History of the US Two Dollar Bill

Quick Tracker

The history of currency, for some, is seriously tantalizing stuff, for most others, perhaps, not so much. There are a few notes of US currency, however, that have always seemed to elicit a sort of underground interest among folks, most popular among them being the US Two-Dollar Bill. Lots of people seem to share an interest and general affinity toward this US currency note and, quite interestingly, perhaps even more people than that literally do not even know that they exist! Indeed, there are many websites dedicated to the two-dollar bill, and even a new site for effectively tracking them across the United States. But how many are actually familiarized with the actually history of the US two-dollar bill? Let's take a quick look then, shall we?

The two-dollar bill was first printed in 1862, and originally featured a profile portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the front. In 1869 however, the former US Secretary of the Treasury was replaced political arch-nemesis of sorts, 3rd American President, Thomas Jefferson. This was, however, far from the last changes this currency would receive, and that's not just in regards to the portrait on the front. In fact, this is likely the most altered bill throughout the history of US currency. Throughout its over 150 year lifespan, this bill has carried quite a few different "note" references, including; United States Note, Treasury Note, Silver Certificate, and Federal Reserve Bank Note.

For a short time, civil-war General Winfield Scott Hancock took the front face of the note. Eventually, another former US Treasury Secretary's Portrait adorned the bill, William Windom, replacing Hancock in 1891. Arguably, one of the most interesting times for this bill was in 1896, when it was reissued again as the Educational Series, sporting symbolic representations of the introduction, through science, of steam and electricity to the worlds of manufacturing, and commerce. The reverse held portraits of both Robert Fulton, who brought us the steam engine, and Samuel Morse, for his contributions in the area of electricity. From that point on, the bill's imagery was changed another three times, and the bill was even discontinued in August of 1966, before being resurrected for several additional printings, all with various changes being made. That's certainly a colorful and sorted history by any standard!

The next change after the Educational Series of 1896, was in 1891, when President George Washington was featured. This was followed by another change in 1918, returning Thomas Jefferson to the front of the note, with a WWI battleship on the reverse side. Then, in 1929, the bill was resized to its current dimensions and the picture on the back was changed to Thomas Jefferson's famous home, Monticello. This iteration lasted for several decades until, in 1966, the two-dollar bill met its untimely death when it was officially discontinued. This bill is hard to kill it seems, as in 1976, it was brought back for the Bicentennial, featuring a version of John Turnbull's "The Signing of the Declaration of Independence" on the reverse side. There were two more series after that, with one in 1995, and the current series, which was most recently printed in 2003. The two-dollar bill, despite its tenacious history, is a low demand bill, as is printed less often, and in lower quantities than other bills. The two-dollar bill makes up only about 1% of all paper bills being made by the US Treasury, which may just add to its mystique. There are some great photos of the various two-dollar bills posted on the Wikipedia site, for visual reference, if needed.