One of the better attractions in Fort Worth, TX is not publicized, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing north of the city and north of the I-820 ring road on Blue Mound. Many locals were not aware of its presence here. In fact, when it first opened 30 years ago next year, many thought it was a prison, not a money factory. This Bureau of Engraving and Printing is one of only 2 facilities making what is called US paper currency despite the fact that linen and cotton are actually used to make it. One often asked question about this currency is how long it lasts. The life span of the one dollar bill is 5.8 years. One “fun fact” I learned is that I can bend any bill backwards and forwards about 4,000 times before it will tear.
This Fort Worth money factory opens at 9 am most days for a self-guided tour. If you don’t learn from it, you aren’t paying attention. I was a bit unhappy that I couldn’t take photos. In fact, I was not allowed to take out and use my cell phone either. After I thought about what the men and women making money, who often waved to me, were doing, I softened this attitude. In fact, I went back to the main desk to ask why they allowed me to even see the currency making process at all and 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. There are 8 stops on the self-guided tour with packaging before sending to the Federal Reserve the final one.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) near Fort Worth is already bigger than the one in Washington, DC and will soon become the main one. Because the facility in Washington, DC can’t expand, a new BEP is being built in Beltsville, MD. It will offer no tours and be much smaller than the current Capital BEP, which will become a museum when its money-making function ceases. It will probably be another 3 years before this happens, and the coin-making situation will not change. There are still 4 mints making them in San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, and West Point, NY.
To stay ahead of counterfeiters, changes are made to each type of foldable currency every 5 years. The next to get a facelift will be the $100 bill, the largest denomination issued. 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 aspect of money creation and paid close attention to the ways in which counterfeiters are thwarted. Changes are often made to the security thread, color-shifting ink is consistently used, and the water mark is frequently altered. Holding it up to the light like a fraud-detecting store employee, Ruth has often demonstrated what she learned about foiling counterfeiters since our free tour of this Fort Worth money factory.
The Bureau of Engraving and 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 circulating bills were bogus. The Secret Service was created to go after counterfeiters, and Lincoln’s last act as President was to sign the bill creating the SS.
I could go on indefinitely, but it’s better for those interested to go to Fort Worth to learn about those aspects of money-making that have personal appeal. Start with a BEP self-guided tour, ask the friendly staff any questions, and then browse the fine displays on the floor below the tour.