E Pluribus Unum

The theme for the Department of the Treasury's 2007-2012 Strategic Plan is E Pluribus Unum - Out of many, one. Just as the 13 colonies came together to form our Union, the many Treasury departmental offices and bureaus operate in unity to serve the American people.

The Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum is found in the Journals of the Continental Congress, June 20, 1782, where it was used to describe the Great Seal adopted that day (1). From the Great Seal's earliest depiction (2), E Pluribus Unum has appeared on coins since 1795 (3) and has graced the back of $1 notes (4) since 1935. The phrase has been required on all U.S. coinage by law since February 12, 1873 (5). The Treasury Department produces all U.S. legal tender coins and notes for both public and private debts.

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The Treasury Building - Symbol of Steadfastness

To Americans there is no more impressive symbol of the Treasury Department than the magnificent building itself. Adjacent to the White House, it is the oldest departmental building in Washington, DC and, when completed, was one of the largest office buildings in the world. From the ancient fossils embedded in its black marble flooring tiles to the Greek Revival style of architecture, few U.S. Government buildings evoke such a sense of security, steadfastness, and permanence (1).

It did not start out that way, the first Treasury building (2) was burned by the British in 1814, and its identical replacement was burned by arsonists in 1833. Construction on the current fire-resistant granite structure began in 1836, with intermittent construction of several additions concluding in 1869 (3) as captured in this 1870 drawing (4). The Treasury building has graced the back of the $10 note (5) since 1928.

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Treasury Vaults

For many years both notes and coins were stored in vaults at the Treasury building (1, 2 &4). An officer in 1915 demonstrates the security of the Reserve & Cash vault doors (3). Today newly produced coins and notes are released directly into the Federal Reserve System.

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Tested by Treasury

Over the years many items were analyzed in laboratories inside the Treasury building. Whiskies were tested in the Treasury building from 1804 to 1918. Regulatory testing of alcoholic beverages is still conducted by one of Treasury's bureaus to this day.

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Safe and Secure

Although it was never needed, during World War II the vault area of Treasury was considered so secure that it was outfitted with an office, desks, beds (1), and a fully appointed kitchen (2) for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his staff.

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Clean Money

To enable reintroduction of soiled, but still serviceable currency notes into circulation, Treasury invented a "money washing" machine. Each machine could wash, size, and dry 35,000 greenbacks daily (photo dated 1915).

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The Cash Room

The Cash Room was opened March 4, 1869, with the Inaugural Reception of President Ulysses S. Grant (1). The event was so crowded guests had to wait two hours to retrieve their coats. This exquisite room, with its brass chandeliers and seven different types of marble, was where government checks could be cashed as recently as 1976 (2), although the gaslight chandeliers were removed when the building was electrified. The Cash Room has been completely restored and electric duplicates of the original chandeliers were installed. The room is now used for special meetings and events (3).

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Canceling Money

Once notes were too worn for use, they were cancelled (1). Mutilated notes were then taken to a vault to await destruction (2). This Treasury employee carted wheelbarrows of mutilated notes for 50 years. The Federal Reserve Banks now handle the destruction of worn currency.

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Damaged Currency Redemption

To this day the Treasury Department will redeem damaged currency. In 1900, these experts carefully examined burned notes to determine their denomination.

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Evolving Responsibilities

Many government agencies had their start in the Treasury Department. The Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury (1), which began when the building was under construction, grew to handle architectural jobs for other areas of government as well. In 1920 personnel from the Office of the Supervising Architect posed in front of the west portico (2). Architectural functions were transferred to the General Services Administration in 1949.

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Strength Through Unity

A visual representation of E Pluribus Unum could be the Roman fasces, an axe surrounded by a cylinder of birch rods tied with ribbon, symbolizing power and strength through unity. This design theme is evident throughout Treasury. The architects employed it in the staircases (1 & 2) and in the doorframes and fireplace in the Andrew Johnson Suite (3). A careful eye will also note its use in frosted transoms, on large, ornate golden frames at various locations around the building and on the base of the statue of Alexander Hamilton, Treasury's first Secretary, at the entrance to the south wing (4). An early Treasury seal from 1800 features fasces on a Treasury strongbox. A seal featuring Nero, the Treasury Department's watchdog who guarded the Nation's first minting facility, was purchased in 1793 for $3 (5). A fasces also appears on the reverse of the Mercury dime (6).

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Making Money

The Treasury building has served many functions over the years including barracks for soldiers during the Civil War and as the temporary White House for President Andrew Johnson following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

When the southern states seceded from the Union, the loss of customs revenue prompted the establishment of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the printing of paper currency to finance the Civil War. On August 29, 1862, two men and four women began work in the basement of the Treasury building affixing the Treasury seal and cutting apart sheets of notes by machinery. Pictured here are bronzing (an anti-counterfeiting measure) and sealing (affixing the Treasury Seal) in1867 (1), the hydraulic press room in 1865 (2), and separating and trimming greenbacks in1867 (3). The printing of currency at the Treasury building ceased in 1880 when operations were moved to another location.

Last Updated: 11/13/2010 8:18 PM