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A Brief Visual History of the $100 Bill A Brief Visual History of the $100 Bill

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Economy

A Brief Visual History of the $100 Bill

photo of Brian Resnick
October 8, 2013

(Photo Illustration / Brian Resnick / All images The American Numismatic Association or Wikimedia Commons.)

This latest $100 bill debuts this week. You'll start seeing it at casinos, banks, and in those suitcases with the handcuff all across the country. The Federal Reserve Board has released 3.5 billion of them, amounting to $350 billion. In time, as much as 90 percent of those bills will be laced with trace amounts of cocaine.

It has been a long time coming. In 2003, the Fed and the Treasury embarked on their "New Color of Money" overhaul of U.S. legal tender. The $100, which is the most counterfeited bill in the fleet, is also the last to be overhauled. The release of the $100 was slated for 2001, but got pushed back because of manufacturing defects.

The new $100 will be the most technologically advanced piece of paper of the era—with three-dimensional holograms, bells that turn into "100s" when you tilt the bill, and so on—but it won't last long. Bills will be redesigned at least once a decade.

The hundred-dollar bill as we know it came into existence with the opening of the Federal Reserve System in 1914. That's when Benjamin Franklin's face was first affixed to it. It looked like this:

(The profile engraving really emphasizes Franklin's double chin.)

But before 1914, there were various versions—certificates for silver or gold or Treasury notes. In 1863, the first $100 United States Note was issued, after President Lincoln signed the Legal Tender Act, in part, to help finance the war. The law established the first nationalized legal tender. It featured an aggressive-looking eagle.

In 1869, a commemorative image of President Lincoln was added to the note.

 

One of the more unrecognizable faces to grace the hundred, James Monroe's visage appeared on the bill from 1878 to 1882. The back of the bill was printed in black ink, which set it apart from the usual "greenback" U.S. currency.

Besides Benjamin Franklin, other nonpresidents have appeared on the $100. David Farragut, a Navy admiral during the Civil War. He's famous for charging through a field of mines in a battle in Mobile Bay, Ala., saying, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" which, I argue, should be inscribed on all legal tender.

This note is from 1890.

Franklin turns his mug toward the camera in this 1966 $100.

 

The 1996 redesign blew up the portrait further, adding additional security features.

And here's the latest $100 bill. Happy spending.

And bonus photo: The Confederates got into printing paper bills too. Strangely, this Confederate $100 is worth about $100 on eBay.

 

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