Why is our money green? Million Bazillion (1)
VOICEOVER: This episode of Million Bazillion was filmed before a live studio audience… not really.
[FADE UP APPLAUSE]
JED: Welcome back to Million Bazillion, where we help dollars make more sense. I'm Jed.
BRIDGET: And I'm Bridget! Thanks for joining us for this VERY SPECIAL LIVE episode of our show! <crowd reacts with thunderous applause>
JED: See, you guys sent us So. Many. Questions about why money looks the way it does...like why is it green? How do we pick who and what's on it?--
BRIDGET: All very important questions. And we couldn't decide which ONE we should answer…so we discussed it…
JED: And we NEGOTIATED with each other...
BRIDGET: And we decided the best compromise was to answer ALL of the questions you have about money and why it looks the way it does. Or at least, as many as we could fit into the show.
JED: That's right! And then we thought, if we're going to answer a whole bunch of questions, why not do it in front of a LIVE studio audience. Let me hear you guys, make some noise! !
JED: We'll be back after this with your questions about why money looks the way it does, and a really smart guest who's going to help us with the answers!
--Asking Random Kids--
KIMBERLY: And now, it's time for asking Random Kids Not So Random Questions.
Today's question is: If you could design your own money, what would it look like?
That was TK TKTKT.
This has been asking Random Kids Not So Random Questions.
--Asking Random Kids--
[APPLAUSE CROSS FADE W ARK]
JED: Wecome back to this special episode of Million Bazillion, today in front of a live studio audience! We're diving deep into your questions about why money looks the way it does!
BRIDGET: That's right! Because money is very useful! Look under your seat….we gave you all a dollar! !
CROWD GOES CRAZY
KID IN AUDIENCE 1: Hey, my seat only has gum under it!
BRIDGET: Now look at that dollar REALLY carefully! Do you see how detailed it is?
JED: Oh I do! I've got an American ONE dollar bill here...It's green...I see the picture of George Washington on the front...the back has that fun weird pyramid… oh - and there's a cool eagle… and lots of plants… and are those spiderwebs? I gotta say, the images are all so clear and intricate! So much detail! And yet it's all so tiny!
PICKUP BRIDGET: And did you know that every country has different art on their bank notes? That's another word for bills. A lot of countries use different bright and beautiful colors for their money! They make the bills different sizes! It's art that just happens to fit into your wallet.
JED: Okay, let's get to answering your questions! Today's guest is a very special one. Her name is Ellen Feingold and she's the money curator at the Smithsonian museum. That means she's in charge of all the money the museum has in their collection.
BRIDGET: And that's a whole lot...they've got money from around the world, and back in time...the money is all shapes and sizes! And she gets to decide which money is on display when people visit!
JED: It's pretty cool. Let's give Ellen a warm Million Bazillion welcome!
[[JED: Ellen Feingold, welcome to the show.
ELLEN: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
JED: All right, let's start with a question from the audience, come on down, and ask your question into that microphone!
Hi, I am Veehan from Los Angeles. I am seven years old. And my question is, why is money green? And has important people on it?
JED: What a great question from Veehan! Can we get a round of applause for him? [APPLAUSE] Get that kid a free shirt! So Ellen, let's get your answer to the first part of his question. Why is American money green?
ELLEN: That is a great question. American banknotes were first made in the early 1860s. And at the time, we only had black and white photography. So the people that were designing the banknotes decided that it would be a good idea to choose a bright color that couldn't be reproduced by using a photograph or taking a photograph of another banknote, as part of the design. So the very first banknotes, federal banknotes made in the early 1860s had a bright green color, and they got the name greenbacks. And that became the that sort of popular way of referring to American money. And it stuck. It also is green is also seen as a sign of trustworthiness. And green ink was seen as very robust in the 1920s when our current bills that we have for being first designed. So there's a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is because it has become an American tradition.
JED: Alright, then why do we put important people on our bills and coins?
ELLEN: The first people to appear on money were ancient Persian nobleman, and Roman emperors. And they put themselves on money to say I'm in charge to show that they were the authority behind the money and also in power in their countries or in their in their towns. Many leaders have chosen to do the same thing since and in this country. Although leaders cannot put themselves on banknotes, the way Roman emperors could. Our Treasury Department has chosen to put important people that they see as our national leaders, our founding father figures on money for over 200 years, we have seen people like George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin appear on our banknotes. And it's a it's again, seen as an American tradition to include the faces of American leaders on our money.
BRIDGET: And then we have a letter from Kaia who wants to know, why is there no woman on the dollar bill?
