World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Federal Reserve Note

1934 $10,000 FRN, depicting Salmon P. Chase.

Federal Reserve Notes, also United States banknotes or U.S. banknotes, are the banknotes used in the United States of America. Denominated in United States dollars, Federal Reserve Notes are printed by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing on paper made by Crane & Co. of Dalton, Massachusetts. Federal Reserve Notes are the only type of U.S. banknote currently produced.[1] Federal Reserve Notes are authorized by Section 16 of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 (codified at 12 U.S.C. § 411) and 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 put into circulation by the Federal Reserve Banks,[3] at which point they become liabilities of the Federal Reserve Banks[4] and obligations of the United States.[2]

Federal Reserve Notes are legal tender, 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. Federal Reserve Notes are backed by the assets of the Federal Reserve Banks, which serve as collateral under Federal Reserve Act Section 16. These assets are generally Treasury securities which have been purchased by the Federal Reserve through its Federal Open Market Committee in a process called debt monetizing. (See Monetization.) This monetized debt can increase the money supply, either with the issuance of new Federal Reserve Notes or with the creation of debt money (deposits). This increase in the monetary base leads to a larger increase in the money supply through fractional-reserve banking as deposits are lent and re-deposited where they form the basis of further loans.


  • History 1
  • Value 2
  • Large-size notes 3
    • Series 1914 3.1
    • Series 1918 3.2
  • Production and distribution 4
  • Nicknames 5
  • Criticisms 6
    • Security 6.1
    • Differentiation 6.2
      • Suit by the blind over U.S. banknote design 6.2.1
  • Design regulations 7
  • Series detail 8
    • Series overview 8.1
    • Series 1914 (District Seals) 8.2
    • Series 1928–1995 8.3
    • Series 1996–2006 8.4
    • Post-2004 redesigned series 8.5
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Privately issued note, 1853

Prior to centralized banking, each commercial bank issued their own notes. 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 President Andrew Jackson campaigned heavily for its disestablishment. From 1837 to 1862, in the Free Banking Era there was no formal central bank, and banks issued their own notes again. From 1862 to 1913, a system of national banks was instituted by the 1863 National Banking Act. The first printed notes were Series 1914. In 1928, cost-cutting measures were taken to reduce the note to the size it is today.


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.

At the time of the Federal Reserve's creation, the law provided for notes to be redeemed to the Treasury in gold or "lawful money." The latter category was not explicitly defined, but included United States Notes, National Bank Notes, and certain other notes held by banks to meet reserve requirements, such as clearing certificates.[5] The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 removed the gold obligation and authorized the Treasury to satisfy these redemption demands with current notes of equal face value (effectively making change). Under the Bretton Woods system, although citizens could not possess gold, the federal government continued to maintain a stable international gold price. This system ended with the Nixon Shock of 1971. Present-day Federal Reserve Notes are not backed by convertibility to any specific commodity, but only by the legal requirement that they are issued against collateral.

Large-size notes

Series 1914 FRN were the first of two large-size issues. Denominations were $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 printed first with a red seal and then continued with a blue seal.[6] Series 1918 notes were issued in $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 denominations. The latter two denominations exist only in institutional collections.[7] Series 1914 and 1918 notes in the following two tables are from the National Numismatic Collection at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution).

Series 1914

Denomination type set of 1914 Federal Reserve Notes
Value Fr. Red Seal Blue Seal Portrait and engraving
5$5 832a
Abraham Lincoln
10$10 894b
Andrew Jackson
20$20 958a
Grover Cleveland
50$50 1019a
Ulysses S. Grant
100$100 1074a
Benjamin Franklin

Series 1918

Denomination type set of 1918 Federal Reserve Notes
Value Fr. Image Portrait and engraving
500$500 1132d John Marshall
1000$1,000 1133d Alexander Hamilton
5000$5,000 1134d James Madison
10000$10,000 1135d Salmon P. Chase

Production and distribution

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 the face value of the notes 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.[8]

