How The Government Can Literally Print $700 Million In One Day

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Every day, rivers of green currency sheets flow through the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the federal agency responsible for printing all of the country’s paper money. The technology used to produce today’s legal tender is a far cry from the steam-powered machines used to trim, separate and seal America’s first currency notes in 1862.  

However, the multi-step process still begins with a few skilled engravers who meticulously carve intricate designs into metal plates for what will eventually be imprinted onto billions of dollars each year.   

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces our paper currency at two facilities in Washington, D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas.

Together, they churn out about 40 million notes with a face value of around $700 million each day.

The process begins inside a cramped office at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. Here, master engravers design steel dies that are used to print U.S. paper currency.

There are only seven engravers in the country that do this work. Each engraver specialises in one part of the note design.

Working on only one part of the design — such as portraits, numbers, dates or signature — enables artists to become expert at their craft while preventing each engraver from having all the skills needed to create bills on their own.

Each engraver must also cut the design in reverse. One mistake can destroy nine months of painstaking work.

The engravers work to create a master die, which is then reproduced onto metal printing plates.

Hundreds of identical printing plates are installed in a giant printing press.

Meanwhile, blank currency sheets are fed into high-speed printing presses.

Unlike newspapers and books which are made of wood pulp, paper currency is a mixture of 75 per cent cotton and 25 per cent linen.

The subtle green and pink hues of the background images are printed first. Then, presses print the backs and faces of the notes.

After the ink dries for 72 hours, the bills are ready for the intaglio engraving press.

In this process, ink is squirted onto the printing plate and the excess is removed, leaving ink in the recesses of the plate. When the paper is forced into the engraved plate, it creates a distinctive raised ink texture on the front of the bill and an indented feel on the back that is used to prevent counterfeiting.

The bills need a full three days to dry or the ink will smudge.

Every hour, these machines churn out 10,000 sheets with 32 individual bills each.

Sheets of $20 bills would make each pile worth $6.4 million.

In the last stage, the bills are printed with black serial numbers and the Treasury and Federal Reserve seals.

The finished bills are inspected and marked to be removed if a defect is found.

The bills are then cut and formed into stacks of 100.

Each stack gets a paper wrapper and are shrink-wrapped together into bricks.

The bricks are then shipped and secured in the Federal Reserve vault for future pick-up and distribution.

Now see how another American item is made

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