Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fort Worth Western Currency Facility

After a very quiet Thanksgiving, it was time to get out on the road and get some museum time in. For some time we had been kicking around the idea of checking out the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Office (BEP) in Fort Worth. Also known as the Western Currency Facility, it is the place where the U.S. Treasury makes paper money for the states west of the Mississipi. There are only two facilities that produce paper money, Washington, D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas. As it turned out, the BEP is celebrating 150 years of printing money for the Feds.

The Western Currency Facility was completed in 1991. It’s BIG! 104,000 square feet of production area (12 acres) sitting on a 100 acre plot donated by the City of Fort Worth. A Visitor Center was added in 2004. This baby has some serious security surrounding the grounds and within the facility itself. Double fences greet you with a “no man’s land” between the wire with lots of lasers running in between to catch movement. There motto is "The Buck Starts Here"....very catchy.

When you exit your car, you hear a greeting message on the PA telling you not to bring any electronic devices into the facility. No cell phones, cameras, pagers, guns, knives, bombs, lions, tiger and bears (Oh, My!). So, sorry, no photos from the high-tech, cutting-edge Rocks in my Sandals camera on this trip. These guys don’t fool around. While we were there, a pizza delivery guy brought several boxes of pizza in. They were taken by one of the armed Treasury cops, inspected and run through the x-ray machine. Wow. I suppose you can form C-4 into anything I guess. Really good tip….go view the video in the theatre before you start your walking tour. It will answer a lot of questions along the way.

Since 1861, Congress has tasked the BEP in the making of financial instruments and legal tender for the United States. It has its origins in legislation enacted to help fund the Civil War. Prior to that, just about any other bank or financial institution could print its own money or securities making the money supply unstable and full of counterfeit cash. By 1862, BEP was producing currency, revenue stamps, government obligations, and other security documents. In 1877, the BEP became the sole producer of all United States currency. BEP was also produced military “script” currency beginning in WWII. The last military currency was made for the Vietnam War. They’ve also produced some foreign currency as well.

Although the BEP has been producing all the printed-paper for the Federal agencies, in recent years, they have been the victims of outsourcing.  They no longer produce postage stamps, Savings Bonds or Treasury Securities (Securities are no longer on paper...they're all electronic now). They just make money and lots of it. And don’t use the word “dollars” when describing their product; you will be quickly corrected to use the word “notes”.

While we were there, they were producing 100-dollar bills. There is a push to do so because the old 100-dollar bills were being taken out of circulation to be replaced with the new generation of secure 100-dollar bills with all the enhanced security features we see on the newer 5s and 20s. The BEP has really put a lot of effort in securing the US money supply against counterfeiting. From watermarks, color-shifting inks, printing patterns, off-center portraits, security threads and a cool low-vision image of the currency value which helps seniors and the sight-challenged to identify the denomination better.

A common question is who picks the faces for our paper money. By law, the Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for the selection of the designs, including the portraits, which appear on paper currency.

The portraits currently appearing on the various denominations of paper currency were adopted in 1929 when the size of the notes was reduced. Prior to the adoption of this smaller sized currency, a special committee was appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to study this aspect of the design. It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. The traditional green color on the back of our money ("green back") was originally to thwart the black and white photography technology of the Civil War years to stop counterfeiting. There is primarily black ink on the front of the note.

This decision was somewhat altered by the Secretary of the Treasury to include Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and is credited with promoting our National Banking System; and Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. By law, only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on U.S. currency and securities.

Interesting fact is that there is about $669 Billion in currency in circulation at any one time. The Western Currency Facility runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year and produces about 17 million notes a day or (depending on the value of the notes in the run) about $42 Million an hour for a total of about $1 Billion dollars. They produce on average 5 Billion notes or about $298 Billion a year. About 95% replaces old currency and about 5% is new money.

Each currency note printed here at the Fort Worth facility has small letters "FW" written on the right hand bottom or the top.


The largest note ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000.00 Gold Certificate,  Series 1934. These notes were printed from December 18, 1934, through January 9, 1935, and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury. The notes were used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public.
The printing process is called “Intaglio” (pronounced In-tal-ee-o). The BEP has a very talented staff of engravers who cut very fine marks into metal plates. If you look at your dollar note you will see the images are not straight continuous lines but a series of dots and dashes (the recessed grooves are only 2/1000 (0.002) of an inch deep). In the printing process, the plates are put into these very large automated printers where the plates are initially coated with ink; the excess ink is scraped off leaving only ink within the little dots and dashes. Then a sheet of paper is layed over the plate as a roller presses with the force of 20 tons. This infuses the ink to the paper leaving a slightly raised image on the paper you can feel with your fingers.
BEP uses an offset printing process. The paper is produced by the Crane Paper Company and has been the sole source to the BEP since 1879. It’s ordinary paper that consumers use throughout their everyday life such as newspapers, books, cereal boxes, etc, is primarily made of wood pulp. A sheet of paper holds 32 bills and comes already with the notes watermark and security thread imbedded in the paper. The paper is 75% cotton and 25% linen. The face is done first (front Intaglio). You wait three days to dry and then the back is done (back Intaglio). Each phase prints four features.
Three more days and then they go to the COPE-Pak presses. The acronym COPE-Pak stands for Currency Overprinting Processing Equipment and Packaging. This press takes the 32 sheet and reduces it to a 16-subject printed and examined sheet of currency. It adds the two serial numbers, the black universal Federal Reserve seal, the green Department of the Treasury seal, and the corresponding Federal Reserve identification numbers then cuts them to single notes. All along the way, there are computers digitizing each note to determine quality and automatically rejects note sheets that don’t make the grade. There are also master printers doing random checks as well.

