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Ben Franklin Gets a Facelift: New $100 Bill Introduced

$100 billThat image of Benjamin Franklin that graces the $100 bill is fitting. He was a successful printer who advocated for a paper money system and who printed money for Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey in the 1700s. Benjamin Franklin also invented an early anti-counterfeiting technique.

On October 8, 2013, Ben Franklin will be getting a facelift. On this day, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) will introduce the redesigned $100 note, which will have new advanced security features to make the new bill more difficult to counterfeit. New currency designs are introduced every seven to 10 years to protect the integrity of our money and the economy. A new $5 bill was introduced in 2008, a $10 bill in 2006, a $50 bill in 2004, and a $20 note in 2003. You do not need to trade in your old $100 notes for the new ones—all U.S. currency issued since 1861 is legal tender and redeemable at full face value.

Protecting money against counterfeiting
Among the most advanced features of the bill are the three-dimensional security ribbon and the bell in the inkwell. When you tilt the note, the bell in the inkwell changes color from copper to green, which makes the bell look like it is appearing and then disappearing. When you tilt the new note up and down, you see the bells printed in the ribbon change to the number 100 as they move from side to side. When you move the note from side to side, you see the bells shift up and down. The security ribbon, instead of being printed on the note, is actually woven into the bill.

Other security features of the bill include:

  • A watermark of Ben Franklin, which you can see on both sides of the note.
  • A security thread imprinted with the letters "USA" and the number 100, which run in an alternating pattern. When you hold the note under an ultraviolet light, the security thread glows pink. Like the watermark, you can see these features on both sides.
  • A number 100 in the lower right corner of the bill's front side that changes from copper to green when you tilt the bill.
  • Raised printing and a large gold figure 100 on the back. These features make the bill easier to identify, especially for those with visual impairments.
  • Microprinting in various locations on the bill. The words "United States of America" can be found around Ben Franklin's collar, "USA 100" around the blank space for the watermark, "One Hundred USA" around the golden quill, and small 100s in the borders of the note. Notes printed at the BEP's Fort Worth office have a small "FW" in the top left corner on the front of the note, just to the right of the number 100. Notes printed at the Bureau's Washington, DC, location do not have this feature.

Because advanced copying technologies such as color copiers and inkjet printers in the nineties increased the incidence of counterfeiting, advanced security features were added to currency beginning in 1996. The new $100 bill completes what is called the "Next Generation Currency" series, begun in 2003 with the $20 note. Currently, there are no plans to redesign the $1 or $2 bills.

Understanding the Fed's role
A common misperception about currency is that the Federal Reserve Bank prints it. The BEP prints paper bills (which are not really paper but rather 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen) at locations in Fort Worth, Texas, and Washington, DC. The U.S. Mint makes coins in Denver; West Point, New York; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. During fiscal year 2012, the BEP delivered 8.4 billion notes for distribution, about 35 million notes a day. More than 3 billion of these notes were $100 bills, the largest denomination in circulation since 1969.

The Federal Reserve's role is to distribute currency to the nation's financial institutions, as well as store excess currency that financial institutions choose not to keep onsite. The Fed also destroys worn-out currency that is deemed unfit. This destroyed currency is replaced with new currency the Federal Reserve orders from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. In fact, 90 percent of the notes that the BEP prints each year are used to replace worn-out currency that has been removed from circulation.

The average life of a $100 bill is approximately 15 years. In contrast, a $5 bill lasts less than five years.

Keeping our money secure
If you suspect that you have received a counterfeit note, turn it over to the police or the U.S. Secret Service. If the note is real, it will be returned to you. Try to get a description of who passed it to you, and do not try to get rid of the bill by passing it to someone else. Knowingly passing a counterfeit bill is illegal. Luckily, the incidence of counterfeit bills is small. A Federal Reserve study estimated that of all the U.S. currency circulating in the world, only about one in 10,000 bills are fakes.

The Federal Reserve plays its part in keeping the nation's money secure when it processes deposits made by banks. Sensors on our high-speed cash processing machines not only reject worn bills, but also possible counterfeits. The Fed then turns these bills over to the Secret Service for investigation.
The Federal Reserve has a number of lesson plans and online resources to teach about currency. If you want to get an up-close look at the Fed's role in the currency distribution and destruction process, many Reserve Banks and branches offer tours that allow you to view their cash operations in action. The BEP also has numerous online resources on the features of the new $100 bill (see the list of resources below).


Websites and interactive applications

American Currency Exhibit (San Francisco Fed)
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Bureau of Engraving and Printing education page
Currency Facts (Richmond Fed)
Discover Historic U.S. Currency (Cleveland Fed)
Dollars and Cents: Fundamental Facts about U.S. Money (Atlanta Fed)
Explore Money From around the World (Cleveland Fed)
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta tours page
Federal Reserve Bank Services: Currency and Coin FAQs
Secret Service's Know Your Money
U.S. Mint's "Teacher Features"

Lesson plans and publications

Abraham Lincoln and the Five-Dollar Note lesson (St. Louis Fed)
Ben Franklin: Highlighting the Printer (St. Louis Fed)
Benjamin Franklin and the Birth of a Paper Money Economy publication and accompanying lesson plan (Philadelphia Fed)
Coins and Currency publication (Boston Fed)
Currency and the Fed lesson (St. Louis Fed)
Current Changes in Currency Design: Why a Newly Redesigned $50 Note? (BEP)
History of Colonial Money (Boston Fed)
Symbols on American Money (Philadelphia Fed)

By Lesley Mace, economic and financial education specialist with the Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

September 30, 2013