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Selection of Portraits and Designs Appearing on Paper Currency
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The Secretary of the Treasury is responsible for the selection of the designs, including the portraits, which appear on paper currency. The July 11, 1862 Act of Congress provided:

"That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and is hereby authorized, in case he shall think it expedient to procure said notes, or any part thereof, to be engraved, printed, and executed, in such form as he shall prescribe, at the Treasury Department in Washington, and under his direction; and he is hereby empowered to purchase and provide all machinery and materials, and to employ such persons and appoint such officers as may be necessary for this purpose."

The portraits currently appearing on the various denominations of paper currency were adopted in 1929 when the size of the notes was reduced. Prior to the adoption of this smaller sized currency, a special committee was appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to study this aspect of the design. It was determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. This decision was somewhat altered by the Secretary of the Treasury to include Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and is credited with promoting our National Banking System; and Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three of these statesmen were well known to the American public.

Treasury Department records do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence. By law, only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on U.S. currency and securities. Specifics concerning this law may be found under Unites States Code, Title 31, Section 5114(b).

Frequently Used Portraits on United States Paper Money

  • $1 Note (Face) - George Washington (1st U.S. President) (Back) - The Great Seal of the United States
  • $2 Note (Face) - Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President) (Back) - Signing of the Declaration of Independence
  • $5 Note (Face) - Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. President) (Back) - Lincoln Memorial
  • $10 Note (Face) - Alexander Hamilton (1st Secretary of the Treasury) (Back) - U.S. Treasury Building
  • $20 Note (Face) - Andrew Jackson (7th U.S. President) (Back) - White House
  • $50 Note (Face) - Ulysses Grant (18th U.S. President) (Back) - U.S. Capitol
  • $100 Note (Face) - Ben Franklin (Statesman) (Back) - Independence Hall
  • $500 Note* (Face) - William McKinley (25th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 500 and the ornamental phrase "Five Hundred Dollars"
  • $1000 Note* (Face) - Grover Cleveland (22nd & 24th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 1000 and the ornamental phrase "One Thousand Dollars"
  • $5000 Note* (Face) - James Madison (4th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 5000 and the ornamental phrase "Five Thousand Dollars"
  • $10,000 Note* (Face) - Salmon Chase (U.S. Treasury Secretary under Lincoln) (Back) - Numeral 10,000 and the ornamental phrase "Ten Thousand Dollars"
  • $100,000 Note* (Face) - Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S. President) (Back) - Numeral 100,000 and the ornamental phrase "One Hundred Thousand Dollars". This note never appeared in general circulation, and was only used in transactions between Federal Reserve Banks.

* = Notes no longer in print or circulation
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blank blank blank Related Topics:
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African Americans on Currency
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Autos on the Back of $10 Notes
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Bureau History
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Counterfeiting Laws
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Defacement of Currency
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Facts About $1 Notes
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Facts About $100 Notes
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Facts About $2 Notes
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Facts About Dollar Bills
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Facts About Founding Fathers on Federal Reserve Notes
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Fun Facts
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In God We Trust
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Ink Used to Print Currency
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Intaglio Printing
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Legal Tender: A Definition
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Origin of the $ Sign
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Other Facts About Portraits
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Riegle Improvement Act
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Reproduction of Currency
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Selection of Portraits and Designs Appearing on Paper Currency
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Series Year and Federal Reserve Bank Indicators
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The Great Seal of the United States on Paper Currency
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The Production Process
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Vignette on the Reverse of the $5 Note
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Web Press
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© 2007 The United States Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing
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