In the Visitor Center, there was a cool demonstration of the Intaglio process on an original  “Spider Press” built back in 1901.

The COPE machine then stacks 4000 single notes into a “brick”, four “bricks” make a “cash pack” (16,000 notes). Forty packs (640,000 notes) make a “skid” and two “skids” make a completed pallet for shipping to a Federal Reserve Bank. So…if they were the $100 dollar bills we saw being produced, we’d be looking at $128,000,000 million per pallet. As we looked down from the elevated walkway, we could see a virtual sea of shrink-wrapped pallets ready for pickup at the back end of the warehouse for delivery to one of the  one of the 4 western Federal Reserve Banks.

Each Federal Reserve Bank makes an order for bank notes once a year at the beginning of the Federal Fiscal Year in October for the entire year. The BEP then produces that amount and delivers to all 12 banks. The Fort Worth facility primarily serves the Dallas, Kansas City and San Francisco Federal Reserve Banks.

So….you might ask yourself…self, how can they continuously make new notes 24/7 all year long. Well, while the BEP is cranking out notes, an equivalent number of notes are being destroyed everyday by the respective Federal Reserve Banks. They bring in, from their commercial bank customers old, damaged and outdated bills and destroy them. This allows a constant flow of new notes to be produced and keeps the money supply stable.

That begs the question as to when do the notes they produce actually become legal tender. Only after the Federal Reserve Bank releases the money from their bank does it officially become “monetized” and able to be spent. Who knew?

Fun time for me (the wife even took away something from she’s still traumatized from being unable to constantly update Facebook while on the tour) so now I’m itching to take the tour of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.

Monday, November 19, 2012

6th Floor Museum

October and November were busy times at the Saraceni winter residence. We were fortunate enough to have some friends and family visit (for the first time since we arrived in 2006… all know who you are out there, except you Dana). Our long-time friend Dennis came in October, a former partner of mine Al and his wife Pam and my (much older) sister in November. It did give us a chance to do the touristy thing and show off our wonderful part of the state.

For many years, my wife and Dennis were major “Dallas” TV show fans so his request was a visit to South Fork Ranch to go through the museum and property. We had been to South Fork before and it always strikes me as a shrine built for our generation for a period in our lives when television began to be our escape from the reality and began to rule our lives.

The original series ran from 1978–1991 and captured the imagination of lots of folks. It has been credited with defining the future of nighttime dramas. Just about all the shows that came later used the same formula (or expanded it with the relaxation of censors) of conflict, wealth, sex, good guys and bad guys. After 357 episodes, the show departed but not for good. Two TV movies and now a new series on TNT with a younger cast mixed with original cast members continue the franchise.

The visit takes you through the glitzy museum with lots of memorabilia from the series and behind the scenes views of the cast and the making of the show. It is fun to see the photos of the young cast at the top of their game. It was mostly a trip down memory lane when I considered where or what I was doing during those times.

The tour moves to the tram ride around the ranch on the way to the house used in the exterior shots for the show. Little known fact was that the show was mostly filmed (yep…before video tape) in Hollywood. Only shots around the ranch, exteriors of the front yard, locations around Dallas, driveway and pool area were done here. Thus when you get to the house, it strikes you as being very small. This was done on purpose. Through a little photographic trickery, the house was made to look much bigger and grander.’s kind of a rundown 4700 sq ft home still in the 70’s when it was built.

After a brief lecture on the history of the house and series by a lovely young tour guide (who, by the way, was an infant when the show aired), you are allowed to wander around the interior which has a theme room dedicated to each one of the main characters. Let’s not forget…they never acted or filmed in any of these rooms….it’s just fluff to balance out the tour.

The best part of the visits for me was that all of them wanted to see the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The museum resides on floors six and seven of what was the Texas School Book Depository building. The building started out as the Southern Rock Island Plow Company. Built in 1903 it was used to build farm implements. Southern Rock sold the building and the new owner leased it to the Texas School Depository who converted it into a warehouse in 1963 with the iconic "Hertz" rental billboard on it's roof. The lower five floors make up the Dallas County Administration Center.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist or someone who relishes in the death of others but the JFK assassination was a pivotal moment for most Americans (like Oliver Stone) and, for me, a window into the politics and subsequent directions America took in the following years.

