Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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Symbols on American Money

Paper money has circulated in America at least as far back as colonial times. But how did American currency come to look the way it does? What do all the symbols on our money mean?

Symbolism on the One Dollar Bill
Look at the image of perhaps the world's most instantly recognizable paper money — the $1 U.S. Federal Reserve note. What does it mean to you? Despite our familiarity with this particular currency note, many of us have never looked closely at its design and symbolism. As you'll learn as you read on, American currency displays many significant symbols. Once you know what they mean, you may never look at your money in quite the same way.

$1 Federal Reserve notes
Perhaps the most universally renowned symbol to appear on American paper money is front and center on our $1 Federal Reserve notes. George Washington, our nation's first president, is a nationally recognized symbol of unity and trust. But he was not always there.

The $1 legal tender note, issued by the United States during the Civil War, was the first widely circulated U.S. $1 bill (see below). It features Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. Symbolism was very much on the minds of Treasury officials when they were contemplating the design for the Treasury seal (in red on the left side of the note below). They decided that the number of spikes surrounding the Treasury seal should equal the number of states in the Union, which was 34 before the start of the Civil War. A problem arose because seven states had seceded from the Union by February 1861 and four more left in April of that year. However, the patriotic Treasury viewed the situation as temporary and proceeded to include 34 spikes on its seal. The note shown below was issued in 1862.


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