How Money Is Made | How Stuff Is Made | Refinery29
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How Money Is Made | How Stuff Is Made | Refinery29

The American dream is a house, a car, and money. (upbeat music) Moolah, cash, dollars, dough. No matter what you call it, how you make it or how you feel about it, one in three Americans thinks more about money than any other topic on a given day. The word “money,” I associate with greed. And capitalism. Being broke, it’s just not in my DNA. Money makes me feel secure and insecure. We work our whole lives for a piece of paper. Having money’s not everything, not having it is. Money makes me happy, definitely. (intense music) Although only 8% of the world’s currency is actual physical money, nothing is quite as seductive as cold, hard cash. How money is made and created is an enigma. I haven’t figured that out. But I’ve wondered about it. (coin clanking) Paper money was first issued by the US government in 1861, as a way to pay for goods and services, related to Civil War costs. Though final currency designs are ultimately approved by the Secretary of the Treasury, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is responsible for dreaming up the designs, manufactured elements, and printing of American paper money. (cash register dings) Designing a new note can take several years and multiple hands. Note designs always include imagery that upholds the strength of the American economy and incorporates the latest in anti-counterfeiting elements. They also feature a portrait of an important historical figure on the front, like this guy, Andrew Jackson, with a notable American monument or theme on the back. Who’s on the $100 bill, Drew? I can’t think, I can’t think. Who’s on it? (groans) It’s Andrew Jackson, I think. Probably Ben Franklin. Isn’t it Ben Franklin? That’s what rap music teaches me, I think. My boy, Benjamin Franklin, is in the $100 bill. It’s all about the Benjamins. (cash register dings) After a design is locked, an engraver, who must train for 12 to 15 years, recreates the designers drawings in steel by hand. The engraving is actually done backwards so that faces and words are legible once printed. Through a process called siderography, individual engraved elements are combined to form a complete face or back of a banknote. Each small detail plays a huge part in making the design not only beautiful, but also virtually impossible to copy. On the back of the $1 note is The Great Seal. Its imagery alludes to the 13 original colonies, including 13 stars above the eagle and 13 steps on the pyramid. (cash register dings) Once the master plate is completed, it’s washed with deionized water and soaked in a vibrant orange potassium bichromate solution that prevents the plate from rusting. Then the plate is placed into a tank, filled with a nickel salt solution for about 22 hours. During this time, an electrical current causes an identical nickel plate to grow on top of the plastic master. Science is crazy, right? This exact replica is then meticulously inspected by engravers for accuracy. If there are any mistakes, the entire process has to start over. The final printing plates are then coated with a thin layer of chrome. And are one tenth as thick as an average human hair. (upbeat music) (cash register dings) Contrary to popular belief, money isn’t actually made from paper but printed on a material made from 75% cotton and 25% linen. The special inks used for money have trackable magnetic and color shifting properties. Green was originally selected for US dollars as a deterrent for counterfeiters. Psychologically, it’s also a color associated with stability and growth. (cash register dings) (slow, hiphop music) After the 72 hour drying process, the freshly printed currency passes through a series of rigorous physical and mechanical inspections using state of the art computer and camera technology. (cash register dings) Then, the currency sheets are cut, packaged, and transferred to The Federal Reserve, who distributes the money to banks around the country. The Federal Reserve estimates that there are currently over 40 billion US notes in circulation with a value of 1.5 trillion. As these dollars are increasingly being earned by women, one question still lingers: why aren’t there more women on money? Oh my god. This is such a complicated answer. I think it is part of this American culture. They put woman a little bit, you know, behind. They could’ve had plenty of women on— that were worth enough—to get on the bill. But, you know, it’s a white man’s game. This world is a patriarchal society. And that needs to change. Though Martha Washington made a guest appearance on the $1 silver certificate, designs are currently in the works to feature more women on paper currency. Already slated for completion, are Harriet Tubman to be on the front of the $20 bill and Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt on the back of the $5 bill. These changes will begin rolling out in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. We think it’s about time, don’t you? Thanks for watching How Money Is Made. For more videos, click here. And to subscribe, click here.


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