A wise man once said, “Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.” This might not be the most airtight logic ever committed to paper, but there’s something to it: not everyone values money in quite the same way, but everyone recognizes that money is easier to have than to need (although, unfortunately, not all that easy to get sometimes.) But how much do you really know about money?
Here’s a little list of 10 things that you might not have known about what money really is, and how it came to be.
#10 The inventor of the ATM dreamed the idea up in the bathtub
John Sheppard-Baron must have been having a particularly good bath one evening in 1967. An idle thought as he soaked about chocolate bar vending machines – namely, that they exist and function properly – led him to thinking that it shouldn’t be all that difficult to modify that technology to dispense money. By the time he got out of the bath, he’d begun to formulate the design of the first ATM.
#9 Paper money is made of cotton – not paper
We call it “paper” money, but anyone who’s ever felt a dollar bill can tell that it’s not the sort of paper that you’d find in a book. In fact, the paper that money is printed on is a mixture of cotton and linen. This makes it both more durable than standard paper, and far harder to counterfeit, since the specific formula used to make the paper is a highly classified piece of information.
#8 The Federal Reserve is a private entity and not a branch of government
The Federal Reserve’s function is enormously complex, so we won’t try to go into any real detail about it here. We’ll just say that it’s worth knowing, at least, that the Fed, which essentially sets U.S. monetary policy, is a virtually independent entity, and is, in the words of Dennis Kucinich, “no more Federal than Federal Express.”
#7 The average lifespan of a U.S. bill is around eight years
Regardless of the fact that they’re printed on paper that’s really cloth, dollar bills take a lot of wear and tear. So much so, in fact, that that brand new, crisp bill with the sharp edges and the recessed printing that you just got out of the ATM will, in all likelihood, be so worn out in eight years that it’s recalled and shredded. On the plus side, you can buy a bunch of old money pressed into a brick, like the picture above. They’ll even sell you a five-pound bag of shredded money.
#6 Replacing the dollar bill with a dollar coin could save the U.S. big bucks
For whatever reason, it seems like Americans are just never going to fully warm to the idea of a dollar coin, at least not as a replacement for the traditional $1 bill. The government has tried to introduce a dollar coin for regular, day-to-day usage several times, now, and it’s never stuck. Which is kind of a shame, since doing away with the $1 bill in favor of the dollar coin could save us upwards of $5 billion over the next thirty years.
#5 There’s flu virus on your cash – and cocaine
Money’s dirty. Some money’s really dirty, depending on how it’s been earned and/or “secured,” but all money is at least a little dirty. Like, don’t put it in your mouth, and wash your hands after handling it, dirty. Most money that’s been in use for any length of time has trace amounts of cocaine on it, and the flu virus can survive on a bill for over two weeks. So, unless you’ve got a wallet full of fresh, crisp, uncirculated bills, your money’s dirty.
#4 Before bills, ancient people used guano (bat poop) and blood as currency
When you think about it, money – currency – is just a means of not having to carry around whatever we’ve got to barter with all the time (and to ensure that what we’ve got to barter with retains its value.) It took a while for the standard currency system to emerge, however, and before we started using small things like shells and stones to represent values, prehistoric man tried some wacky things. Including blood and bat – erm – droppings.
#3 “Big banks” are official U.S. government policy
The cry of “Break up the banks!” gained a lot of traction in the weeks and months following the Collapse of 2008, and it’s still a talking point among a lot of people. It’s a philosophy whose ultimate meaning and benefits might never come to fruition, or even get seriously debated, however, considering that the existence of too-big-to-fail banks is official, sanctioned government policy.
#2 More Monopoly money is printed each year than real money
It’s crazy enough, in a way, to consider that the U.S. government prints a hair under $1 billion in new currency each year ($974 million, to be exact), but it’s a lot crazier to consider that Parker Brothers prints $30 billion in Monopoly money each year. People are still buying and playing a hell of a lot of Monopoly, apparently.
#1 There are more credit cards in the U.S. than there are people
At last count, approximately 175 million people in the U.S. had at least one credit card. Which doesn’t seem so unreasonable – you might have one, or more, in your wallet right now. But then you consider that the average cardholder has five of the little plastic rectangles, and a little back-of-the-envelope calculation tells you that that means there are a lot more credit cards in America than there are citizens. Which probably means something. We’re just not sure what.