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The History of the 10 Dollar Bill

Written by James Ellis | Published on 6/12/2019

Money may make the world go round, but when was the last time you took the time to think about the history behind those bills in your wallet?

It can be helpful to reflect on how the humble $10 dollar bill — which has an estimated life span of 4 ½ years — unites us all with its promise of being exchanged for a fast food value meal (or the monetary equivalent).

Here's the story of how the sawbuck as we know it came to be.

In this article we will cover:

When was the $10 dollar bill first printed?

The first $10 denomination of paper money issued by the U.S. government was the 1861 demand note featuring President Abraham Lincoln, who was struggling to keep the Union together after 11 Southern states had seceded.

Although the federal government issued the money, the notes were printed by the private American Bank Note Company of New York. Their acceptance varied from bank to bank.

The $10 dollar bill eventually gained wider acceptance (as did paper currency as a whole) throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, with private banks printing their own bank notes under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The faces gracing the $10 note during this period included New England politician Daniel Webster and famed explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

But it wasn't until the federal government asserted its complete dominance over the country's currency with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 that the country would begin seeing currency similar to today's greenbacks. In 1914, the first of the newly minted $10 dollar bills started circulating, featuring the portrait of Andrew Jackson (a president who enthusiastically oversaw the dissolution of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836). It's worth noting these $10 notes had the purchasing power of around $256 in today's money, so the sight of one of the bills would be even more welcome than it is today.

Design changes to the $10 dollar bill throughout the years

Old Hickory continued to adorn the $10 dollar bill until 1929, when the federal government redesigned the nation's paper currency across the board. The notes shrank from 7.375-by-3.125 inches to 6.14-by-2.61 inches, while Jackson was replaced by the U.S.’ first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (who, along with Benjamin Franklin, is one of two non-presidents to have their portrait currently featured on paper currency).

For decades, the Hamilton $10 dollar bill would remain mostly unchanged, though interesting variations did crop up, including:

  • A $10 silver certificate printed in 1933 as a response to the Great Depression. The federal government, worried that the economic crisis would create a run on gold, issued these bills, which could be redeemed for silver. Today, these bills can fetch more than a pretty penny — experts appraised one particularly rare bill as being worth at least $500,000.
  • The Hawaii overprint bill printed and distributed in 1942. This $10 dollar bill most notably had the word "Hawaii" printed over its front and back and was only accepted within the island territory. The reasoning behind the measure was if the Japanese forces successfully invaded Hawaii, they wouldn't be able to capture large amounts of American currency.
  • The 1963 $10 dollar bills featured the phrase "In God We Trust" for the first time in the note's history. This was the long-gestating result from the passage of a 1956 law enshrining the pious phrase as the official national motto (where it shares space with our de facto motto that was approved by the Founding Fathers, "E pluribus unum," which is Latin for “out of many, one”).

Big changes to the $10 dollar bill

As part of an effort to make our paper currency more difficult to counterfeit, the government drastically redesigned the $10 dollar bill in 2000.

This newly-designed bill featured a much larger portrait of Hamilton with anti-counterfeiting measures such as color-shifting ink, watermarks and more. This design was further tweaked in 2006 — for example, the addition of new background colors to make the bill even more difficult to counterfeit — to bring us the $10 dollar bill still in use today.

Even bigger changes were planned to the bill in 2015, when the Treasury Department announced it would replace Hamilton with a notable woman.

"America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for. Our paper bills — and the images of great American leaders and symbols they depict — have long been a way for us to honor our past and express our values,” then-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement. “We have only made changes to the faces on our currency a few times since bills were first put into circulation, and I’m proud that the new 10 will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman.”

While the Treasury Department began soliciting the public about which woman should be placed on the new $10 dollar bill, Lew backpedaled in the face of a backlash against removing Hamilton from the bill. He announced in the spring of 2016 that Hamilton would remain on the $10 dollar bill. Incidentally, he also said abolitionist Harriet Tubman would replace Jackson on the face of the $20 bill by 2020, but current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin delayed the unveiling of that historic currency until 2028.

Whenever Tubman does make her currency debut, it will mark another change for a currency that's continued to evolve with the country as a whole.

Previous Comments

  |     |   Comment #3
Well, having done a LOT of research into an old $3 bill I have, and which I expect is the very bill that spawned the term "Phony as a three-dollar bill," I have to agree about how little is in this article, how cursory it is.

(Re my $3 bill, the key thing that is preventing me from determining if it spawned that term is finding anything to tell where that term came from! But Congress did pass a measure specifically targeting this $3 bill as being a fraud and making it a felony to pass it, because of so many problems of fraud by people using it. I even have a news article from the 1800s about its fraudulent use in Northern California. People were not used to paper money, and there were not just bills from the government, there were legitimate paper bills from various sources.)

