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Chloe Effron

10 Design Facts About U.S. Bills

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Chloe Effron

We've spent a lot of time combing through information about U.S. paper currency recently and in doing so, turned over some fascinating tidbits about the design efforts involved in giving money its lasting look. Here are a handful of our favorites. 

1. WHAT'S WITH ALL THE WHITE MEN? 

The portraits on United States paper currency—as selected by the Secretary of the Treasury—were adopted in 1929 when the size of the notes was reduced (although they were modified to improve security against counterfeiting starting in 1996). It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States were a logical choice, because they had a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. That decision was somewhat altered, however, with the inclusion of three men: Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War; and founding father Benjamin Franklin.

2. AND HOW ABOUT ALL THE DECEASED?

Law prohibits portraits of living persons from appearing on Government Securities. Each bill features a portrait of an important historical figure on the obverse, with a vignette of a building or monument on the reverse. The historical figure tends to have a thematic connection to the monument/building chosen.

3. THE BILLS FEATURE REPEAT ARTISTS.

The engravings on the back of the $2 bill (a scene of the Declaration of Independence signing) and front of the $10 bill (a portrait of Alexander Hamilton) are both based on paintings by John Trumbull. The portrait of Jefferson on the $2 bill and the portrait of George Washington on the $1 bill are both based on paintings by Gilbert Stuart.

4. ALL THE PORTRAITS FACE THE SAME WAY, SAVE ONE.

The portrait of Hamilton on the $10 bill faces left, though the portrait on every other bill faces right. The only explanation for this seems to be that the depiction on the bills is lifted directly from original portraits. Guess all the Founding Fathers had the same good side.

Graphic by Chloe Effron

5. HAMILTON WILL REMAIN ON THE UPCOMING REDESIGNED $10 BILL.

A fact which probably has John Adams rolling over in his grave. Adams was not a Hamilton fan. In an 1805 letter to portrait artist John Trumbull, he wrote, “Washington once said to me, that Hamilton was ‘a proud Spirited little Animal, as ever existed.’ Such he was in truth: yet Washington always lived in terror of him. I saw it, and was determined that I would not. I knew his talents and was determined to do him ample justice, but no more.”

6. THE $2 BILL HAS STAYING POWER.

The Charles Burt engraving of Thomas Jefferson (based on Stuart’s portrait) has appeared on $2 bills featuring Jefferson since the 1869 series. Jefferson sat for Stuart three separate times from 1800 to 1805. For the record, while $2 bills seem like a rarity, they are still printed, though not every year. Thirty-two million of them will be printed in 2015 though, so you might see more of them than usual next year. The Fed estimates that about 1.1 billion are in circulation now.

7. PRESIDENT JACKSON HATED PAPER MONEY.

President Andrew Jackson appears on the $20 bill, which is pretty ironic, because the man was hugely opposed to paper money. In his farewell address on March 4, 1837, Jackson said: “The paper system being founded on public confidence and having of itself no intrinsic value, it is liable to great and sudden fluctuations, thereby rendering property insecure and the wages of labor unsteady and uncertain.”

8. THE $50 HAS A SURPRISING EASTER EGG.

On the back of the $50 bill is a view of the United States Capitol, which might seem like a scene that doesn’t have any particular connection to the person on the front—Ulysses S. Grant. In fact, the Ulysses S. Grant monument stands in front of the Capitol building, and while it’s not pictured in the vignette, the monument sits at about the location where one would need to be standing to get the view of the Capitol depicted on the bill.

9. THE NEW $100 WAS INSPIRED BY ARTISTS.

Brian Thompson, a banknote designer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, was the lead designer for the new $100. He says the bill’s design was influenced by M.C. Escher and Georgia O’Keeffe. Surely Franklin—a printer himself—would have appreciated the work that goes into the bill, if not the sources of inspiration.

10. THE LIBERTY BELL WASN'T ALWAYS NAMED THAT.

The $100 bill includes an image of the Liberty Bell on the reverse, though it did not become popularly known as the Liberty Bell until the 19th century. So while Franklin might not have known it as such, it did hang in the Pennsylvania State House beginning in the 1750s. In 1755, Franklin referred to the bell in writing to a friend: “Adieu, the Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones and talk Politicks.”

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Courtesy Umbrellium
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These LED Crosswalks Adapt to Whoever Is Crossing
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Courtesy Umbrellium

Crosswalks are an often-neglected part of urban design; they’re usually just white stripes on dark asphalt. But recently, they’re getting more exciting—and safer—makeovers. In the Netherlands, there is a glow-in-the-dark crosswalk. In western India, there is a 3D crosswalk. And now, in London, there’s an interactive LED crosswalk that changes its configuration based on the situation, as Fast Company reports.

Created by the London-based design studio Umbrellium, the Starling Crossing (short for the much more tongue-twisting STigmergic Adaptive Responsive LearnING Crossing) changes its layout, size, configuration, and other design factors based on who’s waiting to cross and where they’re going.

“The Starling Crossing is a pedestrian crossing, built on today’s technology, that puts people first, enabling them to cross safely the way they want to cross, rather than one that tells them they can only cross in one place or a fixed way,” the company writes. That means that the system—which relies on cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor both pedestrian and vehicle traffic—adapts based on road conditions and where it thinks a pedestrian is going to go.

Starling Crossing - overview from Umbrellium on Vimeo.

If a bike is coming down the street, for example, it will project a place for the cyclist to wait for the light in the crosswalk. If the person is veering left like they’re going to cross diagonally, it will move the light-up crosswalk that way. During rush hour, when there are more pedestrians trying to get across the street, it will widen to accommodate them. It can also detect wet or dark conditions, making the crosswalk path wider to give pedestrians more of a buffer zone. Though the neural network can calculate people’s trajectories and velocity, it can also trigger a pattern of warning lights to alert people that they’re about to walk right into an oncoming bike or other unexpected hazard.

All this is to say that the system adapts to the reality of the road and traffic patterns, rather than forcing pedestrians to stay within the confines of a crosswalk system that was designed for car traffic.

The prototype is currently installed on a TV studio set in London, not a real road, and it still has plenty of safety testing to go through before it will appear on a road near you. But hopefully this is the kind of road infrastructure we’ll soon be able to see out in the real world.

[h/t Fast Company]

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fun
Here's How to Turn an IKEA Box Into a Spaceship
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iStock

Since IKEA boxes are designed to contain entire furniture items, they could probably fit a small child once they’re emptied of any flat-packed component pieces. This means they have great potential as makeshift forts—or even as play spaceships, according to one of the Swedish furniture brand’s print ads, which was spotted by Design Taxi.

First highlighted by Ads of the World, the advertisement—which was created by Miami Ad School, New York—shows that IKEA is helping customers transform used boxes into build-it-yourself “SPÄCE SHIPS” for children. The company provides play kits, which come with both an instruction manual and cardboard "tools" for tiny builders to wield during the construction process.

As for the furniture boxes themselves, they're emblazoned with the words “You see a box, they see a spaceship." As if you won't be climbing into the completed product along with the kids …

Check out the ad below:

[h/t Design Taxi]

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