George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

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?


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?


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.

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10 Things You Can Do With Pennies

What's the use of a penny in today's economy? The U.S. government has been talking about doing away with the copper-plated coin for years, but so far, no progress has been made. Two big arguments against keeping the coin in production are time and cost. In 2016, the U.S. Mint spent 1.5 cents to produce each one, making the cost of every penny 50 percent higher than its actual value.

They also waste a lot of time. Citizens to Retire the U.S. Penny claims that handling pennies adds an average of two seconds to a cash transaction. According to a 2012 study by the Federal Reserve, there are 107 billion cash transactions per year in the United States.

To help you combat the penny problem, here are some strategies for spending them, plus ways to put them to creative use.


coin wrappers

If you don't want your pennies, your bank will take them. Count them out, roll them in coin wrappers (ask your bank if they can give you some for free), and deposit them into your account. There are a few banks that will count coins for free and exchange them for bills so you can walk away with cold, hard cash. You can find participating institutions listed on Lifehacker and MyBankTracker.


Coinstar machines are magical: You dump your jar of change into their depths and get cash in return. The major downside is that there's an 11.9 percent service fee. However, if you choose the eGift Card option, there's no fee. Options include Amazon, Starbucks, Sephora, iTunes, and Best Buy. Or, turn your coins into a tax-deductible donation to one of several charities. You can use Coinstar's website to find a machine near you.


If you don't have an ice pack in the freezer, try making one with the contents of your piggy bank. Throw some coppers into an old sock, tie it, and freeze it. (A plastic bag works, too.)


If your curtains flare out and won't stay straight, use pennies as drapery weights. Open the stitching at the bottom of your drapes and slide a few pennies in, then sew it back up.


jar of pennies

Organize your pennies into groups of five or 10 and put them into small Ziploc bags to keep in your purse or backpack. Then you can combine them to pay for something that calls for, say, 15 cents in change. Or, if your total comes to an amount that's not a multiple of five or 10, breaking open a baggie is easier than scrounging around in your coin purse.


If you have lots of pennies, use them for floor tiling. If you're feeling especially ambitious, try a pattern. The internet is full of stunning examples of penny flooring.


Add a copper top to a plain table with this DIY guide.



Take a penny, leave a penny trays are everywhere—but many people don't understand how they work. They're commonly seen at convenience stores or other small shops. Here's the rundown: Customers can take pennies from the bowl if they don't have change and don't want to break a bill. If you get pennies as part of your change for a transaction, you can get rid of them there, so they never even touch your wallet in the first place.


There are plenty of DIY penny jewelry ideas out there, including a bracelet, a lucky penny necklace, and a bejeweled ring. You can also make some hand-stamped bling like this pendant.


There are endless ways to turn pennies into statement pieces for your pad. Paint them white to make this crafty vase, make them into coasters, decorate a mirror or a picture frame. Make some creative wall art, like this penny mosaic portrait of Abraham Lincoln, these block letters, or this ombré wall hanging. Or, find pennies from milestone years in your life and make a commemorative piece like this one.

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Do You Make Enough to Own a Home in One of America's Largest Cities?

As the cost of living continues to rise, owning a home in the city is becoming an unobtainable dream for many urbanites. But exactly how expensive would it be to wave goodbye to landlords and rent checks and purchase a place of your own? Personal finance website SmartAsset used Census Bureau data to determine the minimum salary needed to afford a home in America’s largest cities, CNBC reports.

After gathering data on median home values for 2016, SmartAsset ran the numbers through their mortgage calculator to see what monthly home payments would look like in each city. For the purposes of the study, they assumed homeowners would start debt-free, make a 20 percent down payment on their house, take out a 30-year mortgage worth 80 percent of the home value, and pay 4 percent interest and 0.5 percent homeowner’s insurance.

California is the priciest locale for urban homeowners by far, with cities in that state accounting for four of the top five spots on the list. In San Francisco, where the median home value is over $1 million, you need to take home an annual salary of at least $164,666 before you can consider buying a house. In San Jose, California, the minimum salary for homeowners is $131,503, and in New York City it’s $111,662.

But owning a home in the city on a more humble salary isn’t impossible. In Indianapolis, the cheapest of the 15 cities, the median home value is $128,000, and the minimum income to buy a home is $21,955. Above that is Philadelphia, where you can get by as a homeowner on just $25,906 a year. Homes in San Antonio, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; and Columbus, Ohio are all cheap enough to purchase with salaries of less than $30,000.

You can check out the full list of cities and salaries below.

1. San Francisco, CA // $164,666
2. San Jose, CA // $131,503
3. New York, NY // $111,662
4. Los Angeles, CA // $97,292
5. San Diego, CA // $97,292
6. Austin, TX // $60,875
7. Chicago, IL // $48,384
8. Phoenix, AZ // $35,022
9. Houston, TX // $33,641
10. Dallas, TX // $33,641
11. Columbus, OH // $28,013
12. Jacksonville, FL // $26,990
13. San Antonio, TX // $26,914
14. Philadelphia, PA // $25,906
15. Indianapolis, IN // $21,955

[h/t CNBC]


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