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U.S. Paper Currency Turns 150

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: All this talk of U.S. dollars and debt coincides with an anniversary. Today, July 17th, marks the 150th anniversary of U.S. government-sanctioned paper money. Designs and denominations have changed but one thing, for much of that time, has stayed the same. Crane & Company, of Massachusetts, has produced the distinctive paper on which all U.S. bills are printed.

Seven generations of Cranes have run that company. Doug Crane is one of them. He's the company's vice president, and he joins me now from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Good morning, Mr. Crane.

DOUG CRANE: Good morning. Thank you for having me on your show.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we should make the point that the anniversary we're observing is not the anniversary of paper money. It's the anniversary of a national currency, printed by the government. And the paper that money is printed on is not ordinary paper, is it? I mean, what's it made of?

CRANE: Well, I get this question often.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CRANE: And you know, it's not normal for paper to be made from cotton fiber, but currency paper is made from a combination of both cotton and linen fiber. And these fibers are sort of recovered from the textile industries, so they provide a tremendous amount of strength.

WERTHEIMER: Linen and cotton - can we see it in paper money?

CRANE: You can't necessarily see it, but you can certainly feel it. And this is one of the important things about currency paper - is that it has a very distinctive feel. And if there is a suspect note, it often is detected because it doesn't feel right.

WERTHEIMER: With concerns about counterfeiting, I would think that you would have to be really, really, really careful about how you get it sent to the various bureaus of printing and engraving, so that nobody steals it.

CRANE: Well, certainly, and it's an important infrastructure that we've had to build up over time. And I can't speak specifically about the security, but it's not the sort of paper mill you can just walk up to the front door and gain entrance to, that's for sure.

WERTHEIMER: I would guess that it's nice to produce a product that everybody likes, and everybody wants more of.

CRANE: Well, that's quite true. Yes. When people find out what it is that I do, in conversation, typically they're always very interested to talk about money. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CRANE: ... so it's an easy conversation.

WERTHEIMER: Doug Crane is the vice president of Crane and Company which makes the paper, on which our money is printed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MARCHING TUNES: THE BELLE OF THE MOHAWK VALE")

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.