Rise of the greenbacks
The Wilton Historical Society will celebrate Presidents Day with an event that highlights the position that some of our most revered Presidents play in our society today: their faces are on our money. The society passed along some information on how American greenbacks came to be from the US Currency Education Program.
In 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony is the first to issue paper currency to fund military expeditions. Other colonies quickly follow suit.
It doesn’t take long for counterfeiting to become a problem, and in 1739 Benjamin Franklin fights back using his Philadelphia printing firm to produce Colonial notes with nature prints — unique raised patterns cast from actual leaves. This process adds an innovative and effective counterfeit deterrent to notes.
The phrase “not worth a Continental” is coined in 1775 after the Continental Congress issues paper currency to finance the Revolutionary War, currency that quickly loses its value because of a lack of solid backing and the rise of counterfeiting.
Our modern currency gets its start in 1861. Again, funding a war is the impetus, this time the Civil War. Congress authorizes the U.S. Department of the Treasury to issue non-interest-bearing Demand Notes. These notes earn the nickname “greenbacks” because of their color. All U.S. currency issued since 1861 remains “valid and redeemable at full face value.”