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Brief History

The United States dollar has more than 240 years of history. In 1775, during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress began issuing the first paper currency called Continental currency or Continentals. These paper money were printed in several denominations from $​1⁄6 to $80, along with other denominations in between. The Congress released $241,552,780 in Continental currency during the American revolution. Over the years, the Continental currency depreciated until it completely lost its face value in 1781.

After the Continental currency lost its value, Robert Morris was appointed by Congress to be the Superintendent of the United States. Morris pushed for the formation of the first financial institution sanctioned by the United States in 1782. France loaned a bullion coin to the United States, and it was used as one of the fundings for the Bank of North America. Morris also helped subsidize the war by giving out promissory notes in his name. Finally, on July 6, 1785, a new currency was authorized by the Continental Congress of the United States, the US dollar.

In 1792, the United States Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1792, giving the United States Mint the authority to produce and circulate currency. The Mint was originally part of the Department of State until the Coinage Act was amended in 1873, and the Mint became part of the Department of Treasury.

US Currency Throughout the Years

The United States has seen its fair share of different currencies over the course of history. Below is the list of the different currencies that the US used over the years. 

Continental Currency (1775-1790)

The Continental currency was a paper currency issued by the Continental Congress to finance the revolution. This currency quickly lost its face value due to insufficient support and the surge of counterfeit currency.

Silver Coins (1792-1863)

Silver coins were minted because of the Coinage Act of 1792, giving the US Mint the authority to mint silver coins. The silver coins minted during this period were typically 90% silver and 10% copper.

Gold Coins (1795-present)

The 1795 Turban Head Gold Eagle was the first US gold coin minted by the United States Mint, and it had a face value of $10.

Texas Dollar (1837-1840)

The Republic of Texas issued its currency called the Texas Dollar in 1837 due to a major economic depression that lasted until the 1840s. This money was commonly known as “star money.”

State Bank Notes (1837-1863)

State Bank Notes were a currency that was released by state-authorized private banks. It became the major form of currency after 1836. The notes had over 7,000 different colors and designs, and it caused confusion and circulation problems. It was easily counterfeited as well. 

Confederate Currency (1861-1864)

The Confederacy issued their own currency during the Civil War through the Treasury of its newly formed government. The currency became worthless by the end of 1864.

Fractional Currency (1862-1872)

The United States government issued the fractional currency during the outbreak of the Civil War. The currency was also known as “paper coins” and “shinplasters” due to the poor quality of paper that it was printed on. The fractional money was used from 1862 until 1876.

Demand Notes (1861-1917)

The demand notes were also known as “greenbacks” mainly because of their green color. The US Treasury issued these notes to finance the Civil War. The demand notes were used to pay the expenses incurred during the Civil War and pay the salaries as well.

National Bank Notes (1863-1935)

These notes were issued by the national banks and authorized by the United States government. The notes were also called “hometown” notes because of the many different towns and cities that issued them. The notes were discontinued in 1935, but they can still be exchanged at face value at the Department of Treasury.

Gold Certificates (1865-1933)

The United States government authorized the first gold certificates that were printed in 1895. These deposits were backed by gold bullion and coin deposits. The gold certificate was used as proof of ownership of gold without actually having to store gold. 

Silver Certificates (1878-1963)

Due to the Coinage Act of 1873, the minting of silver dollars was halted. As a result, the Treasury issued promissory notes that can be used to redeem silver dollars. These certificates were printed from 1878 until 1963 and were backed by silver bullion. Redemption for the silver dollars certificates ended on June 24, 1968, with millions of unredeemed silver certificates still in circulation.

Federal Reserve Bank Notes (1913-1935)

In 1913, the Federal Reserve Bank Notes were authorized by Congress after establishing the Federal Reserve System. 

Federal Reserve Notes (1913-Present)

The Federal Reserve Notes were introduced by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 introduced as a way to advocate a central banking system. The Federal Reserve Notes are made up of more than 99% of the current paper currency, issued in these denominations $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. The Federal Reserve does not print paper money nor mint coins. Rather they act as a storage facility and distributor for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint.