A $100,000 Bill? The Story Behind Large-Denomination Currency

George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

Your local convenience store may not accept bills larger than $20, but once upon a time you could have paid for your gum with a nice fresh $10,000 bill. What's the story behind the large-denomination bills that the government used to issue?

What big bills has the U.S. issued?

In 1928, the federal government overhauled its system of printing banknotes. It shaved about an inch of length and just under a half of an inch in width off the bills and issued the new smaller bills in the $1 to $100 denominations with which we're familiar. However, the Treasury also issued larger denominations. They featured William McKinley ($500), Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000), and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000).

Who the heck was Salmon P. Chase?

chase-10000

His name might not be as familiar as those of the presidents featured on the other big bills, but once upon a time Chase was a big wheel in American politics. Chase, a mid-19th century politician, served as Chief Justice of the United States, spent stints as Ohio's governor and senator, and was Lincoln's first Secretary of the Treasury.

Nice resume, but how did Chase end up on the $10,000 bill?

He was in the right place at the right time. When the federal government started issuing greenback notes in 1861, Chase, as Secretary of the Treasury, was in charge of designing and popularizing the new currency. The politically ambitious Chase had to pick a portrait subject for the first $1 bill, and he chose"¦Salmon P. Chase.

Although putting his face in everyone's pocketbooks never propelled Chase to the presidency, when the Treasury started issuing the new $10,000 bills in 1928 they put Chase's portrait on the obverse to honor the man who helped introduce modern banknotes.

Even if you don't have a $10,000 bill Chase's name might still be in your wallet. Chase National Bank, the forerunner to Chase Manhattan Bank, was named in his honor.

Why on earth was the government printing such giant bills in the first place?

Believe it or not, it wasn't just to save space in fatcats' wallets. When the Treasury started printing these giant bills, their main purpose was making transfer payments between banks and other financial institutions. Before sophisticated wire transfer systems were fully developed, it was apparently easier and safer just to fork over a $5,000 bill to settle up with a fellow bank. Once transfer technology became safer and more secure, there really wasn't much need for the big bills anymore.

What's the largest denomination of currency the U.S. has printed?

wilson-100-grand

That would be the Series 1934 $100,000 gold certificate. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing only made these notes during a three-week stretch during December 1934 and January 1935. Even the few plutocrats who had that much cash during the Depression couldn't carry one of the $100K bills, though. They were only used for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks, and the Treasurer of the United States only issued them to Fed banks that had an equal amount of gold in the Treasury. The note featured a picture of Woodrow Wilson.

Are any of these bills left in circulation?

There sure are, but don't expect to find a $500 bill the next time you make an ATM withdrawal. The Treasury announced on July 14, 1969, that it would quit issuing the $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 notes immediately, since the bills were so sparsely circulated. It's not like the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had to stop the presses, either; the bills hadn't seen an actual print run since 1945.

When the Treasury discontinued the bills, they rapidly fell out of circulation. However, a few are still lingering; as of May 2009, there were still 336 $10,000 bills at large. At the same time, Slate reported that there were also 342 $5,000 bills and 165,732 $1,000 bills still floating around.

If they're out of circulation, can you still spend them?

Although the Treasury is no longer issuing these bills, according to the Fed they're still legal tender. So yes, although it would probably raise some eyebrows, you could walk into Best Buy and plunk down a $1,000 bill to pay for a new plasma TV.

That wouldn't be the smartest move, though. Most of the high-denomination bills that are left in circulation are in collectors' safes, and at auction the bills tend to fetch prices that far exceed their face values. For instance, a pristine $10,000 bill can command a price as high as $140,000 on the open market.

What happens if you bring one of these big bills to a bank?

If you put it in your safety deposit box, your bill will be safe. Chase Bank actually acquired one of the $10,000 bills in its currency collection when a deceased customer's family found the bill in her deposit box and traded it for $10,000 in cash. Deposit the historical loot into your checking account, though, and it's bad news for the bill. You'll get the cash deposited in your account, but since the 1969 order to stop distributing these bills, Fed banks have been pulling the notes from circulation and destroying them whenever they are received.

Of course, there are other potential pitfalls to depositing a big bill, like blowing your cover when you're on the lam. Last February, three teenagers in Texas Township, Michigan, swiped one of their parents' safes and drove to Birmingham, Alabama, with their booty. Their downfall came when they tried to change an antique $1,000 bill from the safe at a bank. The police nabbed the thieves after a call from a suspicious teller.

So there was never a real $1 million bill?

Nope, but that doesn't mean that people haven't tried to make one. In 2004, a woman in Covington, Georgia, tried to pick up a $1,675 tab at a local Wal-Mart with a forged $1 million bill featuring a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Police quickly arrested her. It's hard to say what's more ludicrous: trying to pass off a million-dollar bill or thinking that Wal-Mart would just fork over $998,325 in change.

