Our currency is one of the most complicated pieces of paper to print. It has more safeguards in it to prevent counterfeiting that is disclosed to the public. But did you know you can watch it all being printed on a free tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington DC? I’m sharing all the details on their tours and what to expect when you visit.
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How to get your tickets
Tickets are free and tours run Monday-Friday 9am-6pm. Tickets for this tour can only be picked up the day of your tour only. Unless you are coming in with a large party, they are on a first come first serve basis. They open up the ticket booth 8 am and start handing out tickets until they run out. People will start lining up for tickets around 7:30.
When you get up to the booth, you can select what time you want to tickets for and request the number of tickets needed. They have a list of ticket times still available on the window. Not every needed to be present at the booth.
Tickets holders can enter the gift shop about 30 minutes prior to the tour time. This allows everyone to get through security. It is similar to the airport with medial detectors, Xrays and the works.
The Bureau website says that tickets are required only through August 30th while they are remolding. At this point, I’m not sure if you can just walk in or not.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tour
The Tour takes you above the printing room floor. Everyone is gathered into a long hallway with windows on each side. Depending on the space and the crowd, you may be two people deep. In most cases, there is action on both sides of the room. It all depends on how much printing is happened that day. There are three different stops along the way, showing the process from start to finish.
The process all starts with pre-cut sheets of paper. The paper enters the presses and receives layers of different specialty inks imprinted on them. Once the primary printing takes place, the sheets get stacked onto pallets and left to dry in a different room.
After a designated amount of time, they continue on to a second pass the employee’s pickup sheets of currency and rolls, drop and fluff up the sheets to get air in between each sheet. This way when they go through the presses again, there will not stick and jam the machines. At one point a worker was holding up over $200,000 in $5 bills and then used the top sheet to wipe the sweat from her brow.
After the last of the printing takes place, all of the money gets cut into its standard size and warped up into bricks, each containing 4 sleeves of 1000 bills. When they are printing $20, that’s $80,000 in bricks. What’s most surprising is that it only takes a handful of people on the printing room floor to create millions of dollars.
How Money Is Printed?
In the Washington DC location, they print $1’s, $2’s, $5’s, $10’s and $20’s. All the bills created are replacing old currency that’s moved out of circulation. Things like $2 bills are only made every few years because they don’t get circulated as much. But the rumor is, if you buy something at the food stand near the Jefferson Memorial, you’ll get change back in $2’s.
The Tour Restrictions
The printing of US Currency is one of the most guarded secrets and for good reason. You are walking into one of the most secure buildings that cand hold up to 600 million dollars at any one time. Their security is no laughing matter.
There is no photography on the tour. Thankfully they let guest bring their cameras and phones with them. Otherwise, you’d have to find someplace in DC to ditch them. If you are spotted taking any pictures or touching your phone, you will be escorted off the property immediately. You may lose your camera or face further consequences. It’s that reason, I’m not showing any pictures of the process.
The Gift Shop
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s gift shops give you the chance to buy some limited quantity bills, like $1 bills with the serial code starting with 777. They have other specialty bills too that are considered lucky. They also have novelties like bags of shredded bills. You can also take home a sheet of money.
The tour meet and end in the gift shop, so don’t feel like you have to buy something right away.
Tips for your visit to the Bureau of Engraving And Printing
Get your ticket for early in the day if possible. As far as the Mall goes, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a couple of blocks away. The only thing nearby was the Holocaust Museum and the paddle boats on the Tidal Basin. Trying to get a snack nearby was a 30-minute walk to get there and back. It was the only downside to getting the first tour of the day.
Since you can’t take pictures, just have fun with it. Instead of focusing on capturing the moment, just enjoy watching more money than you’ve ever seen fly by your face. I don’t care how much money you have in the bank, this will probably be the only time you’ll get to see that much money in one place.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is something I have learned now that I’m no longer in my 20’s. The tour guides know so much about the process.
If you are looking for a fun read about the lengths people have gone to counterfeit our currency, The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter by Jason Kersten is a great read. Its a true story about a counterfeiter that never felt like he had enough.
Would I do it again?
Going to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is one of those things that everyone should experience once in their life if nothing more to say you’ve seen millions of dollars. But on my visit, I learned something kind of interesting; printing money is not much different than printing the mail. If you loved watching Mr. Rogers how its made clips, you’ll have a blast! I did.