By Esther Crain, LearnVest
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which means you’ll be seeing a lot of green — green hats, green pins and possibly even green beer, if you plan on hitting your local Irish pub for happy hour later.
But reminders of the Emerald Isle aren’t the only green things we’ve got on our minds today. As personal finance nerds, we decided to take a look at the backstory of a different kind of green: greenbacks, or the paper bills you’ve got in your wallet right now.
So why don’t we pay for things with, say, purple or red money? Turns out making money green was a late 19th century way to thwart counterfeiters. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, currency was printed by state-backed and private banks in a variety of sizes and denominations.
Then in 1861, the federal government began issuing its own currency to help finance the war. Counterfeiting was rampant at the time; clever thieves would often scratch off faded ink from bills and change the dollar amount, or they would photograph them and pass the photos off as the real thing.
To prevent this, one side of these new bills was printed in a green-black ink, which was less likely to fade, says Mark Anderson, numismatic consultant at the Museum of American Finance in New York City (hence the greenbacks nickname). And since green wouldn’t show up on the black-and-white-only photos of that era, it was easy to distinguish between a real bill and a photographed copy...