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The hard and fast life of U.S. currency

Call me Bill. Dollar Bill. This is my story.

Chances are you take me for granted, as much time as we spend together. Moola, bucks, greenbacks; you make it, you spend it, right? I understand. No hard feelings.

But as the song says, you don't know me. Not really.

Here's an example. I have a face, just like you. Can you tell me, without peeking, whose face is on the $1 bill? The five? Ten? Twenty? It's only been in recent years that old Ben Franklin became famous, thanks to the street slang "Benjamins" for $100 notes. And he isn't even a dead president. Answers below, by the way.

Where do I come from? What is my life expectancy? Who determines when I retire? And how might your office desk turn out to be my final resting place?

I'm Bill. This is my life story. This is your money talking.

Birth of a bill
I was born in the Washington, D.C., facility of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, or BEP, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department. A second Western BEP facility opened in 1991 in Fort Worth, Texas (bills produced there are designated by the initials FW on their face side).

You think of me as paper money, but cloth money would be more accurate. I'm composed of a special blend of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen with blue and red synthetic fibers -- no wood pulp at all. Crane and Co., a private printer in Dalton, Mass., has produced my special paper for more than a century. An embedded metallic security strip, introduced in 1990, reveals the paper's ultimate denomination.

It takes numerous steps, at least three separate press runs and a highly proprietary blend of Old World and cutting-edge technology to produce me. If it didn't, counterfeiting would be a growing industry, right? In fact, the more colorful "next generation" of $10 (Hamilton), $20 (Jackson) and $50 (Grant) bills are packed with new security features, including microprinting, portrait watermarks visible when held up to light, a security thread that glows under ultraviolet light and special color-shifting ink that changes color when I'm tilted.

Although there are no plans to upgrade $1 (Washington) and $2 (Jefferson) notes, the old fiver (Lincoln) is scheduled for a makeover in early 2008, with the Benjamins to follow.

The birth and death of the greenback 

Here's how I come into existence. First, a sheet of paper the size of 32 bills is placed in a Simultan offset press, where my subtle background colors are printed. Then I'm fed through two high-speed rotary Intaglio printing presses; one prints my green back, the other the black face engraving. "New gen" denominations make a return trip through an offset press where subtle background colors are added.

Next: "The total Fed currency order for fiscal 2007 is $181.65 billion."
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