Motto of the Federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing - Tuesday, October 13
Today we traveled to Fort Worth to take a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Facility. This is where 61% of the nation’s paper currency is manufactured.
25 years ago I toured the Bureau’s Eastern Currency Facility in Washington DC, where the other 39% of our money is printed. I remember seeing barrels and barrels of greasy looking green and black ink, and sheets and sheets of greenbacks coming out of presses that were huge but relatively simple by current standards. Today the operation has gotten a whole lot more complicated!
With the advent of highly accurate color copiers the government has been forced to crank up their anti– counterfeiting technology. Where once the Treasury Department could depend on the extremely fine quality of their engraving alone to deter counterfeiting, today they have had to add watermarks, embedded thread, color changing inks and a host of other high tech practices to make it hard for the bad guys.
Only ones and fives, denominations too small to attract counterfeiting, have remained relatively unchanged. They still resemble the ‘greenbacks’ of old. Every other denomination has sprouted colors, and if you haven’t already noticed, the colors keep changing. The Bureau does this deliberately, changing the design of each denomination every ten years so that the counterfeiters can never relax and have time to adapt.
Our tour started with an excellent movie, then a well informed young woman took us on a guided tour through an overhead catwalk where we could look down on all the operations taking place. In places the windows were blocked, and in others there were green curtains hung to obstruct our view of certain areas. These, she explained, were to hide from view the newly designed but as yet still unreleased Hundred Dollar bills.
Our guide threw so many statistics at us that they are impossible to remember, but we saw literally billions of dollars in currency printed, inspected, bundled and ready for shipment to the Bureau’s one big customer The Federal Reserve Bank. In the area of inspection too, things have changed radically since 1984 when only 6% of the outgoing money was inspected for accuracy. Today 100% of the bills are inspected by a series of cameras that scan fast passing sheets with incredible speed.
Human beings still take a look too, and there are interesting machines that vibrate stacks of money to keep the printed sheets from sticking together. Otherwise the operation is highly automated. Out of some 400 employees the majority are men, with only about 12% women. Our guide was at a loss to explain this, other than to say that women don’t seem as interested in applying.
The tour ended with a museum of interesting exhibits and we took a trip through their gift store. Another difference I noticed from my 1984 tour is the price of their uncut sheets. Money is printed in sheets of 32 bills to the sheet. In the gift stores you can buy uncut sheets in quantities varying from four bills to the sheet to half sheets of 16 bills each. In 1984 the price of a little sheet of four uncut one dollar bills was $5.00, or one dollar more than the face value of the sheet. Today that same sheet of four ones is now $15.50! A 300 percent increase, and $11.50 more than the face value of what you are buying. The Bureau, it seems, has learned to make money in more ways than one!
We left at their 3:30 closing time and drove for a couple of hours to the town of Whitney near Waco. Tomorrow we hope to see a long time friend from my PG&E days, Jennifer Scribner. Jennifer lives in Lampasas and I haven’t seen her in a dozen years. Since the trip journal does not seem to know where Whitney is, this page will say Hillsboro which is close enough for government work.