The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) is a vital component of the United States Department of the Treasury. Established in 1862, this agency is responsible for producing a variety of security products for the U.S. government, most notably Federal Reserve Notes (commonly known as U.S. dollar bills) for the Federal Reserve.
The bureau also designs and prints various certificates, awards, and invitations for the U.S. government, and it is responsible for engraving several significant national items, such as military awards and the President's official portrait. The BEP does not produce coins; that task falls to the United States Mint.
The BEP operates from two main facilities located in Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth, Texas. The bureau used to provide public tours, offering a unique and interesting insight into the intricate process of currency production. Since March 2020, the BEP has been closed to the public for tours, and as of May 2023, a specific date for when tours might resume is still not determined. It is better to visit BEP's official website or social media platforms before your visit to see if you can take a tour, or the only option is to look at BEP's historic building from the outside.
Why should you go?
Insight into currency production. When the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is open to visitors, it offers an unprecedented view into the process of creating American currency. From design to printing, cutting, and inspection, you can witness the journey a bill takes from start to finish and learn about the various security features incorporated into U.S. banknotes to deter counterfeiting.
Rich history. The BEP holds a significant place in American history. Established during the Civil War, it has been a cornerstone of the nation's economy for over a century. You can get fascinating insights into the evolution of U.S. currency and the agency's role in shaping it.
Beautiful architecture. The bureau’s present building, located between 14th and 15th streets SW in Washington, D.C., was designed in neoclassical style and constructed in 1914. You can also take a short walk north to see the previous BEP's location. This impressive, Romanesque-style building was built of red and black brick between 1878 and 1880 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places one century later.
Best places to visit near the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Located just north of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, this museum provides a powerful and educational experience about the Holocaust.
National Museum of American History. Situated a 10-minute walk from the BEP, this museum highlights the diverse history of the United States with exhibits featuring artifacts like the Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln's top hat.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. A 15-minute walk from the BEP, this museum showcases the history of aviation and space exploration through fascinating exhibits and interactive displays.
Tidal Basin. A beautiful reservoir surrounded by cherry blossom trees, the Tidal Basin offers a serene environment for a stroll or picnic. It's especially breathtaking during the cherry blossom season in the spring.
Jefferson Memorial. Located on the Tidal Basin, this iconic monument honors Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. It offers great views of the surrounding area and is particularly picturesque at night.
Washington Monument. A towering obelisk, this memorial is a symbol of the nation's first President, George Washington. You can visit the monument or enjoy the surrounding grounds.
National Museum of African American History and Culture. Located adjacent to the Washington Monument, this museum showcases the history, culture, and contributions of African Americans in the United States.
National Mall. Stretching from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, this historic park is dotted with iconic monuments, memorials, and museums. Take a stroll, relax on the lawns, and appreciate the significance of the area.
National Gallery of Art. Situated near the Capitol Building, the National Gallery of Art houses an extensive collection of artwork from various periods. Explore masterpieces by renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Rembrandt.
The Wharf. A vibrant waterfront neighborhood less than a mile from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Wharf features a variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. Take a leisurely walk along the waterfront, enjoy a meal, or catch a show at the nearby Anthem concert venue.
What are the most interesting and unique facts about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing?
The BEP produces billions of U.S. banknotes each year. For example, in the fiscal year 2022, the BEP delivered approximately 6.4 billion notes of various denominations to the Federal Reserve.
The BEP doesn't actually decide how much new money to print each year. The Federal Reserve makes this decision based on factors like the rate of cash transactions, how quickly notes wear out, and the rate at which old notes are being destroyed. On average, lower denominations have a shorter lifespan (5.8 years for $1, 7.9 years for $5) than higher ones (15.5 years for $100).
The process of creating U.S. banknotes involves highly skilled craftspeople and incredibly detailed processes. From engraving the original designs to the final printing, it's a complex process that involves a mix of traditional craftsmanship and high-tech production methods.
The ink and paper used in U.S. currency are as unique as the designs. The paper is made from a blend of cotton and linen, which gives it its distinct feel and durability. The ink, especially the color-shifting ink used in some denominations, is also specially formulated for use in banknotes.
What's the best way to see the Bureau of Engraving and Printing?
Plan your visit in advance. Check the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's official website for the most up-to-date visitor information and the possibility of taking a guided tour.
Admire the buildings from the outside. Take some time to walk to the former BEP's building, now known as the Sidney R. Yates Federal Building.
Combine your visit to the BEP with other attractions, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is just steps away from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.