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Hand-run printing presses like these in 1909 produced 45 sheets an hour, while today's automated machines churn out 10,000 in the same amount of time. "This was considered the toughest job at the time," said Franklin Noll, a historical consultant at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. "You had to work as fast as you could all the time on a rate where you only got paid for the good sheets." (Library of Congress)

Photos: How Dollar Bills Were Made A Century Ago

by Miki Meek
Aug 22, 2012

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Workers grind a non-removable, green ink into the right viscosity for the presses, circa 1890. Green became the standard color because it made bills harder to alter or counterfeit. To make them more impressionable, sheets of fibrous paper were dampened before going to printing presses, circa 1890. In 1914, when this photo was taken, $4.5 million was dried daily in a room that hot air circulated through. Workers inspecting sheets of money for printing flaws and smudges, circa 1917. Approved sheets received serial numbers and U.S. Treasury seals. A woman identified as "Miss Louise Lester" holds a stack of damaged bills, circa 1909. These were thrown down a chute, foreground, and recycled into paper pulp.

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Miki Meek

Every day, tens of millions of crisp, green bills roll off fast, automated presses at the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

A hundred years ago, the process looked very, very different. Back then, it took the bureau a year to make as many bills as it can now make in two days.

These beautiful, old photographs from the Library of Congress were taken near the turn of the 20th century. They show a time when making currency was a slow, hands-on process.

Hear a Planet Money story about a company that has made the paper used for U.S. currency since 1879.

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