There’s a big attraction in Fort Worth, TX that receives little publicity, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It’s north of the city on Blue Mound not too far from the I-820 ring road. When it opened rather anonymously 29 years ago, many locals thought this money factory was a prison. This Bureau of Engraving and Printing is one of only 2 federal facilities making paper currency. Actually, it’s not paper since linen and cotton are used to make it. One often asked question about the bills made is how long each lasts. A one dollar bill has a 5.8 years life span and can be bent back and forth about 4,000 times before it will tear. I did not test this.
This Fort Worth money-making facility opens at 9 am most days for self-guided tours. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t take photos on this tour. I was not allowed to take out and use my cell phone either. Mostly men were below making bricks of currency in an 8 step process. Bills are scrupulously checked for imperfections and 97% are OK. 4,000,000,000 $1 notes are made in an average year. Some of the money-makers looked up and waved, so I actually went back to the main desk to ask why I was being allowed to see the currency making process. I was told that the man who donated the land for this facility insisted that ordinary citizens have the right to watch their money being made before it’s completely dried and sent to the Federal Reserve for distribution.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) near Fort Worth is already bigger than the only other one in Washington, DC. Because the building that is popular with tourists in Washington, DC can’t be enlarged, a new BEP is being built in Beltsville, MD. It will not offer tours and be much smaller than the Fort Worth facility. The one in current use in Washington, DC will become a museum when its bill making function ceases about 3 years from now. There are four mints making coins in San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, and West Point, NY. This will not change.
To stay ahead of counterfeiters, changes are made to each type of foldable currency every 5 years. The $100 bill has been the largest denomination printed since 1969 and is due for a facelift. I asked which foreign countries cause our Government the most headaches by counterfeiting and was told that North Korea and Afghanistan lead the list. Ruth & I were very interested in this negative aspect of money making and paid close attention to the ways in which counterfeiters are thwarted. Changes are often made to the security thread, color-shifting ink in many hues is introduced, and the watermark can be altered. Ruth has often demonstrated what she learned about foiling counterfeiters since this free tour of the Fort Worth Bureau of Engraving and Printing. For example, yesterday she showed the 2nd and barely visible image of Andrew Jackson on a $20 bill in the lower right hand corner to 2 visitors.
The Bureau of Engraving & Printing didn’t exist until Abraham Lincoln needed a national currency to pay for the Civil War. Before 1861 paper money was made by private companies, and about one-third of the bills in circulation were bogus. The Secret Service was created by Lincoln to go after counterfeiters, and his last act as President was to sign the bill creating it.
After taking this self-guided tour Ruth headed for the gift shop while I browsed some relevant displays near the entry where I learned the name of the most notorious counterfeiter of American currency, William Brockway.