Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Author:Ed Dinger

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14th and C Streets SW

Washington, D.C. 20228


Telephone: (202) 874-3019

Web site: www.moneyfactory.gov


With the availability of digital technology such as scanners and high-quality color printers, the ability of counterfeiters to produce excellent facsimiles of U.S. currency forced the U.S. Treasury to introduce new note designs on a more regular basis. In addition, high-tech security measures had to be developed to counteract the advances made by counterfeiters. In 2003 a new $20 bill—featuring new colors and graphics as well as anticounterfeiting devices such as watermarks and embedded security strips—was ready to be introduced to the public. Public relations firm Burson-Marsteller was hired to take charge of a marketing campaign to unveil the new twenty and create a smooth transition when the notes entered the economy.

The $32 million campaign was a multipronged effort seeking to reach as many people in the United States as possible. In addition to using materials such as posters, brochures, and training videos aimed at alerting cashiers to the new security measures, "The New Color of Money" tried to reach a mass audience through entertainment channels, in particular television. The campaign included television spots, but it also relied on product placements, akin to the marketing of consumer goods. The new $20 bill was highlighted on television game shows as well as on prime-time dramas. It became the subject of conversations on morning news programming and of jokes by late-night comedians. The twenty also appeared on billboards, atop taxi cabs, in subway cars, and on Internet ads.

The "New Color of Money" campaign came to a close after the new $20 bill was formally unveiled in October 2002, accompanied by ceremonies staged across the country. The campaign achieved a great deal of recognition for the twenty with the general public. The transition was not without some bumps, however, nor did it lack critics who questioned the need to spend tax dollars on something people had no choice but to use.


The United States government had always taken steps to thwart forgery of its currency, in large measure to its experience in breaking away from the British; as part of its war effort Britain counterfeited the new Continental currency to make it worthless and wreck the economy of the fledgling republic. In about 1820, as an example of an early countermeasure, copper printing plates were replaced with steel ones because they produced uniform engravings and allowed for more complicated patterns on banknotes, thus complicating the task of counterfeiting. Nevertheless, counterfeiters continued to ply their trade, aided by the lack of a uniform currency. By the time of the Civil War some 1,600 state banks were issuing their own bills, resulting in about 7,000 varieties of notes,

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HISTORICAL CONTEXT © Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/Corbis which made the task of determining real from fake all the more difficult. The Secret Service, today known for its role in protecting the president of the United States, was actually formed in 1865 to thwart counterfeiting. It was not until 30 years later that its agents began moonlighting as bodyguards for President Cleveland

A common way to deter counterfeiting in the twentieth century was to change the design of the notes regularly. Most countries altered patterns every 15 to 20 years, although the United States tended to wait longer. By the 1990s, however, new technology made the job of the counterfeiter much easier, forcing the U.S. government to begin changing the design of its notes on a regular basis, roughly every seven years. In 1996 new $100...

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