on September 8, 2009
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is responsible for printing our paper currency. I contacted my Congressman to see if he could secure a tour for us during our DC trip. He emailed us a letter a week prior to our trip with the date and time of our BEP tour. The other method to secure a ticket is to show up at the door and see if you can obtain a ticket. It’s based upon first come, first serve, and I have heard that many have to get tickets for future dates since same day tickets are near impossible.The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is at the intersection of 14th Street SW and C street SW. It sits next to the US Holocaust Museum. We approached the entrance and saw about 100 people standing in line. We asked the BEP tour director standing in front, and since we had a reservation through our Congressman, we were let in at our appointed time. Apparently most of the others waiting in line were trying to get tickets for the next day since today’s tickets were gone.At our appointed time, the tour director let us and others with the same appointment time into the lobby of the BEP, where our ID’s were checked, we were scanned, wanded, and our bags x-rayed. The Treasury Police in the lobby made it very clear that there were to be NO CAMERAS or any recording of any kind past the lobby. We could take photos while in the lobby.The lobby has different exhibits for us to gaze at while awaiting the introductory movie at the rear theater in the lobby. There was a step-by-step example of how currency was first printed, a display of a million dollars enclosed in a heavy duty steel and lexan case, different examples of currency throughout US history. The movie detailed the history of printed currency in the US, as well as the history of the BEP, from a team of six people running a manual press, to several hundred people in two huge, modern facilities. The other BEP location is in Fort Worth, Texas. One interesting thing I didn’t know is that the BEP produces security documents such as military ID’s and passports.After the movie, our tour guide ushered us down several corridors and recited security information along the way. We could not take photos, couldn’t touch the ceiling due to the alarms imbedded in the ceiling, couldn’t wander off by ourselves, etc. We noted that there were plenty of Treasury Police in the hallways, as well as security cameras every several yards. We ascended several escalators until we found ourselves in an enclosed walkway above the production areas. The first stop was loading the blank paper. The tour guide explained that one company makes the paper that currency is printed on. They manufacture it to the BEP’s specifications, which include security features such as a certain percentage of fibers, and other security details they didn’t mention to us. It’s a crime for anybody else to even possess that paper. There were forklifts loading pallets of paper into the machines down below.We went to the next window, where they were actually printing the currency on intaglio presses. The tour guide told us a little about the presses, and it seems to be an outdated method that really isn’t used anymore, but it makes for another security feature since the presses are quite rare. We watched the machines print on a layer of color, then speed to the next machine for another layer of color.The next stops featured serial numbering and cutting of the printed sheets, although I don’t remember the order. The smaller sheets were then scanned by an electronic eye for imperfections. Then the bills were cut into individual bills and stacked. An employee at the end examined each stack by flipping through them and checking for any differences in the bills. A little handmade sign in the production area was aimed at the visitors. It read something similar to this, "If you think your job is bad, we have to handle more money in an hour than we’ll ever make in a lifetime." As we watched the workers examining $100 bills by hand, we realized that in a few minutes, they had probably collectively scanned through about a hundred thousand dollars.The bills were then further stacked into bundles and shrink wrapped, then palletized in large metal and glass enclosures. The tour guide said the money isn’t currency until it went to the Federal Reserve to be "monetized," whatever that means. From there, our tour ended and we were herded down another maze of corridors until we ended up in the gift shop. In the gift shop, you can buy such things as a sheet of 4 uncut $20 bills for $100, or you can buy a bag of shredded money. That just doesn’t seem right, does it? We exited out to the rear of the building onto Raoul Wallenberg Place SE.The BEP tour is very interesting, even if just for the novelty of seeing millions of dollars pass right before your eyes. It’s highly recommended to get a reservation from your Congressperson for the tour, or else you will have to fight the crowds at the door for tickets. I would most definitely take this tour again, it’s very educational, and probably the coolest tour I have ever taken. I would put this as my must see for anybody visiting Washington DC.
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