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.
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.
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.