This is where they will literally show you the money: A staff of about 2,000 works round-the-clock Monday through Friday churning it out at the rate of nearly $500 million a day. Everyone’s eyes pop as they walk past rooms overflowing with new greenbacks. But the money’s not the whole story. The bureau prints security documents for other federal government agencies, including military IDs and passport pages. FYI: The Bureau, which is an agency of the Treasury Department, celebrated its 150th anniversary in August 2012.
The 40-minute guided tour begins with a short introductory film. Large windows allow you to see what goes into making paper money: inking, stacking of bills, cutting, and examining for defects. Most printing here is done from engraved steel plates in a process known as intaglio; it’s the hardest to counterfeit, because the slightest alteration will cause a noticeable change in the portrait in use. Additional exhibits display bills no longer in circulation and a $100,000 bill designed for official transactions. (Since 1969 the largest-denomination bill issued for the general public is $100.)
After you finish the tour, allow time to explore the visitor center, open from 8:30am to 3:30pm (until 6:30pm in summer), with additional exhibits and a gift shop, where you can buy bags of shredded money, uncut sheets of currency in different denominations, and copies of historic documents, like a hand-engraved replica ($200) of the Declaration of Independence.
Many people line up each day to get a peek at all the moolah, so arrive early, especially during the peak tourist season. To save time and avoid a line, consider securing VIP, also called “congressional,” tour tickets from one of your senators or your congressperson; email or call at least 3 months in advance for tickets. These tours take place at 8:15am and 8:45am, with additional tours added in the summer.
Tickets for general public tours are generally not required from September to February; simply find the visitors entrance at 14th and C streets. March through August, however, every person taking the tour must have a ticket. To obtain a ticket, go to the ticket booth on the Raoul Wallenberg (formerly 15th St.) side of the building. You will receive a ticket specifying a tour time for that same day and be directed to the 14th Street entrance of the bureau. You are allowed as many as four tickets per person. The ticket booth opens at 8am and closes when all tickets are dispersed for the day.
- Elise Hartman Ford