If you want the chance to see the printing process and be in the presence of more cash than you'll ever see in a lifetime, this is an awesome tour!
Check it out...
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is right off the Mall on 14th Street (next to the Holocaust Museum) and very close to the other museums of the Smithsonian. Tours are FREE but you must get tickets which will tell you your entry time (more info about tours HERE). On our last few trips to DC, the tickets for the day were all gone by mid-morning. This time, (maybe because it was a really hot day in the middle of week), we were able to get tickets for the 5:45 tour ( we got to the ticket office around 12:30 pm). One person can get up to 4 tickets, so if you are in Washington DC, it's well worth it to send someone over to pick up your tickets as early in the day as possible.
You are not allowed to take any photographs on the tour itself, but I was able to get a few before and after in the small visitor center and gift shop.
TIP: You do not need the timed tickets to access the visitor center or gift shop, so if you can't get tickets, you can still stop by.
Even though the kids were SOAKED
after getting caught in a rainstorm on the way to the tour,
they loved being this close to a million dollars!
On the tour itself, we got to see all the modern printing practices with all sorts of high-speed, automated machines. However, in the gift shop, a man demonstrated how the bills were printed by hand from the 1860's - 1920's. It was really interesting to see the actual engraving plate (which took four months to engrave by hand). We watched how the thick ink was applied to get a crisp image and saw how a heavy press was used to emboss the image onto the bill. Then, the kids got to look through a magnifying glass to see how incredibly detailed the printed scene was ~ you could see the individual people and horses in front of the building!
Also in the gift shop was this cool chart which takes your height, and tells you the equivalent in $100 bills. My kids are priceless to me, of course, but they got a kick out of seeing that they'd equal more than a million dollars in stacked $100 bills!
My daughter added a hundred thousand dollars to her height
by standing on her tippy toes!
For a glimpse of what you'll see on the actual tour, here's a postcard I picked up which shows a couple of the actual machines.
We loved getting a behind the scenes look at how our bills are made and we really loved seeing all that money in right in front of us!! If you're planning a trip to Washington DC, put the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on your list of places to see. (Also, there's another bureau in Fort Worth, Texas, so if that's closer to you, perhaps you can catch the tour there!)