Before the Civil War, There Were 8,000 Different Kinds of Money in the U.S. | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Before the Civil War, There Were 8,000 Different Kinds of Money in the U.S.

It wasn't until after the war that the U.S. started to really use the dollar

smithsonian.com

Image: Benjamin Reed

The Civil War changed a lot of things in the United States—slavery was abolished, new battlefield medicine was perfected, the West was opened up to railroads and the nation was united. It also changed our money. Before the war, there were 8,000 different kinds of money being used in the United States. It wasn’t until after the war that the U.S. started to really use the dollar.

NPR’s Planet Money reports:

They write:

Banks printed their own paper money. And, unlike today, a $1 bill wasn’t always worth $1. Sometimes people took the bills at face value. Sometimes they accepted them at a discount (a $1 bill might only be worth 90 cents, say.) Sometimes people rejected certain bills altogether.

Those dollar bills looks quite different from our bills today, which weren’t designed until 1963, says The Dollar Bill Collector:

The current design of the United States one dollar bill ($1) technically dates to 1963 when the bill became a Federal Reserve Note as opposed to a Silver Certificate. However, many of the design elements that we associate with the bill were established in 1929 when all of the country’s currency was changed to its current size. Collectors call today’s notes “small size notes” to distinguish them from the older, larger formats. The most notable and recognizable element of the modern one dollar bill is the portrait the first president, George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart.

That design means so much to us that we like our money spotless, rather than dirty. As Smart News has reported:

People like their cash fresh and clean, like OutKast’s wardrobe, and they’re more likely to hold on to those neat bills than spend them quickly. Dirty cash, on the other hand, encourages fast spending. At least that’s the conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

More from Smithsonian.com:

To Save Money, Ask for Pretty, New Dollar Bills
On the Money

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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