Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Geography of a Dollar Bill

Every dollar bill in the United States is issued by one of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks (FRB). These FRB's are located in Boston, Richmond, Minneapolis, New York City, Atlanta, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland, St. Louis and San Francisco. Every single one dollar bill carries a seal which identifies at which one of the twelve FRBs it was issued. 

Excerpt of a note, showing the seal.
 Seal of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank

Using the seal of the issuing bank it is possible to determine where a $1 originates. It is therefore possible to map the geographical journey of a dollar bill. As people travel around the United States they carry money from state to state. In this way a single dollar bill can end up traveling a long way around the country. In February 1976 S. Pignatello took a sample of $1 dollar bills spent in MacDonalds outlets in each of the twelve Federal Reserve Board districts. Using the identifying seal of each dollar he was able to create an origin/destination matrix, showing how many notes issued in each district were discovered in each of the 11 other districts.

Visionscarto has used the origin/destination table created by S. Pignatello to create a flow map showing the movement of dollar bills around the United States. The flow map in Routing Dollars visualizes how dollar bills move between the 12 Federal Reserve Bank regions. The colored circles indicate whether an individual FRB region is a 'source' (prints more money than they use) or a 'sink' (uses more notes than they print). The orange colored FRBs on the map are sources and the blue FRBs are sinks.

You can track the journeys of individual dollar bills on Where's George?. If you enter the serial number of a dollar bill into Where's George? you can begin to track its journey around the United States. By entering a serial number of a dollar bill and then marking the bill with the URL you can find out where the bill travels (if other people who end up owning the bill log on to Where's George to update the note's journey).

For example on Where's George you can view a map of one $1 dollar bill which has traveled over 13,905 Miles in just 7 years. During this journey it has been to France and back. It has also visited Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Las Vegas, South Dakota, Florida, Ohio, New York and Virginia.

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