Gentlemen, once again welcome to the Bureau of Engraving and
Printing. And this is where the color of money begins. The money making process
begins when a yearly order sent by the Federal Reserve Board. That order will
then be divided in half. Half will be done here in Washington, D.C. and the
other half will be done in Fort Worth, Texas".
Next, the Bureau orders
special paper from the Crane company in the state of Massachusetts. The paper
is actually cloth since it is made up of seventy-five percent cotton and
twenty-five percent linen. This paper is made so that it can last a long time.
And, it is made with details that make it hard to copy. For example, bills contain
security threads. These narrow strips of plastic inside the paper run along the
width of the bill. This special paper is also made with very small blue and red
fibers. Both of these designs make it very hard for counterfeiters to copy.
Counterfeiters are criminals who create false money.
The first stage of
production is called intaglio printing. This is done on high-speed
presses using printing plates onto which images have been cut. Each plate
receives a layer of ink, which gathers in the cut areas of the plate. Then,
each sheet of paper goes into the press to receive the printing plate. The
machine forces about twenty tons of pressure onto the printing plate and paper.
One side of a dollar bill is printed in green ink, while the other is printed
in black. Each side must dry for about forty-eight hours.
The printing plate used
in this process is created from hand-cut engravings called master-dies. Highly
skilled artists called engravers draw images into soft steel to make the dies.
There are separate dies for the different images on the bill, such as the
portrait of the president, the lettering, and other designs.
After each master-die is
copied, they are fitted together to make a printing plate that has thirty-two
copies of the bill being printed. A master-die can last for many years. For
example, the master-die with the picture of President Abraham Lincoln was made
in the eighteen sixties. It was used again this year to redesign the five-dollar
the large printed sheets are carefully examined to make sure there are no
mistakes on any of the bills. This process used to be done by people. Now,
computers do the work.
TOUR GUIDE: "OCIS is an acronym for Off-line Currency Inspection
System and this is where the money from the last phase will be inspected.
Now that blue
box will take a picture to size of the sheets of the money and compare its cut,
color and shape with the master image sent by the Federal Reserve Board. It
will take that picture and break it down into over one million pixels. Every
single last one has to be absolutely correct."
part of production, the thirty-two bill sheets are cut into sheets of sixteen.
In the next step, the bills are printed with a series of identifying numbers
TOUR GUIDE: "And this is where the money from the last phase
will be put to its final state. If you look to the left of the room ladies and
gentlemen, there is a tall machine with green ink at the top of it. That is the
machine that will print your serial numbers, Federal Reserve seal and Treasury
seal onto the money."
serial numbers on the money tell the order that the bills were printed. Other
numbers and letters printed on the bill tell when the note was printed, what
space on the printing plate the bill occupied
and which Reserve bank will issue the bill.
money is printed, guillotine cutters separate the sheets into two notes, then
into individual notes. The notes are sorted into "bricks", each of which
contains forty one-hundred-note packages. The bricks then go to one of twelve
Federal Reserve Districts, which then give the money to local banks.
Ninety-five percent of the money printed each year is used to replace money
that is in circulation, or that has already been removed from circulation. The
Federal Reserve decides when to release this new money into use.
know that America's first president, George Washington, is pictured on the
one-dollar bill. But do you know whose face is on the two, five, ten, twenty,
fifty and one hundred-dollar bills?
They are, in order, President Thomas Jefferson, President Abraham
Lincoln, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, President Andrew
Jackson, President Ulysses Grant and statesman Benjamin Franklin.
the tour, visitors can learn many interesting facts about money. For example,
the average life span of a one-dollar bill is twenty-one months. But a
ten-dollar bill lasts only about eighteen months. The one hundred-dollar bill
lasts the longest, eighty-nine months.
popular question that visitors ask is about the two-dollar bill. This bill is
not printed very often. This is because many Americans believe two-dollar bills
are lucky, so they keep them. Two-dollar bills do not have to be printed often
because they do not become damaged quickly like other bills. People can send
their damaged or torn bills to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The Bureau
will replace damaged bills with new bills. However, it is illegal to purposely
damage United States currency in any way. Anyone found guilty of damaging
American money can be fined or jailed.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing first began printing money in eighteen
sixty-one. It operated in a room of the Treasury building. Two men and four
women worked together there to place seals on money that was printed in other
places by private companies. Today, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has
over two thousand employees in its two printing centers in Washington and Fort
Treasury Department continually works to change the design of bills to make it
difficult for counterfeiters to copy. One method it uses is called
microprinting. For example, what looks like a very thin line around the edge of
a portrait may actually be the words "The United States of America" printed in
very small letters. Also, many bills
now have color-shifting ink that looks like metallic paint. In the last five years, the ten, twenty and
fifty-dollar bills have been redesigned.
All the bills are mostly green. But other colors are added when they are
newest design in American currency is the five-dollar bill, which was released
earlier this year. This new bill has a second watermark. A watermark is an
image that can be seen from both sides of the bill when it is held up to light.
The new five-dollar bill also has a security thread that is on the right side
of President Lincoln's picture. On older designs, this thread was on the left
The new bill also has an area that is printed in purple ink. The number
five is printed very large to help people who do not see well. The next note
that will be redesigned is the one hundred-dollar bill. This is the highest
value bill now used in the United States.
money might soon be legally forced to change its appearance in more extensive
ways. In May, a federal appeals court
ruled that the design of American money discriminates against blind people.
Most other countries make bills in different sizes depending on the value of
each note. But American dollars are all the same size. The American Council for
the Blind brought the case to court.
judges decided that the Treasury Department has failed to show that it would be
too costly to make American dollars so that blind people could tell their value
by touch. The Treasury Department says
it would cost over a hundred and seventy million dollars to order new printing
presses and as much as fifty million dollars to make new printing plates. Other
experts estimate that it would cost over three billion dollars to redesign food
and drink machines to accept bills of different sizes.
be a long time before this case is settled in court. Until then, the printing
presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing will continue to produce the
green dollars that are recognizable to people around the world.
Our program was written
and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Bob Doughty. Our
programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.