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Tracing $1 Bills Across the United States Is a Surprisingly Useful Hobby

What started as a quirky hobby, has turned into a national bill hunt that's useful for all sorts of people - like physicists

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Image: Prince Roy

In 1998, Hank Eskin started a website called WheresGeorge.com, dedicated to tracking dollar bills across the United States. Members of this club are called Georgers. They stamp dollar bills with their website, then search for and track those bills as they travel across the United States.

At NPR, Stan Alcorn caught up with some of these trackers. He writes:

ypical Georgers log in religiously to enter their dollars’ serial numbers and ZIP codes before they stamp and spend them. If one gets entered a second time, the Georger gets an email. That’s called a “hit.”

Robert Rothenberg was sitting at the table in Kabooz’s when he got a hit in New Jersey. He gets a lot of hits, since he’s entered nearly 100,000 bills into the website’s database.

“I have a hit streak going since July of 2010, every day since then. I’m trying to get to 1,000 days, which will be the end of the month,” Rothenberg says.

Now, what started as a quirky hobby has turned into a national bill hunt that’s useful for all sorts of people—like physicists. Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at Northwestern University, writes at his website about meeting a cabinet maker in Vermont who tipped him off to the site:

After the conference I decided to visit Dennis Derryberry, an old friend from college who lives within driving distance to Montreal in the green mountains of Vermont, where he works as a cabinet maker. After a few hours on the highway Dennis and his family welcomed me to their beautiful house in the woods. During this visit Dennis, one of the most witty individuals I have ever met, asked me one evening on his porch while we were having a beer, “So Dirk, what are you working on?” – “I’m interested in the patterns that underly human travel,” I replied, and told him about my efforts to better understand human mobility and our goal of developing more quantitative models for the spread of epidemics. “It’s just amazingly difficult to compile all this data,” I explained. Dennis paused a while and then inquired, “Do you know this website www.wheresgeorge.com?”

From there, Brockmann has used the bills to study how networks move move and change, infectious diseases and all sorts of other things. Eskin, for one, is surprised at both the popularity and the usefulness of his little project. And when Georgers get together, it still feels like a small club. Here’s NPR again:

At Kabooz’s Bar and Grill at New York’s Penn Station, Jennifer Fishinger is covering her table in stacks of ones. There are 500 $1 bills laid out.

At the next table over, David Henry has his stacks of cash in plastic bags. They’re paper-clipped $1 bills in groups of 10.

If only everyone else’s little hobbies could do the same amount for science.

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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