When we took my sister there, we really lucked out in that a couple of eye witnesses were there to give a talk in the “Meet the Museum” lecture series on the 7th floor of the museum, which was opened in 2002. The museum is part of the Dallas County Historical Society and often has various guest lecturers speak on the events of that 22nd day of November in 1963.

When there are no lectures, the southeast corner window is one floor above the window Oswald fired from and gives an excellent view of the roadway Oswald would have seen on the day of the shooting. You can plainly see the two white painted Xs in the center lane of Elm Street where the two shots struck the President. The sixth floor has a glass enclosure surrounding the sixth floor window and surrounding stacks of book boxes as it would have appeared on November 22nd, 1963.

The lecture involved the observations of Bill and Gayle Newman. You all have seen Bill and Gayle. They are the subject of one of the most iconic photos of the assassination. That’s the 22 year olds Bill and Gayle shielding their children at the base of the grassy knoll as the shots rang out.

Here we are 49 years later and Bill and Gayle are (like us) older and wiser. They have been the subjects of documentaries and have traveled all over the world to meet or be interviewed by researchers producing books or movies about the assassination. Bill commented that he always knows what conspiracy theory the interviewer subscribes to because when they take Bill’s picture, if he has his back to the 6th floor window they believe in the single shooter theory. If his back is to the grassy knoll or white picket fence, they believe in one of the multiple shooter theories.

Each gave a brief description of what they saw that day. They were, after all, probably the closest people to the shooting in Dealey Plaza that day. Gayle was a little quieter and gave few details but Bill was more practiced and gave a more graphic description. She did say, of all the movies and documentaries they have been involved in, Gayle said her favorite was working with Oliver Stone’s movie where she got to meet Kevin Costner (lots of eye rolling from Bill on that one).

They were just passed the freeway sign (which is no longer there) on the north curb line where the first round struck the President and then they were almost abreast of the limousine as the second shot hit the President in the head. As Bill spoke, you could see the event still affects him to this day. He had that 10,000-yard stare a person gets when they’re reliving a significant moment in time.

At one point, his voice cracked as he described seeing the back of the Presidents head explode into a red and white mist throwing the President into the lap of his terrified wife. Gayle recalled seeing Jackie climb out onto the rear deck retrieving a portion of the President’s skull as a Secret Service agent Clint Hill climbed up and pushed her back into her seat.

At that point, Bill called out to Gayle to get on the ground to shield their two boys. At that moment, Johnny Flynn of the Dallas Morning News took the shot. Also at that moment, several photographers ran up on them and also took photos. One reporter for WFAA (the ABC affiliate in Dallas) asked them what they saw. Realizing they were eyewitnesses to the shooting, he corralled the whole family and drove them to the studio and got them on the air to tell what they saw. They have been in great demand ever since.

One of the things that gave them notoriety in the conspiracy theory community was the fact that Bill made the comment that, initially, he stated he thought the shots come from behind him (the grassy knoll). Since then, Bill feels the results of all the credible researchers and the results of the two Federal investigations (the Warren Commission in 1963 and the Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979) are correct and there was only one shooter.

Interestingly, although they were interviewed several times by the FBI and investigators for both assassination investigations and participated in a couple of reenactments for those investigations they were never called to testify.

As we left the 7th floor to return downstairs to the 6th Floor Museum, we walked by two large images of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy hanging on a wall. As you walk by, you realize the portraits are actually made up of tiny images of each other. JFKs was pixilated, if you will, by images of Jackie and Jackie was made up of JFK portrait images by Alex Guofeng Cao. Pretty cool.


You can’t take photos of the 6th Floor exhibits (oh…and according to a very angry docent I met, the lecture series on the 7th floor either…oops) but many describe the lead up to and aftermath of the President’s visit to Dallas. The trip was to shore up support of conservative Southern Democrats who weren’t enamored by Kennedy’s liberal policies in anticipation of the 1964 elections. There’s where the conspiracy theories start. It ran the gamut from the Military-Industrial complex seeking more military involvement in Southeast Asia, eastern Europe, Central and South America, organized crime’s dislike of Robert Kennedy’s investigation of the mob, to Cuban revolutionaries. The list is endless.
Book Depository today
7th floor view of Elm St

But many of the displays inexorably capture, through videos and photographs, the events of November 22nd . They even have a display of all the different types of movie and still cameras that were used that day to record the event. From an old Polaroid Land Camera belonging to Mary Moorman to the Bell and Howell Model 414 PD Zoomatic Director Series 8mm Camera Zapruder used.

A great place to relive history and get a little more of an unbiased (well unless you feel the Museum is a Government front to distribute misinformation to propagate the single shooter theory…) perspective of the assassination. Once outside, as you walk around the plaza, you can start matching up what you saw to the actual scene. If you seem lost, expect one of the many conspiracy theorists floating around the plaza to offer up their interpretation of the events for you. They have lots of company. In 2003 a Gallup poll found that three-quarters of Americans said they think more than one man was involved in Kennedy's assassination. Only 19% of Americans think it was the work of one individual. One thing was clear, time will not end the continuing controversy nor does it appear it will ever be explained or resolved.