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.

25 of the Best Places to Retire Early in America

Maine's Portland Head Lighthouse.
Maine's Portland Head Lighthouse.
iStock/sara_winter

Retirement is a word we often associate with sun-loving sexagenarians and beyond who are living out their glory years in a Florida bungalow. To many, it's a luxury afforded only to those seasoned professionals who did their time in the workforce. But Kiplinger, the nearly 100-year-old publication focused on personal finance and business forecasts, says otherwise. The site recently reported how, with careful planning, a person could successfully retire early.

By “retiring early,” the site is referring to a retirement age of around 45, not 25 (sorry, to all you hopeful Millennials out there). While there is some taboo surrounding a person’s decision to move forward with such a choice, those who have actually done it have praised its many benefits. So what kind of careful planning would allow for someone to achieve such a goal?

According to Kiplinger, one of the best ways to successfully quit your day job while you're still in your 40s is to settle in a place where the living conditions—including cost of living, tax rates, and income opportunities—allow you to keep busy and remain financially solvent. To help out, Kiplinger released a list of the best places in each state for early retirement, factoring in such variables as the health of each state's economy, taxes on retirees, poverty rates within the retirement demographic, and certain population data.

Listed alphabetically by state, cities and towns with higher concentrations of residents aged 45 to 64 were also favored. Here are 25 of Kiplinger's 50 best places.

  1. Huntsville, Alabama

  1. Lake Havasu City, Arizona

  1. San Francisco, California

  1. New Milford, Connecticut

  1. Tampa, Florida

  1. Kapaa, Hawaii

  1. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

  1. Des Moines, Iowa

  1. Louisville, Kentucky

  1. Portland, Maine

  1. Pittsfield, Massachusetts

  1. Minneapolis, Minnesota

  1. St. Louis, Missouri

  1. Omaha, Nebraska

  1. Manchester, New Hampshire

  1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Raleigh, North Carolina

  1. Cincinnati, Ohio

  1. Portland, Oregon

  1. Providence, Rhode Island

  1. Pierre, South Dakota

  1. Sherman, Texas

  1. Burlington, Vermont

  1. Seattle, Washington

  1. Green Bay, Wisconsin

To check out the full list of 50, visit Kiplinger's website.

Starting in July, All Kohl's Stores Will Accept Amazon Returns

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The only thing that can dilute the excitement of receiving a package from Amazon is the realization that you ordered the wrong item. Maybe it’s a shirt that doesn’t fit, or a gadget that didn’t meet expectations. Now it has to go back, which means printing out a return slip, boxing it back up, and either making a trip to the post office or waiting for a postal carrier to take it away.

Amazon's return policy is now getting a makeover. Beginning in July, all 1150 Kohl’s locations will be accepting returns for the online giant. The program is called Amazon Returns, and it’s free for the consumer. Items don’t need to be packaged. All you have to do is bring in your unwanted Amazon order and let them box it up. While it would seem like a massive inconvenience for Kohl’s, it’s actually part of a mutually beneficial strategy.

By inviting Amazon customers to walk into their stores, Kohl’s is increasing their foot traffic and setting themselves up for an opportunity to capture some additional revenue from people who might not have stopped in otherwise. It’s a smart approach for a brick-and-mortar retailer, a segment of commerce that has been dramatically impacted by the rise of online shopping and Amazon’s dominance in particular.

For Amazon, it likely means consolidating their shipping costs. Instead of retrieving returns from a number of addresses or drop-off locations, they’re able to bundle shipments from Kohl’s.

There are some caveats. If you bought a product from a third-party Amazon seller, it’s not eligible to be processed at a Kohl’s location. And you’ll still have to log on to your Amazon account to notify them you’ll be returning an item via a Kohl’s store.

Accepting Amazon returns may not be the only change you see in Kohl’s in the coming years. Some locations have partnered with Aldi and Planet Fitness to offer a more diverse array of services.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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