Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND THE $100 BILL

"In the realm of currency, let us not mistake the paper for the true value it represents, for it is the trust in the nation and the diligence of its people that give weight to the coin."

– Benjamin Franklin

Throughout its over 150-year history, the venerable $100 bill has reflected the economic fortunes and innovations of the United States, from the financial upheavals of the Civil War and Great Depression to the technological advances that emerged to combat counterfeiting.

Graced by the famous visage of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin since 1914, the $100 bill has served as a high-value form of portable wealth and become embedded in history both as a tool for good and ill in society.

As one of the most recognizable and circulated banknotes in the world, the $100 bill bears witness to the complex story of America itself.

EARLY DAYS OF THE $100 BILL

General Winfield Scott on the first 100 bill
© History Oasis

Before the current series of $100 bills we know today, there were several iterations of the bill in the early days of the United States.

The first $100 bill was issued in 1862, during the Civil War, and bore a portrait of an American statesman, General Winfield Scott.

This early version of the $100 bill was a legal tender note and played a crucial role in financing the war effort.

GOLD CERTIFICATES AND THE ROARING TWENTIES

$100 Gold Certificate
Source: Wikipedia

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States issued gold certificates, which were redeemable in gold coin.

The $100 gold certificate, first issued in 1863, featured the portrait of Thomas Hart Benton, a prominent American senator, and an outspoken advocate for hard money.

Gold certificates continued to be issued in various designs until the early 1930s, when the United States abandoned the gold standard.

FEDERAL RESERVE - FRANKLIN APPEARS ON THE $100 BILL

Benjamin Franlin on the 100 dollar bill
© History Oasis

In 1913, with the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the United States began issuing Federal Reserve Notes, which eventually became the primary form of paper currency in the country.

The first $100 Federal Reserve Note, issued in 1914, bore the portrait of Benjamin Franklin and marked the beginning of his long-standing presence on the bill.

Before that time, he had made appearances on other denominations of U.S. currency, such as the $1,000 bill and the half-dollar coin.

He was chosen for the esteemed position on the $100 bill in recognition of his contributions to the country as a Founding Father and his instrumental role in drafting the Constitution.

Since then, the design of the $100 bill has evolved, reflecting the changes in the nation's history, culture, and technology.

SMALL-SIZE NOTES AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Great Depression version of the $100 bill
Source: Wikipedia

In 1929, as a response to the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, the United States reduced the size of its paper currency to cut costs and deter counterfeiting.

The new, smaller $100 bill retained the portrait of Benjamin Franklin but featured a simplified design with less ornate elements.

This change marked the beginning of the modern era of U.S. currency design, which would continue to evolve in the coming decades.

COMMEMORATIVE AND RARE ISSUES

1966 Rare $100 bill
Source: Wikipedia

Throughout the history of the $100 bill, there have been a few special commemorative and rare issues that have captured the attention of collectors and historians.

One such example is the 1966 $100 United States Note, a short-lived issue that marked the end of United States Notes as a form of currency.

This rare bill, which featured the familiar portrait of Benjamin Franklin, is highly sought after by collectors due to its limited release and unique place in the history of American currency.

EMBRACING THE NEW DESIGN

$100 design change
Source: Wikipedia

When the fresh design of the $100 bill was released in 2013, it took some time for the people to become acquainted with its new security features.

Some merchants, wary of the unfamiliar features, were hesitant to accept the bills.

However, over time, the new design became widely adopted and embraced as the standard for the cherished $100 bill.

A SAFE HAVEN FOR WEALTH?

store of wealth in the 100 dollar bill
© History Oasis

Many people—seeking refuge from the tempests of economic uncertainty—chose to store their wealth in the form of $100 bills.

The high denomination allowed for the easy storage and transportation of vast sums of money.

Yet, it was important to recognize the limitations and risks of keeping one's wealth in cash.

Subject to theft, loss, and damage, cash was not always a reliable long-term store of value, and its acceptance was not guaranteed in every corner of the globe.

A TOOL FOR GOOD AND ILL

Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill
Source: Wikipedia

Alas, like any form of currency, the $100 bill was sometimes used for nefarious purposes, such as money laundering, drug trafficking, and tax evasion.

Criminals, drawn to the bill's high value and relative anonymity compared to other forms of payment like checks or credit cards, which left a paper trail, often favored the Franklin-adorned notes for their illicit activities.

To thwart the misuse of the honorable $100 bill, the U.S. government took action, implementing advanced security features on the bills and increasing law enforcement efforts to detect and disrupt criminal activity.

Furthermore, the government established financial regulations to prevent the abuse of the financial system, requiring financial institutions to report suspicious activity and enforce anti-money laundering laws.

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