We had a half-day EdTech retreat at work on Wednesday and, during a break, someone raised the question of who is on the $500 bill. I couldn’t sleep until I looked it up. Interestingly, two portraits have graced the front of the $500 bill and there have been two different designs on the back.
First printed in 1918, the $500 Federal Reserve Note featured John Marshall on the front and DeSoto Discovering the Mississippi in 1541 on the back.
Why do we not pay greater homage to Marshall? He served as a captain in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Over a span of three years from 1799-1801 he was elected to the House of Representatives, named Secretary of State by John Adams, then was appointed by Adams to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
He presided for 34 years (longer than any other chief justice) and the Marshall Court practically defined our judicial system and the balance of power between the federal and state governments.
All I’m saying is, can we put my boy on some circulating money? Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln all hog up both a bill and a coin. Spread the love Geithner; you’ve got nothing better to do these days.
Series of the $500 Federal Reserve note were released again in 1928 and 1934, both times featuring William McKinley on the front and just the number 500 on a boring leafy, sheildy thing on the back. The $500 bill was not printed again after 1945, but it was issued until 1969 and is still considered legal tender today. However, as rare as they are, I can’t imagine anyone other than Montgomery Brewster spending one.
Big bills were issued to accommodate large bank transfers until more secure methods came along in the 1940s. There were also Federal Reserve Notes in the following denominations:
$1,000 – Alexander Hamilton (1918 Series) or Grover Cleveland (1928 series)
$5,000 – James Madison
$10,000 – Salmon P. Chase
and a $100,000 Gold Certificate – Woodrow Wilson
The $100,000 Gold Certificate was first issued in 1934 which I note because Wilson died in 1924 and living people aren’t allowed on US money. It is also notable because it was issued after FDR repealed the gold standard in 1933 and therefore was only used within the Federal Reserve Banks because they took all the gold. Apparently we were still on a gold standard for foreign exchanges until 1971. Did our money become purely abstract at this point?
The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank has some nice online exhibits about money and I got most of this information from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s website and FAQs on the Treasury’s website.
While William McKinley and John Marshall’s first names aren’t as catch-phrase worthy as “I’m in it for the Benjamins,” I think the rap community missed an opportunity when it passed up “I’m in it for the Salmons.”