BTW, there was a legitimate bill that featured Santa Claus for its picture!
  |     |   Comment #4
I have a $3 bill printed out by Slick Times that features John Kerry on the front and the Eiffel Tower on the back (called the Weasel Tower). There is also mention of Heinz and the French President at that time. The top says "Queer Reserve Note". It was printed in 2004 during the 2004 Presidential Election and apparently spoofing the Democrat running for President. A packet of 25 of them was selling for $5. So each of these "$3 bills" cost you 20 cents.
  |     |   Comment #5
Ha! Now that one definitely is "phony."

You can see a pic of my $3 bill at:

deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #7
They need to bring back the $1,000 bill. This way when I empty out a bank account I don't have a wad of cash. I used to use cashiers checks but banks now put holds on those checks as well so cash ends up being faster.
  |     |   Comment #9
deplorable 1, and if you ever decide to put in back, no bank will accept it or you will have to prove the source of the money or you will get a visit from the secret service. Chase, BofA, citi and many more do not accept cash, unless you will prove not only where that money comes from but how and when you earned it with documentation included and by the way, you will be fingerprinted and picture taken of you on the spot.
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #13
That's funny I never had a bank turn down a deposit or ask me where the money came from. What planet are you from where banks don't accept cash deposits? No holds on cash but up to 2 weeks on checks. Why should I have to give up 2 weeks of interest just for closing a bank account?
  |     |   Comment #14
deplorable 1 #13, obviously you never had a deposit account at a big bank, otherwise, you would have never said that in your comment #13.
  |     |   Comment #15
deplorable 1. I was at Chase not long ago, the process to deposit cash is grueling and you feel you are under investigation by the police. Go and try to deposit some cash, like $5-20K, you will feel sorry you ever tried it.
  |     |   Comment #16
deplorable 1, I sold my RV for $15K cash and went to the B of A to deposit it in my checking account, guess what, they told me that they will report the deposit to the IRS as suspicious funds are on deposit and I can not withdraw them until I bring my w-2 forms of the the source of the money with documentation of all previous transactions being recorded and legit. They asked me, how I bought the RV, with what money and how those money were earned and who bought it with his SS number and how he got the cash to pay for it.
You are being naive thinking cash is cash and nobody cares how you got it.
  |     |   Comment #17
This wasn't the RV from the early episodes of "Breaking Bad", was it?
  |     |   Comment #18
"The rules apply to individuals as well as banks and other kinds of business; if you sell a car on your own and accept $10,000 cash as a deposit or total payment, you are supposed to file a Form 8300. There is a 15-day deadline to file the 8300 after the deposit takes place."

  |     |   Comment #22
DCGuy, the form 8300 becomes taxable income if you can not provide proof of the purchaser with SS# included and proof of your purchase with dates and appraised value included.
Best bet is to never deposit it and spend it as cash.
  |     |   Comment #20
deplorable comment #13, I bet you have never deposited cash at any bank in your life where the amount was bigger than $10k, the proof is in your comment. Why don't you call any bank and ask the process to deposit cash, lets say $50K and then come back here and post your findings, thanks.
  |     |   Comment #23
#13 deplorable, half a dozen people disagree with your comment, would you please tell us if you have ever deposited cash over $10K in a banks or CU and which one?
I too disagree with your post, the cash is treated differently than a check or any other instrument when you do a deposit at any bank. People have been jailed for not having proof of the source for the cash when deposited in a bank or the money have been confiscated when the deposit was over $10,000, some banks out there have the limit set at $3000 some at $5000 and ALL banks and CUs must contact the IRS or the secret service if the cash deposit is at or over $10K.
  |     |   Comment #25
Honestly, I've seldom seen such fearful or such uninformed people. This is hilarious. Post-Seinfeld and -Friends, such comedic value is hard to obtain.

Here's a little true story for you. Several years ago (but AFTER 911 - meaning, after 9/11/2001, just to be clear, regarding the Patriot Act), I had a situation. First of all, I had accounts with a few "national" banks which have branches in our town (we still have roughly the same accounts today). Long story short, I had liquid funds in Bank A that were completely available, meaning that all checks deposited to that account were totally cleared (remember, this was a few years ago, when paper checks were more of a "thing").

I wanted to quickly write a check on my existing account with Bank B, and have it be immediately "good" (honored), by another FI. Both A and B had local branches, and I had had accounts with both for years with no issues, therefore a great history. I called B - based on my long and honorable history, would they make my deposit from A via either personal OR cashier's check "immediately available"? Answer - no! Any other way they could help (instead of hinder) me? Answer - no! Except - if I deposited actual cash.

