Have you ever taken a look at our nation’s money? I mean really given it a close look, close enough to notice some of the intricate details on our bills and coins? What in the world does “E Pluribus Unum” mean, anyway? How did “In God We Trust” come to be the phrase used on every piece of currency? What’s next for U.S. currency? This brief mini-series takes a look at some of these questions and more.
Fun facts about our nation’s currency
- The U.S. Department of the Treasury first issued and put paper money into circulation in 1862. This was to make up for the shortage of coins (people were hoarding coins made of gold and silver), and also to help fund the Civil War.
- The Bureau of Engraving and Printing creates approximately 38 million notes per day, valued at about $541 million. 95% of this is to simply replace older, worn-out notes in circulation.
- Almost half of the notes printed are $1 bills.
- Martha Washington is the only female to date to have appeared on U.S. currency: on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and on the back of the 1896 $1 Silver Certificate. Plans are moving forward, however, to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
- In 1943, pennies were made out of zinc-coated steel instead of copper due to the copper shortage during World War II.
- The Lincoln penny is the only coin in which the figure faces right. All others face to the left.
- The Mint Headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., but it doesn’t produce currency. There are four locations nationwide: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point, New York. When you see a “P,” “D,” “S,” or “W” on currency, it indicates the location where the currency was printed.
- The Mint once considered printing doughnut-shaped coins.
E Pluribus Unum
Let’s start with taking a look at the meaning of “E Pluribus Unum.” This is a Latin phrase meaning “Out of Many, One,” or “From Many, One” and describes the action of many uniting into one. This was the phrase suggested on July 4, 1776 by the Congress-appointed committee to design a seal for the United States of America.
The original seal had six symbols in the middle to signify the countries of which the United States originated: England (the rose), Scotland (thistle), Ireland (harp), France (the fleur-de-lis), Holland (the lion), and Germany (the eagle). Around this shield is thirteen smaller shields with the initials of each of the thirteen “independent States of America” (the original thirteen colonies). At the bottom is the phrase “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” again signifying the unification of the colonies into one country.
The original seal wasn’t chosen for the final design, but the phrase stayed on the final design we see today, the Great Seal showing the American bald eagle:
Symbols of unity were common in the 1770’s when this seal and phrase were finalized, and America continues to use it on every piece of currency in circulation today.