Laundering Money

Q: When I leave a normal piece of paper in my pocket and it gets washed in the washing machine, it totally disintegrates. But if I leave a dollar bill in my pocket and wash it, nothing happens. It comes out fine. What is the difference?

A: Normal paper like notebook paper, newspaper, construction paper and so on is all made out of cellulose, which comes from trees. Trees are digested into their individual wood fibers and the fibers the then formed into very thin sheets to create paper.

Paper money, on the other hand, is made from paper made of rags. Cotton or linen fabric is beaten to create cotton or linen fibers. You have probably heard of "rag paper" or "fine linen writing paper". This is where it comes from.

It turns out the rag fibers bond together much more firmly in paper, and the fibers are basically unaffected by water. Cellulose fibers, on the other hand, absorb water and come apart when they get wet. So paper money comes through the washer fine, while cellulose paper comes unglued.

How did that silent "b" get into the word "debt?"

I always had my doubts about silent letters, especially when a teacher offered to help me remember them with a mnemonic. Trying to get the spelling of "debt" right made me feel particularly dumb. In that I may have had something in common with the people of thirteenth century

England, who couldn't leave well enough alone. You see the word, which came into English with the Norman Conquest two centuries earlier, was originally spelled "det." It came from the French word, "dette," meaning, well, you know. In jolly Olde England they just loped off the last "e" and totaled one of the "t's." So far, I like it. But then the pedants got at it. They did a little research, discovered that the French word came from the Latin, "debita," and in the thirteenth century upgraded the English version. For kids learning spelling, it's been tough going ever since.

by William and Mary Morris
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The first United States silver coins were minted from metal obtained from Martha Washington's silver service

How does a bill-changing machine determine that your bill isn't counterfeit?

Do you, like me, take it personally when one of your bills is rejected? Only my therapist knows just how badly this electro-magnetic authority figure makes me feel. In passing judgment, the machine checks for several characteristics. For instance, by passing a light through it, the changer examines your bill's gross density (my Junior High School gym teacher would have scored high). It also uses light rays to check the alignment of thin lines embedded in your bill. A magnet generates a signal from the ink in your bill and it had better match the one characteristic of the ink used in printing real bills. The machine also measures the exact length of your bill. It's a good thing the bill changer doesn't also measure the sweat on my palms while I await it's verdict. After 30 seconds I'll sign any confession it prints out. Source: HOW DO THEY DO THAT? By Caroline Sutton

Phony $200 Bill with Bush Picture Used in Kentucky

February 1, 2001 10:58 am EST DANVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Talk about funny money. Police in Kentucky are looking for a customer who succeeded in paying for a $2 order at a fast-food restaurant with a phony $200 bill featuring a picture of President George W. Bush and a depiction of the White House with a lawn sign saying, "We like broccoli." Authorities say the female cashier at a Dairy Queen in Danville even gave the culprit $198 in real money as change. "Essentially, the story is that somebody at a drive-in ordered some food and passed a $200 novelty deal with George Bush on it," Danville Police Detective Bob Williamson said. "At a distance it looks like a real bill, it's got the green color," Williamson said when asked how the cashier possibly could mistake it for genuine money. The cartoonish bill was accepted on Sunday evening by the Dairy Queen cashier despite having Bush on one side and an oil well on the other. The phony bill also depicted the White House lawn with yard signs reading "U.S. deserves a tax cut," "No more scandals" and "We like broccoli," the last apparently referring to Bush's father's admitted dislike for the vegetable. No U.S. currency has a picture of Bush, let alone a reference to liking broccoli. Because there is no actual $200 currency, the culprit could face a charge of theft by deception but not counterfeiting, Williamson said.

Ever heard of a pass-through account?

Dog Eats Money, Returns It Intact July 24, 2001 8:20 am EST STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish bullterrier swallowed 1,000 crowns ($94) but returned the money, almost unspoiled, to its mistress the natural way, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported on Tuesday. The six-year old bitch Tassilla gobbled up two 500-crown bills. The first bill emerged the next morning, smelly but undamaged, followed by the second during an evening walk. "They (the bills) are slightly yellow and I think I'll iron them," mistress Gunilla Gonon-Sabelstrom was quoted as saying.

What Does the Term "Down at the Heels Mean?

The Answer:

To be down at the heels is to be in bad financial shape. The worn-away condition of the bottom of one's shoes reflects a diminished bottom line. So being well heeled would present the reverse situation. Right? Wrong. The heel in "well-heeled" originally belonged to a gamecock, a bird trained to fight other birds to the death while men wagered on the outcome. A bird's owner would attach a sharp spur to its leg to make it deadlier in the cockfighting pit. The fowl was then said to be "well-heeled." In the western United States in the 19th century, in the same spirit, this expression was applied to men who were well armed. Ultimately being well heeled carried over to the financial realm, where it meant that one was financially armed to better deal with life. Think about all this if being well heeled makes you feel cocky.

-- Source: HEAVENS TO BETSY! By Charles Earle Funk
(C) Copyright 1998-2000

How Long Has Money Been Around?

As early as about 7,000 AD, 6,950 years before plastic credit cards, cattle were used as money in the first agricultural civilizations.

The first coins, pieces of bronze shaped like cattle, appeared 5000 years later. But their value was determined by their weight, making their use cumbersome. Coins as we know them, with their value imprinted on them, were first produced in Lydia in 800 BC. Somewhere in this period the Chinese briefly used paper currency, but the first consistent use of paper money was by the French in the 18th century--

Rich King Croesus of Lydians in Asia Minor issued the first money of gold - an oblong piece - in the 6th century. Soon the Greeks began minting money in the shape of discs, striking them with detailed high relief. Romans introduced the familiar serrated edges of today's coins as a way to discourage the practice of shaving off thin slices. (Source: PANATI'S BROWSER'S BOOK OF BEGINNINGS)

When was the first bank established in the US?

The First Bank of the United States was needed because the government had a debt from the Revolutionary War, and each state had a different form of currency. It was built while Philadelphia was still the nation's capital. Alexander Hamilton conceived of the bank to handle the colossal war debt -- and to create a standard form of currency.

Up to the time of the bank's charter, coins and bills issued by state banks served as the currency of the young country. The First Bank's charter was drafted in 1791 by the Congress and signed by George Washington. In 1811, Congress voted to abandon the bank and its charter. The bank was originally housed in Carpenters' Hall from 1791 to 1795. The neo-classical design of the bank was intended to recall the democracy and splendor of ancient Greece. When you're there, note the eagle which crowns the two-story portico. At the time of the bank's creation the eagle had been our national symbol for only 14 years. The bank building was restored for the Bicentennial in 1976.

Thanks to for this tidbit. See an engraving of the building here.

Why do we "Pass the buck?"

The Answer:
Hunters, of course, never pass the buck, preferring instead to take careful aim. However the rest of us are all occasionally guilty of not taking responsibility when we should. But what is this "buck" that we pass when we offer our pathetic excuses? Surely it can't refer to the American slang for a dollar bill.

No, we don't come that cheap. In fact, that hunter I mentioned is connected to the origins of the phrase. "Buck" was originally buckshot, which was used as a token in card games, being passed to the person whose turn it was to deal. One responsibility the dealer had was to place the first bet, which not everyone wanted to do. If they weren't up to it, they could pass the buck. There you have it: your deal.

(Source: WHY YOU SAY IT by Webb Garrison)