To make this work I had to transfer at least $10K from A to B, with immediate availability. So as a last-ditch effort I called up A, and asked if they had $10K in actual cash (greenbacks) at that location. I expected a "no", but got (after a long pause) a "yes". I told them I would need $10K in cash, today. I checked B for the "time of day" that they close their banking day (all banks have one, and they often differ). I was still about an hour before that time.

A and B were only about 3 miles apart. I rushed to A, got the cash, rushed to B (looking over my shoulder all the time), deposited it to B, got the paperwork, went home (3 miles) and checked the availability. All was good.

Now, this is the only time I has to do this kind of thing. But, note that the $10K in cash NEVER BECAME ANY KIND OF ISSUE with the IRS, with my State, with anyone. Case closed.

So, for some of you people, I truly wonder whether you may have "additional issues" with the IRS, the DEA, or the many other "acronym" government agencies. Or, if you're just too occupied with hiding under your own beds.
  |     |   Comment #26
111, who are you trying to fool, the 10k is the limit where the law says they do not have to report it to IRS if the depositor has relationship with that bank for 5+ years. Try 10,001 and come back and tell us your story again.



Even better, call any bank that you want to deposit more than 10K in cash and report again on your findings.
  |     |   Comment #27
WOW ... You had me sitting on the edge of my seat.
  |     |   Comment #28
111, comment #25, your story is not believable, you deposited $10K cash and not $20K, that's right, because a penny over $10K MUST be reported to IRS and if the source of the money is not verifiable, the SECRET service must be called in to investigate you. Stop spreading misinformation, the LAW is very clear, call anyone at any financial institution and tell them of your intention to deposit more than $10K cash and see what happens.
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #33
@111: For some reason these guys think I was depositing over $10,000 in cash even though I never made such a claim. Everyone knows banks are now more strict with large cash deposits but smaller amounts are fine. Banks need to come up with a new check that will be treated as cash with no long holds. I think banks are taking advantage of the new laws to hold cash at 0%.
deplorable fan
  |     |   Comment #19
I can't understand why people take Deplorable seriously.
  |     |   Comment #21
deplorable fan #19, he said he is an expert and knows it all.
  |     |   Comment #24
But Gloria, he had never deposited over $10K in any bank or CU, that says a lot about the knowledge he has, that is why he stopped responding to his posters.
  |     |   Comment #29
#19, deplorable 1 is here every day on every blog and pretend to be know it all guy, should we ignore him from now on?
  |     |   Comment #31
please dont kill the Golden Eggs of DA
( you know who they are)
  |     |   Comment #10
What happen to comment #1, I visited the shortcut posted in it and forgot to bookmark it. That web site was fantastic for study the history of US money with original pictures of all notes and bills ever issued. It could be used for school curriculum. This article does not cut it for me.
  |     |   Comment #30
Moe, it is possible that DA uses that web site to pull info and generate articles from it, do not have proof of it, just suspecting it.
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #32
It seems I'm getting hammered over here. Just for the record I don't usually deposit $10,000 or above in cash but I have never had any issues depositing cash under $10,000. In the past pre 9/11 Cashiers checks were treated as cash and available the day of deposit. BoA put a 2 week hold on a cashiers check when I closed out a bank account a while back and it was less than $10,000. Last time I closed out a bank account it was for around $5,000 and I deposited it into BoA with no hold. Obviously if I had more than $10,000 to deposit I would use a check or deposit it into multiple accounts. Doing bank bonuses locally requires closing several small accounts after the bonus posts. I look for ways to avoid long unnecessary hold times in accounts that pay little to no interest.
  |     |   Comment #38
Cashiers checks were considered the same as cash back in the days when pay phones were at nearly street corner. Now with rampant computer use, fake replicas of cashier checks are more common now, so they cannot be considered valid until several weeks of processing to be sure that they actually clear. Fraudsters have migrated to newer platforms to trick others. When you try to shift certain daily functions to other areas, they will follow along to look for more victims. There may be a sucker born every minute, but there is fraudster created every second.
  |     |   Comment #39
deplorable 1, would you please read the comment #13 and tell us of why you ridiculed the previous poster?
Furthermore, you agree that any amount above $10K will be reported to IRS and or the secret service, so why did you said you can deposit cash of any amount at any bank?
The banks do not want cash at all, it creates an extreme amount of paper work for them and they must keep those cash transactions indefinitely in their books.
deplorable 1
  |     |   Comment #40
I didn't say ANY amount I just said that a cash deposit has no holds. Everyone just somehow assumed I was talking about $10,000 plus. I know it's best to avoid certain dollar amounts like $5,000 even multiple times or $9,999 etc. to avoid red flags. NTR is always claiming that Trump is the enemy of savers and want's 0% interest rates back which isn't true. He is always bashing the president non stop.
  |     |   Comment #41
Alexander Hamilton musical rules and so does BTS! I mean BTS is way more better even if you don't and know Korean.

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