Treasury Notes

 BEP Celebrates 150th Anniversary

By: Franklin Noll

image001.jpgAugust 29, 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP).  On this date in 1862, Spencer M. Clark, Treasury’s Chief Engineer, began the work of BEP with five other employees. Over the next century and a half, that small operation would grow into the United States government’s security printer, which now produces billions of Federal Reserve notes annually.

Spencer Clark (Artwork by Lorenzo J. Hatch)On that August day in 1862, Clark started operations in the southwest corner of the Treasury building’s basement with newly constructed note-separating machines.  (The area currently houses the Treasury’s Markets Room.)  These machines, invented by Clark, took sheets bearing four bills and divided them into individual notes.  This mundane process was crucial to the Government’s financing of the Civil War; it greatly accelerated the issuance of currencyused in funding the war effort.

On February 25, 1862, Congress authorized the issue of $150 million in a new currency, the United States Note, also known as the Greenback.  It was used to pay Union troops and to purchase war supplies.  The Greenbacks were printed by a private company in New York, and the finished sheets were shipped to Washington, D.C. for final processing.  In the Treasury building, the Treasury seal and serial numbers were applied to the notes.  More than 70 workers then took scissors and cut the notes from the sheets, one at a time.  The problem was Workers grind non-removable green ink into the viscosity for the presses, circa 1890. Credit: F.B. Johnston/Library of Congressthat the issue of $150 million Greenbacks translated into the cutting apart of over 20 million notes.  It would simply take toolong to get the money into circulation using traditional, manual methods.

It was Clark and his note-separating machines that solved the problem.  Clark’s success and his willingness to take on further challenges facing the Treasury led to the growth of an operation that Hand-run printing presses like these in 1909 produced 45 sheets an hour. Credit: Library of Congresswould become known as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  By the end of the Civil War, Clark and his ever-expanding workforce were actually printing currency and Treasury securities within the confines of the Treasury building.

By 1880, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had a building of its own and was producing all of the nation’s currency and Treasury securities as well as a myriad of other security documents.  Today, the BEP – a bureau within the Department of the Treasury - is still producing United States currency in facilities located in Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas.  With nearly 1,400 employees in D.C. and approximately 500 in Fort Worth, the BEP now manufactures billions of notes each year. These BEP Building, Engraved in 1880 by Lorenzo J. Hatch and Francis H. Noyesemployees are Making American History each day through their skilled craftsmanship and responsibility to provide safe and secure notes that are trusted worldwide.

Franklin Noll is a historian at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Posted in:  Bureau of Engraving and Printing
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