Federal Reserve Notes are printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.[9] When Federal Reserve Banks require additional notes for circulation, they must post collateral in the form of direct federal obligations, private bank obligations, or assets purchased through open market operations.[10] If the notes are newly printed, they also pay the BEP for the cost of printing (about 4¢ per note). This differs from the issue of coins, which are purchased for their face value.[8]

A Federal Reserve Bank can retire notes that return from circulation by exchanging them for collateral that the bank posted for an earlier issue. Retired notes in good condition are held in the bank's vault for future issues.[11] Notes in poor condition are destroyed[12] and replacements are ordered from the BEP. The Federal Reserve shreds 7,000 tons of worn out currency each year.[13]

Federal Reserve notes, on average, remain in circulation for the following periods of time:[14]

Denomination $1   $5   $10  $20  $50  $100
Years in circulation 5.8   5.5   4.5  7.9  8.5  15.0

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.[15]

Starting with the Series 1996 $100 note, bills $5 and above have a special letter in addition to the prefix letters which range from A-L. For series 1996, the first letter is A, for series 1999, the first letter is B, for series 2001, the first letter is C, for series 2003, the first letter is D, for series 2003A, the first letter is F, for series 2006, the first letter is H, and for series 2006A, the first letter is K.[16]

The Series 2004 $20, the first note in the second redesign, has kept the element of the special double prefix. For series 2004, the first letter is E, for series 2004A, the first letter is G, for series 2006, the first letter is I, for series 2009, the first letter is J, for series 2009A, the first letter is L, and for series 2013, the first letter is M.[16]

Federal Reserve Notes are made of 75% cotton and 25% linen fibers.[17]


U.S. paper currency has had many nicknames and slang terms. The notes themselves are generally referred to as bills (as in "

  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  • Six Kinds of United States Paper Currency
  • Federal Reserve Act: Section 16—The Federal Reserve Board

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  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. ^
  6. ^ Friedberg & Friedberg, 2013, p. 148.
  7. ^ Friedberg & Friedberg, 2013, pp. 157–59.
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^ 12 U.S.C. § 412
  11. ^ 12 U.S.C. § 416
  12. ^ 12 U.S.C. § 413
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Anti-Counterfeiting: Security Features. The United States Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Accessed 11 January 2012.
  22. ^ (French) Michel Beuret, "Les mystères de la fausse monnaie", Allez savoir !, no. 50, May 2011.
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^
  25. ^ AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND, et al. v. Henry M. Paulson, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury, Civil Action No. 02-0864 (JR) (United States District Court for the District of Columbia 2002).
    archived copy (original link is dead) at the Wayback Machine (archived February 16, 2007)
  26. ^
  27. ^ Court Says the Blind Will Have Meaningful Access to Currency, Tells Government 'No Unnecessary Delays'
  28. ^ Federal Court Tells U.S. Treasury Department That It Must Design and Issue Accessible Paper Currency
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ [1], Footnote on page 3
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ The study, request for comments, and public comments filed before the August deadline can be read in the Federal Register; see
  35. ^ a b 31 U.S.C. § 5114
  36. ^ H.R. 619
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ H.R. 2528
  41. ^
  42. ^ H.R. 1105
  43. ^
  44. ^
This article incorporates text from the website of the US Treasury, which is in the public domain.


See also

All small-sized bills measure 6.14 in × 2.61 in (156 mm × 66 mm), with thickness of 0.0043 in (0.11 mm).

Color series
Images Value Background color Description Date of
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse Watermark first series Issue
$5 Purple President Abraham Lincoln; Great Seal of the United States Lincoln Memorial Two Watermarks of the Number "5" 2006 March 13, 2008
$10 Orange Secretary Alexander Hamilton; The phrase "We the People" from the United States Constitution and the torch of the Statue of Liberty Treasury Building Alexander Hamilton 2004 A March 2, 2006
$20 Green President Andrew Jackson; Eagle White House Andrew Jackson 2004 October 9, 2003
$50 Pink President Ulysses S. Grant; Flag of the United States United States Capitol Ulysses S. Grant 2004 September 28, 2004
$100 Teal Benjamin Franklin; Declaration of Independence Independence Hall Benjamin Franklin 2009, 2009A October 8, 2013
These images are to scale at 0.7 pixels per millimeter.

