Have you ever looked really closely at the US one-dollar bill?
If you have ever paid close attention, there really is a lot of stuff going on with that humble bill. Some of it is actually kind of creepy.
Today I thought I’d try and unravel some of the dollar bill’s biggest mysteries for you.
Okay, okay. They’re not really mysteries – 98% of this stuff is all over the internet – but they’re fun facts nevertheless.
Did you know the first United States one-dollar bill was issued in 1862? It was emblazoned with a portrait of Salmon P. Chase, the Treasury Secretary under Abraham Lincoln.
The current one-dollar bill design technically dates back to 1963, but many of the design elements that we associate with the bill were established in 1929.
Obviously, the most recognizable element of the modern one dollar bill is the portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart. But did you ever look really closely at a US one-dollar bill – especially the reverse side with all those mysterious symbolism?
What’s up with that anyway?
In case you don’t have a dollar bill handy, here are a few pictures of the reverse side of the one-dollar bill, and exploded-views of the great seal on the left- and right-hand sides:
The first thing that you might notice is that goofy pyramid in the circle on the left side of the bill. What does it mean?
Well, the pyramid itself represents permanence and strength.
Notice that it is constructed with 13 layers of stone which represent the 13 original states and their individual rights. The separate stones within each layer represent local self-government, and the pyramid’s unfinished condition represents the promise of continued national growth.
At the top of the pyramid, inside the capstone, you have the “all-seeing eye,” which is an ancient symbol for divinity.
The letters at the bottom of the pyramid represent the year the United States was founded, 1776, in Roman numerals.
In honor of the original colonies there is a 13-letter phrase above the pyramid, Annuit Coeptis. The phrase is in Latin, and means “God has favored our undertakings.” A second Latin phrase sits at the bottom of the pyramid, Novus Ordo Seclorum, which means “New order of the ages.”
A very subtle bit of symbolism exists in how the pyramid is lit; notice that its face is lighted and the western side is dark. Some people interpret that to mean that when the United States was founded it had not begun to explore the West.
On the right side of the bill is another circle featuring an eagle. It clasps both olive branches and arrows in its talons to represent the country’s desire for peace and its ability to protect itself. The 13 colonies are represented in numerous ways here: there are 13 arrows, 13 olive leaves, 13 olives, 13 stripes on the shield, and 13 stars above the eagle’s head. In the eagle’s beak is a banner with the Latin phrase, E pluribus unum, meaning “of many, one.” This phrase represents how the United States, while consisting of many states and people, is unified as a single nation.
Finally, did you know there is a spider hiding on the side of the dollar bill with George Washington’s portrait on it? Or is it an owl? You be the judge – I’ve included an exploded-view for you (it’s hiding inside the blue circle).
It looks more like an owl than a spider to me!
For a complete history of the one dollar bill, check out this excellent reference.
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