With no particular interest, I asked the valiant sidekick if he wanted to visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as something to do while in Fort Worth this weekend. I was blown away by the enthusiastic “Yes!” It seems he’s not the only one to find this site appealing. When I looked it up on Trip Advisor, it is the fourth most popular thing to do in Fort Worth (out of 72). Having found many on the top ten list to be personal favorites, but never having visited this one…well, the suggestion was merely to check something off my list…until Gerry responded so positively.
Going meant rearranging our plans a bit. The BEP is only open on weekdays, a fact I want to be sure to mention because it would be a shame to miss it. I also want to mention that we felt fortunate to see it in the off season, the time between New Year’s and /Spring Break. After Spring Break it is an extremely popular school field trip outing (and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess why you would not like to visit then!). Summertime is, of course, popular too.
The place is outside of the city proper, about a 20 minute ride north from downtown. It is easy to get to. There are signs directing you to the exit from the expressway and telling you where to turn. Security is tight. You cannot even take your cellphone inside with you, so mark my words and leave it, and everything else you’re carrying, in your car trunk. There are no pictures allowed, and – even if you support concealed carry – no firearms either!
You’ll go through a metal detector and then board a bus that takes you to the Visitors’ Center (about a 200 yard drive?). Inside the Visitors’ Center you can watch a short film, then take a self-guided tour of the printing process – a glassed in walkway at mezzanine level winds around the production floor displaying the machines and the process. You will see both machines and people at work, but the audio guide is not always super clear about where you should be looking. I felt it could be improved with signs hung above the action saying “Look here!” when the audio explains a specific process or machine. Perhaps a live person giving the tour would also be more helpful in actually directing you to the proper place to look.
Once you have completed the walkway tour, there are many exhibits where you can learn more about the paper, the ink, the printing, the anti-counterfeiting measures, the history of our currency and the history of the making of our currency. And there are interactive displays that allow children and adults alike to test their understanding and knowledge of the processes.
If you’re like me, this is probably not a topic you return to on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis, but it is fascinating. If the sheer number of bills being printed does not bamboozle you, do a little arithmetic and figure out the value of the bills that fly off those presses each hour! I.e., Each sheet has 16 notes, and the press can do 10k sheets per hour. If those are $1 notes, calculate the value. If those are $100 notes, recalculate and then push your jaw back up! And that is before you multiply it by 24 hours a day.
What did I find most interesting? Clearly, it has to be the complexity of the topic itself. There is the manufacturing process, and the final product. There are the exacting quality standards, the computerized quality verifications, the built-in security and anti-counterfeiting measures. There is the artistry and creativity involved especially at the same time the product is highly controlled, and so important to our economy.
Of course, when I saw how much is printed each day, I had to ask what happens to all the old stuff. Banks remove it from circulation and would you believe that different denominations have different average useful lives? Do you know what to do with burned or insect riddled currency?
I am not going to give you all the answers, because I want you to be curious enough to go visit. There are only two places in the entire United States where you can go and see currency being printed. One is Fort Worth, TX and the other is Washington DC. If you can’t make it to Forth Worth, go see the Bureau in Washington. I guarantee you will learn something!
Sorry no pictures…you can see some here.
My take away from this visit is a curiosity about the history of the designs of the notes…I will be looking for an art book on the topic! Any suggestions?