Beginning in 2003, the Federal Reserve introduced a new series of bills, featuring images of national 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 bill on March 13, 2008; the new $100 bill on October 8, 2013. The one and two dollar bills still remain small portrait, unchanged, and not watermarked.

Post-2004 redesigned series

Small size notes
Image Value Description series
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse first last
$5 As small-size, small-portrait notes 1999 2006
$10 2003
$20 1996 2001
$100 2006A

Series 1996–2006

Small size notes
Image Value Description Date of
Obverse Reverse Obverse Reverse first series last series
$1 George Washington Great Seal of the United States 1963 current (2013)
$2 Thomas Jefferson Trumbull's Declaration of Independence 1976 current (2013)
$5 Abraham Lincoln Lincoln Memorial 1928 1995
$10 Alexander Hamilton Treasury Department Building
$20 Andrew Jackson White House
$50 Ulysses S. Grant United States Capitol 1993
$100 Benjamin Franklin Independence Hall
$500 William McKinley "Five Hundred Dollars" 1934
$1000 Grover Cleveland "One Thousand Dollars"
$5000 James Madison "Five Thousand Dollars"
$10,000 Salmon P. Chase "Ten Thousand Dollars"

Series 1928–1995

Series 1914 (District Seals)

Series Denominations Obligation clause
1977, 1977A, 1981, 1981A, 1985, 1988, 1988A $1, $5 This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private
1977, 1977A, 1981, 1981A, 1985, 1988A $10, $20
1977, 1981, 1981A, 1985, 1988 $50, $100
1990 $10, $20, $50, $100
1993 $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100
1995 $1, $2, $5, $10, $20
Large-portrait ($1 and $2 remain small-portrait)
1996 $20, $50, $100
1999 $1, $5, $10, $20, $100
2001 $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100
2003 $1, $2, $5, $10, $100
2003A $1, $2, $5, $100
2006 $5, $100
2006A $100
Color notes ($1 and $2 remain unchanged)
2004 $20, $50
2004A $10, $20, $50
2006 $1, $5, $10, $20, $50
2009 $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100
2009A $100
2013 $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100
Small-size notes
Series Denominations Obligation clause Remarks
1928 $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000 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; during the Great Depression
1950 $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 Slight design changes: branch logo; placements of signatures, "Series xxxx", and "Washington, D.C.",
1963, 1963A, 1963B, 1969, 1969A, 1969B, 1969C, 1974 $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private First $1 FRN; "Will pay to the bearer on demand" removed; Seal in Latin replaced by seal in English in 1969[15]
1976 $2 First $2 FRN, Bicentennial
Large-size notes
Series Denominations Obligation clause[44]
1914 $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 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 $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000

Series overview

Series detail

In 2001, the Legal Tender Modernization Act was proposed which would prohibit any redesign of the $1 bill.[40] This act would have superseded the Federal Reserve Act (Section 16, Paragraph 8) which gives the Treasury permission to redesign any banknote to prevent counterfeiting.[41] More recently, the Omnibus Appropriations Act (2009) has stated that none of the funds set aside for either the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the $1 bill.[42] This is because any change would affect vending machines and the risk of counterfeiting is low for this small bill.[43]

The portraits appearing on the U.S. currency can feature only deceased individuals, whose names should be included below each of the portraits.[35] Since the standardization of the bills in 1928, the Department of the Treasury has chosen to feature the same portraits on the bills. These portraits were decided upon in 1929 by a committee appointed by the Treasury. Originally, the committee had decided to feature U.S. presidents because they were more familiar to the public than other potential candidates. The Treasury altered this decision, however, to include three statesmen who were also well-known to the public: Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury who appears on the $10 bill), Salmon P. Chase (the Secretary of the Treasury during the American Civil War who appeared on the now uncirculated $10,000 bill), and Benjamin Franklin (a signer of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution, who appears on the $100 bill).[39]

