The roots of America’s currency date back to 1690, and over the centuries there have been many changes—new designs, new materials, and new values. Our currency has evolved as we have and there are plenty of historical tidbits that have been forgotten over time.
Here are just a few fascinating money facts
Paper currency beginnings
The history of our currency begins in 1690. That’s when colonies started issuing paper money. The first colony to distribute money was the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They issued bills of credit to pay soldiers that were raised to fight in King William’s War. The bills were meant to represent shares of commodities such as silver, but they were hardly redeemed due to the shortage of gold and silver coins and the value of the bills eventually dropped.
The creation of coins
On April 2, 1792, Congress passed the Coinage Act, which created the United States Mint tasked with creating and issuing coins. The first coins (11,178 copper cents) started circulating after March 1793. Later on, gold and silver coins were issued as well. Today, pennies are made from a copper-plated zinc. Nickels are made from a “homogeneous alloy containing 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel.” The dime, quarter, half-dollar, and one dollar coins have copper cores and faces made from 75 percent copper and 25 nickel.
The currency distributed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony was printed on paper and issued in denominations of five, ten, and twenty shillings. Unfortunately, ordinary paper is made with wood pulp and can deteriorate easily. Today, America’s Federal Reserve issues notes made of a cotton and linen blend. The notes are 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen, and they also have blue and red synthetic fibers embedded in them. Green ink is used on the back and the faces use black ink. Color-shifting ink and metallic ink are used for special features on the bills.
“In God We Trust ”
The phrase wasn’t always a part of American currency. In the misted of the Civil War, which was tearing the country apart, the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Portland Chase, added the phrase “In God We Trust” to bronze two-cent coins. It appeared sporadically on some U.S. coins since then, but it didn’t become a permanent addition to our currency until another war, the Cold War. On July 11, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill that required the phrase “In God We Trust” to appear on all paper and coin currency.