The Money Factory in Fort Worth

The story of the Dallas Federal Reserve... Updated 2 years ago
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There is $7 billion under a big pyramid near Blue Mound, Texas.

Digging to it will not work though, because the cash is stashed in a large vault with walls so thick that when they were built in 1990 there was no concrete to be had in all of Dallas-Fort Worth for the following three days, or so the story goes.

The bills, mostly $20s, $10s, $5s and $1s, are at the only money factory outside Washington, D.C.

The glass pyramid, a motif taken from the greenback, is atop the entrance to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Facility. The gray and white building on the prairie in northwest Fort Worth feels and looks as crisp as a new dollar bill and it smells like money.

Ten printing presses produce around three million notes a year, which is one-third the volume of the D.C. plant. Plans are for this second U.S. plant to do about one-half the volume of the main D.C. plant.

You’ll recognize the notes produced in Texas by the letters “FW” on the face of the bills in the lower right-hand corner. Some 450 employees work three shifts a day — including national holidays — to keep up with the demand for the cash, even in the age of the credit card. The Western plant, a legacy of the years when Fort Worth’s congressman Jim Wright was Speaker of the House, printed its first notes in January 1991.

One-dollar bills last about 18 months in circulation before constant handling requires replacement. Ninety-five percent of the notes printed each year are used to replace worn notes. Destruction of the old notes is done by the 12 Federal Reserve Banks.

Flat sheets of paper composed of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton are used in the two-stage printing: black ink in five presses for the face and green ink in the other five presses for the backs.

All the paper comes from one paper plant and has red and blue fibers distributed throughout as one defense against counterfeiting. Recently a line of small vertical printing has been added. It says, for example on $20 bills, “USA TWENTY.”

After printing, examiners — people, not machines — eye-ball the sheets quickly for the slightest defects before serial numbers are stamped on the bills and the sheets are sliced into 32 notes. The notes are wrapped in bricks of 4,000 each and placed on skids.

One skid of $1 notes would be $640,000. These skids are shipped to Federal Reserve and other banks throughout the country. It is the Federal Reserve Banks who place the orders for new currency that is transported by security contractors such as Wells Fargo and others. Officials at the plant say that in order to be ready, on occasion they print ahead of orders and the skids of currency are stored in the cool vault. That’s the $7 billion.

Security is important, of course, for the money plant: 60 to 70 employees are federal police.

A corridor of barbed-wire-topped dual fences surrounds the huge building, and spikes in the road threaten to slash car tires if you go in the wrong direction.

Not that outsiders are unwelcome. Group tours of the plant can be arranged through the public affairs office at the Blue Mound plant.

— written by Robert Plocheck and published in the Texas Almanac 1996–1997.


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