Someone gave me a fake $1 million bill as a joke. Was that illegal?

As long as you don't try to spend it or deposit it, you're in the clear. Gag makers and some religious and political groups have printed novelty $1 million bills for decades. In 1982, these novelty bills came to the attention of the Secret Service, which ruled that since there wasn't a real $1 million bill, these joke versions weren't technically forgeries or violations of any laws.

What about the opposite of these bills: the elusive $2 bill?

Although you don't see the $2 bill all that often, it's still a circulating denomination of American currency. According the U.S. Treasury, there are over $1.5 billion worth of $2 bills currently circulating around the world. However, since the bill changes hands less frequently than other denominations, it's not printed as often, either.

How Expensive Is Your Drunk Shopping Habit?

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iStock

A night of heavy drinking can lead to more than just nausea and a killer headache the morning afterward. It can also leave you with a credit card bill for some taxidermied alligator head you don't remember buying on Amazon. This is all thanks to tipsy shopping, which, according to a recent survey conducted by the Archstone Recovery Center, may be more expensive than you think.

Drunk Americans may be spending as much as $30 billion annually while shopping online, The Daily Dot reports. A separate survey conducted in February 2018 by the website Finder suggests as many as 46 percent of people have made a purchase while under the influence. Those drunk purchases add up: According to Finder’s research, Americans spend an average of $447.57 per year shopping while buzzed.

Gin is apparently the most dangerous alcohol for your wallet, according to the Archstone Recovery Center. Gin drinkers in Archstone’s survey spent the most on Amazon shopping sprees—an average of $82.40—and they were also likely to splurge on more expensive items (an average of $235.10 for the most expensive purchase). Whiskey drinkers, on the other hand, spend the least amount of money when they’re drunk ($38.84 on average), but they’re right behind gin drinkers in terms of splurging ($204.70 for the priciest Amazon orders).

But who spends more while drunk shopping on Amazon? Women, says Archstone, who spend an average of $45.39 on a drunk shopping spree (men spend an average of $39.87). Men spend more than women on their most expensive splurges, though ($198.27 and $154.81, respectively).

People regret some purchases more than others, Archstone says. Almost 67 percent of people in the survey regretted purchasing cell phones and phone accessories, and 34 percent regretted purchasing books. On the other hand, nobody regretted buying musical instruments, and a full 93 percent said they enjoyed their purchases of pet supplies.

Archstone’s survey wasn’t exactly scientific. According to the center’s methodology report, the study surveyed 1094 people, and the only qualifier for participation was that subjects had to have purchased an item on Amazon while drinking alcohol.

But the results are fascinating, and it’s a good reminder that shopping—like driving, texting, and exercising—is better left for when you’re sober.

[h/t The Daily Dot]

The Average Age When People Become Millionaires

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iStock

If you start investing in a retirement plan early in your career, you don’t have to bring home an insanely high salary to become a millionaire—eventually. (Thank you, compound interest.) The average age when bank accounts reach the seven-figure mark is in a person’s late 50s, according to Business Insider and The New York Times.

The average age when women become millionaires is slightly lower than the average age for men, despite the persistent wage gap in the workforce. For women, the average age is 58.5 years old, while for men, the age is 59.3. Or at least that’s the case for people with Fidelity 401(k) retirement plans, according to the investment firm’s research. That means that millionaires are reaching that milestone several years before the usual retirement age of 66 to 67 years old.

Nevertheless, how much money you need to retire comfortably varies based on your current salary, your expenses, and the number of years you’ll be living off your nest egg. Many financial advisers say you should aim for $1 million or more, which will hopefully last you through a 30-year retirement.

Reaching that million-dollar mark may seem like a long shot, but Fidelity has found that more and more of its savings plan customers have become millionaires in recent years. One of the firm’s recent analyses found that 133,000 of its customers had $1 million or more in their accounts in 2017, compared to 89,000 in 2016. (The company oversees 401(k) accounts for around 15 million people, so that’s not exactly a huge portion of its customers, though.) Between 2005 and 2017, the number of women who had $1 million in their retirement accounts doubled.

Fidelity attributes this increase to people putting more money away for retirement than in past decades. On average, the firm’s customers making less than $150,000 a year become millionaires by saving around 22 to 25 percent of their salaries in retirement funds, including employer matches. That may seem like a lot if you aren’t making a six-figure salary, but keep in mind that the earlier you start saving, the more your money grows. Investing just a little money in your 20s is a more effective way to save for retirement than investing a lot of money in your 30s and 40s. So if you want to become a millionaire (and who doesn’t?), now would be a good time to start investing in that 401(k).

[h/t Time]

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