There are a few regulations to which the U.S. Treasury must adhere when redesigning banknotes. The national motto "In God We Trust" must appear on every banknote.[35] The bill requiring this, H.R. 619,[36] was introduced by Representative Charles Edward Bennett of Florida. The inclusion of the motto was meant to serve as a frequent claim that the country was founded upon faith in God as well as spiritual values during the era of McCarthyism. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed this bill in 1955, but it was not until 1957 that banknotes bearing this motto were first circulated.[37][38]

Design regulations

As a result of the court's injunction, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is planning to implement a raised tactile feature in the next redesign of each note, except the $1 bill (which is by law not allowed to be redesigned[31][32]), though the version of the $100 bill already is in progress. It also plans larger, higher-contrast numerals, more color differences, and distribution of currency readers to assist the visually impaired during the transition period.[33] The Bureau received a comprehensive study on accessibility options in July 2009, and solicited public comments from May to August 2010.[34]

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.[30]

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.[29]

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."

Robertson accepted the plaintiff's argument that current practice violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.[25] The Treasury is appealing the decision. The judge ordered the Treasury Department to begin working on a redesign within 30 days.[23][26][27][28]

Ruling on a lawsuit filed in 2002 (American Council of the Blind v. Paulson), 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 noted that 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.[24]

Suit by the blind over U.S. banknote design

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. The Indian Rupee has raised patterns of different shapes printed for various denominations on the left of the watermark window (20: vertical rectangle, 50: square, 100: triangle, 500: circle, 1,000: diamond).

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.

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 different denominations are printed in different, contrasting 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.

Critics, such as the American Council of the Blind, note that U.S. bills are relatively hard to tell apart: they use very similar designs, they are printed in the same colors (until the 2003 banknotes, in which a faint secondary color was added), and they are all the same size. The American Council of the Blind has argued[23] 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 people still have to trust sighted people or machines each time they receive US banknotes.


According to the central banks, the number of counterfeited bank notes seized annually is about 10 in one million of real bank notes for the Swiss franc, of 50 in one million for the Euro, of 100 in one million for United States dollar and of 300 in one million for Pound sterling.[22]

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, such as a $1 or $5 bill, 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 since the 1990 series a vertical laminate strip imprinted with denomination 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).[21]

U.S. currency does, however, bear several anti-counterfeiting features. 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 classified, 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. Furthermore, recent redesigns of the $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes have added EURion constellation patterns which can be used by scanning software to recognize banknotes and refuse to scan them.

Despite the relatively late addition of color and other anti-polymer banknote, has been developed for the Australian dollar and adopted for the New Zealand dollar, Romanian leu, Papua New Guinea kina, Canadian dollar, 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.[20] One major issue with implementing these or any new counterfeiting countermeasures, however, is that (other than under Executive Order 6102) the United States has never demonetized or required a mandatory exchange of existing currency. Consequently, would-be counterfeiters can easily circumvent any new security features simply by counterfeiting older designs.



Many more slang terms refer to money in general (green stamps, moolah, paper, bread, dough, do-re-mi, freight, loot, cheese, cake, stacks, greenmail, jack, rabbit, cabbage, pie, cheddar, scrilla, scratch, etc.).

  • 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.
  • "dead presidents", any amount in any denomination of Federal Reserve Note (from the portrait of a U.S. president on most denominations).
  • Toms for the picture of Thomas Jefferson on the two-dollar bill.
  • fin, finif (from the Yiddish word for five), or finski 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").
  • 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.
  • Fed Shreds is the nickname for paper money that the United States government finds unfit for circulation and consequently shreds.[19]
See tables below for nicknames for individual denomination

). $100 notes" for Benjamins or even more popularly, "[18]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.