The history of the 10 dollar bill is quite complicated and extends over a 150 year period. The bill in its current form has been in existence for over a century. Over this time period it is has undergone several changes. In addition to these changes, details found on the bill over the years have evolved in interesting ways. The shape of the bill itself has also evolved. The purpose of this article is to offer some interesting information about the 10 dollar bill. With so much time dedicated to money matters, we figure it makes sense to know a little bit about the money itself!

1. The Original 10 Dollar Bill Was Printed in 1861

The first bill was Introduced by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and had a portrait of the legendary former President on it. This bill was actually issued as a demand note. These were notes issued during the years of the American Civil War and were used in part to pay salaries of workers and military personnel. These first bills were printed exclusively by the American Bank Note Company of New York. Paper money was in its infancy in the United States during this time. As a result, some banks refused to accept the original 10 dollar bill even though it had federal government approval.

2. The 10 Dollar Bill was Standardized in 1914

By the 20th century, people became more accustomed to the concept of paper money. This growing acceptance led to several private banks issuing their own version of the 10 dollar bill. These early bills featured a range of prominent figures of the time, including the explorers William Clark and Meriweather Lewis. The 10 dollar bill was finally standardized in 1914 and was the first Federal Reserve Note. Federal Reserve Notes are the current banknotes we use today.

3. Hamilton Was Never President

The standardized 10 dollar bill that was issued in 1914 featured a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson. This portrait was changed to one of Alexander Hamilton in 1929. Hamilton was chosen largely because he was the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton is one of the few individuals whose portraits are on U.S. currency but who never served as President. Benjamin Franklin would be another exception.

4. Hamilton Was Not Born in The United States

Perhaps more interestingly, Hamilton is also the only person featured on U.S. currency who was not born in the U.S. Hamilton is actually from the West Indies. That said, he made the United States his home for most of his life.

5. The Portrait on the 10 Dollar Bill is Unique

On top of the other unique aspects of Hamilton is his portrait itself. Hamilton is the only person on a U.S. bank note that has their portrait facing to the left. Every other portrait faces to the right. Why this is the case is an open question.

6. The Hamilton Watermark

In 2006, the 10 dollar bill was redesigned to add several new security features to the note. One of these features was a watermark located to the right of the main portrait of Alexander Hamilton. If you hold up 10 dollar bills that were issued after this change up to the light, you should see a faint picture of Hamilton fill the previously blank space. Therefore, If this picture does not appear then you’re likely holding an old 10 dollar bill. The other alternative is that you have a forged bill in your hands.

7. The Change That Never Occurred

In 2015, former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that the 10 dollar bill would receive another redesign. Lew said the bill would likely feature a woman. He later doubled down on this claim in a 2016 open letter in which he stated that the new bill would feature champions of the suffrage movement. This included Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth. However, the redesign was set to take place in 2020 but never happened. What happened was that plans for the redesign were abandoned later in 2016. Instead, there was an announcement that Alexander Hamilton would remain as the primary face of the bill. This was the communicated expectation for the foreseeable future. Some speculate that the success of the Broadway show Hamilton, which dramatizes the life and times of the former Secretary of the Treasury, may have helped stave off the redesign efforts.

8. The 10 Dollar Bill Isn’t Made of Paper

While we commonly refer to dollar bills as “paper currency”, the 10 dollar bill is not actually made using paper. According to the Treasury Department, the bill is a mixture. This mixture consists of three quarters cotton and one quarter linen. These materials enhance a bill’s durability, allowing it to stay in circulation for far longer than a completely paper bill might.

9. The Silver Certificate Worth $500,000

In 1933, the United States was still in the depths of the Great Depression. The federal government grew concerned that the crisis would lead to people redirecting all of their funds away from dollar bills and into gold. If this happen it would have had the effect of devaluing the currency of the time. Therefore in response to this, the government issued a special 10 dollar “silver certificate”. This certificate was essentially a 10 dollar bill that the owner could redeem for 10 dollars worth of silver at any time. The bill did not last long, making it exceedingly rare today. Experts appraising pristine examples of this bill value it at approximately $500,000, perhaps making it the most expensive type of 10 dollar bill to exist.

10. Ultraviolet Lights Can Reveal Counterfeiting

If you examine the background details of the 10 dollar bill, you’ll see faint hints of red, yellow and orange. Embedded within those colors is a security thread designed to prevent currency counterfeiting. This thread only shows up when the bill is exposed to an ultraviolet light source. The thread runs vertically on the right side of the bill. It’s also imprinted with a tiny flag, which uses alternating colors, and the text “USA TEN”. Ultraviolet light makes the thread appear orange, confirming that you have a legitimate bill in your hands.

11. The Lower-Right 10 Changes Color

The 10 dollar bill has the number 10 written in every corner of its portrait side. However, the 10 at the bottom-right of the bill differs from the others as it is the only one that has a color. If you hold the bill straight, you will see that this number is green. If you tilt the bill slightly then the green will start changing to a copper color. This change occurs because the 10 dollar bill uses color-shifting ink. Another clever security feature, this ink is not widely available, in addition to being more expensive than regular ink. As such, counterfeiters are less likely to use it, thus exposing their bills when you place them under the tilt test.

12. These Bills Last Just Over Five Years

Even though a 10 dollar bill is made with materials intended to enhance its durability, the average bill does not last as long as you might think when in circulation. According to the Federal Reserve, the bills have an average lifespan of just 5.3 years. Interestingly, this makes the 10 dollar bills one of the shortest-lived bills in American currency. The 5 dollar bill is the only bill with a shorter lifespan, clocking in at 4.7 years. A 20 dollar bill lasts for 7.8 years, with even a 1 dollar bill lasts longer at 6.6 years.

13. Billions of Notes in Circulation

picture of 10 dollar bill notes in circulation

According to the Federal Reserve, as of the end of 2020 there were 2.3 billion 10 dollar bills in circulation in the United States. This makes the 10 dollar bill the 2nd least available note, tied with the 50 dollar bill.

Concluding Comments

The 10 dollar bill has undergone a lot of changes since it was first introduced. Originally produced by private banks, the note was standardized in the early 20th century and has been redesigned to make it more secure on several occasions. Think about some of these facts the next time you hold a 10 dollar bill in your hands. That small mesh of linen and cloth hides many secrets that guard against fraud and counterfeiting. And even the face on the bill is more interesting than most due to the varied ways Alexander Hamilton bucks the trend when it comes to U.S. currency.