All about the Benjamins: Making the $100 bill (pictures)
What does $320 million in cash look like? CNET Road Trip 2014 visits the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth, Texas, for an up-close view.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- It's hard to know how you're going to feel starting at $320 million in cash.
As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I got a chance to visit the Western Currency Facility, where the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces the majority of America's paper money.
I wanted to see how the latest $100 bills, which have been in circulation since 2013, are made, from the engraving process through printing and packaging. The visit didn't disappoint, especially when I found myself standing in front of five "skids" of $100 bills totaling $320 million. There's a deep sense of longing mixed with an urge to be as nonchalant as you can in the face of such a visceral display of riches.
One of the earliest stages of the production process is known as electroplating.
In this part of the process, technicians take a plastic master sheet, known as a "basso," and, as seen here, spray it with silver nitrate, which serves as an electrical conductor, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
The plate is submerged in a tank of nickel salt solution, and electrical current is added. At that point, nickel ions transfer from the solution to the surface of the master, which is electrically charged.
The plate is left in the tank for 22 hours, after which a nickel plate, known as an "alto," has literally grown.
In the facility's engraving department, a team of engravers etch many of the features of the $100 bill into steel dies, making what were originally designers' models into 3D engravings. To do so, they employ tools known as gravers, as well as acids. Complicating matters, the engravers must etch all the features in reverse, since the dies will be pressed onto a plate. Each engraver works on different elements of the notes. Seen here, an engraver is etching numbers, which are then automatically transferred by a pantograph onto a plate that will be used in the printing process.
In the Western Currency Facility's photo-engraving department, technicians use computers to design specific elements of the notes, such as a feather and inkwell from the back side of the $100 bill, which are then printed onto film.
Western Currency Facility plant manager Charlene Williams (left) and a fellow Bureau of Engraving and Printing employee show off a 50-subject sheet of $1 bills -- which the facility now prints -- and an old 32-note sheet. The facility is currently only printing 50-subject $1 bills, but plans to expand to other denominations soon.
The $100 bill features many anti-counterfeiting measures, including tiny print that is invisible to the naked eye, and which is extremely difficult to reproduce. In this image, the letters "USA" are repeated again and again on the lower edge of the note, and the words "United States of America" are repeated on Benjamin Franklin's collar.