[AUDIENCE MURMERINGS OF Discontent]
ELLEN: That's a really good question. And it's a question that a lot of people have been asking in recent years. The banknotes that we use today were first designed in the 1920s. And the people who were doing those designs. They didn't think about the role that women played national history, they had a really fixed idea about a handful of male political figures, people that were seen as founding father figures, and wanted to use money as an opportunity to honor them. And while those figures, people like George Washington certainly are an important part of our national history, our money does not reflect the way in which women have contributed to the building of our nation. So it's, I think, high time that we take a careful look at who we depict and how we depict them on our money. And think about the ways in which a broader community has contributed to the building of our nation beyond those founding father figures, and how we can honor them and how we can convey their achievements and their contributions through design on banknotes and coins.
PICKUP BRIDGET: I'll add, the people who design our coins recently started putting women on the backs of our quarters. And there's been talk of putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill.
PICKUP JED: Alright, let's finish up with one last question from our audience!
Hi, I'm Mila, from Ottawa, Ontario and Canada. I wanted to ask, why is Canadian money colorful and us money not?
JED: Yeah - Canadian bills are a rainbow of different colors -- from yellow to purple to blue. It's so fun! What's up with that?
ELLEN: Canadian money is made from plastic. They're called polymer banknotes. And that's different from American money which is made from paper cotton and linen mixture. The plastic that the Canadians and many other governments around the world use allow for the application have a whole wide range of colors, bright colors, and also other interesting security features like clear lenses. So Canadians have a material that allows them or they use a material that allows them to include bright colors and more vibrant designs than paper allows for.
BRIDGET: I love those clear lenses -- they're like little windows! Audience members, take a look in your wallets. We put a Canadian dollar in there so you can see for yourselves! [CROWD GOES WILD]
VOICE: How'd they do that? !
PICKUP BRIDGET: [WITH MORE JOY] Alright, thank you so much for answering our questions, Ellen!
JED: Thank you, Ellen.
ELLEN: Thank you very much for having me.
PICKUP JED: We've got a little bonus if you go to our website. We had a chance to talk to a real-life money designer. He works for a company that's designed a third of the world's currency! You can hear what he had to say about his super cool job at marketplace dot org slash million. Just look for the page for this episode. And you know what? While you're there, why not sign up for our newsletter to get new episodes of Million Bazillion delivered straight to your inbox. You'll be happy you did. [BEAT] All right, now for a money commercial break!
COMMERCIAL VOICE : Hey kids, are you bored, stuck at home? Wish you could get out there and experience America?
COMMERCIAL KID: Yeah!
COMMERCIAL VOICE : How would you like to see 26 states... for just five dollars?
COMMERCIAL KID: Whoa! That's so cheap!
COMMERCIAL VOICE : All you've gotta do is get out a five dollar bill and look at the Lincoln Memorial on the back.
COMMERCIAL KID: Ok...
COMMERCIAL VOICE: Look closely, and you can see the names of 26 states written across the top of the building.
COMMERCIAL KID: Let me get my magnifying glass. Whoa, you're right!
COMMERCIAL VOICE :But there you go!
COMMERCIAL KID: All right, well that was cool! When does the vacation start?
COMMERCIAL VOICE : What are you talking about?
COMMERCIAL KID: Here's my five dollars. When do I start visiting the 26 states?
COMMERCIAL VOICE : You don't actually go. This is more a vacation for your mind!
(CROSSFADE THEIR SQUABBLING WITH MUSIC)
COMMERCIAL KID: What a rip off! I want my vacation!
COMMERCIAL VOICE : Hey, I just showed you something awesome!
-----END COMMERCIAL 1---
PICKUP JED: We're gonna take a short break, for real now. When we come back, we'll learn about another important part of money design...that's the secrets buried in a dollar to keep it safe from thieves!
JED: Welcome back everyone. Bridget, wasn't that a fantastic segment?
BRIDGET: It sure was, Jed. Ellen Feingold is such a delight! I really loved learning the back-story of why our dollar bills look the way they do!
JED: Absolutely. Well, now we're going to talk about some other important parts of a dollar bill's design. And these are things that are meant to stop counterfeiting, which is when people make fake money and try to pass it off as real cash. It's highly illegal. And in fact, you know the Secret Service -- those people that protect the president of the United States -- well, they were actually created way back in 1865 in order to investigate and stop counterfeiters. See, back then, about a third of all money that was circulating in the country was fake!
BRIDGET: Well, fortunately that's no longer the case. I mean, people DO try to counterfeit money, but it's not as widespread as it was back in 1865! And a big reason for that is because it's really hard to make a GOOD, convincing fake version of American money. There are all sorts of really complicated things on real dollar bills that make them hard to copy..
JED: To learn more about it, we've got a special guest! He's the star of a new movie about criminals trying to get past the security measures that are built into money. Please give a warm welcome to Serge Loonie!
(SFX - AUDIENCE APPLAUSE THAT PETERS OUT)
JED: Uh, Serge?