Bills that are higher than $20 might not be accepted at a local liquor store, but there was a time when you could have used a $1,000,000 bill to pay for your beer of the month club.  So what is the story behind those large-denomination bills like the $1 million dollar note and the $100,000 note that used to be issued by the US government?

What large dollar bills have been issued by the U.S.?

In 1928, the U.S. federal government made changes to how it printed banknotes.  It shaved around one inch in length and right under half an inch of the width of the bills and smaller bills were issued in the familiar $1 to $100 denominations.  However, larger denominations were also issued by the Treasury. They featured Salmon P. Chase on the $1,000,000 bill, James Madison on the $5,000, Grover Cleveland on the $1,000 and William McKinley on the $500.  

100000 dollar bill
This is the original $1 Million dollar bill that was printed in 1918 and features Salmon Chase on the front.


Although his name may not be as widely recognized as the Presidents who are featured on the other large bills, Chase was actually a big name in American politics at one time.  The mid-19th-century politician was the first Secretary of the Treasury under Abraham Lincoln, was a senator and governor in the sate of Ohio as well as having been a Chief Justice of the U.S.

That is an impressive resume, but how did Salmon Chase wind up appearing on the $1,000,000 bill?  Basically, he just happened to be in the right place at just the right time.  In 1861, when the federal government began to issue greenback notes, Chase was Secretary of the Treasury and responsible for having new currency designed and was well known for popularizing it.  Chase was first politically ambitious and needed to choose a portrait subject to appear on the first $1 million note.  He selected himself of course: Salmon P. Chase.

Putting his face on everyone’s money never got Chase the presidency, however in 1918 when the Treasury began to issue the new $1,000,000 bills, they put the portrait of Chase on the obverse side to honor him based on his efforts in helping to get modern banknotes introduced.

Even if you don’t have to own a $1,000,000 bill, you may still have Chase’s name inside of your wallet.  That is because Chase National Bank, the predecessor to Chase Manhattan Bank, is named after him! So who is on the million dollar bill? Salmon P. Chase.

So why was the government printing gigantic bills like that the 1 million dollar bank note to begin with?  Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t simply to save space in rich people’s wallets.  The main reason why the Treasury began to print the giant bills was to make transfer payments between financial institutions such as banks.  Prior to the full development of sophisticated wire transfer systems, it was safer and easier to just hand over a $1,000,000 bill in order to settle with another bank.  After transfer technology became more secure and safer, there wasn’t a huge need for these large bills any longer.

What other large currency denominations have been printed by the US?

The 2nd largest banknote created by the US government was the 1934 series $100,000 gold certificate. These notes were only made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during a three-week period from December 1934 through January 1935.  However, there were not that many plutocrats who had this much cash during the time of the Great Depression to carry around one of those $100,000 bills.  Just like with the $1 million dollar bill, they were only used in official transactions in between the various Federal Reserve Banks, and they were only issued by the U.S. Treasurer to the Federal banks that had an equivalent amount of gold with the treasury.  As you can see in the picture, Woodrow Wilson’s picture was featured on the note.

Are any of these still in circulation?

Yes, but don’t expect a $500 bill to come out of an ATM machine the next time you make a withdrawal.  On July 14, 1969, it was announced by the Treasury that it would immediately stop issuing the $1,000,000, $10,000, $5,000, $1,000 and $500 notes.  The Bureau of Engraving didn’t need to stop the presses since there hadn’t been an actual print run of the bills since 1945.

Once the bills were discontinued by the Treasury, they fell from circulation rapidly.  However, there are still some that are lingering; they are still 336 of the $10,000 bills in circulation as of May 2008.  Slate also reported that there are 165,732 $1,000 bills and 342 $5,000 bills in circulation.

Can they still be spent if they are not in circulation any longer?

Although the bills are no longer being issued by the Treasury, they are still legal tender according to the Fed.  So it might raise a few eyebrows, but you could use a $1,000 bill for purchasing your new iPhone.

However, that wouldn’t be the smartest thing you could do. A majority of high-denomination bills are inside of collectors’ safe.  These bills have a tendency to command prices at auctions that are much higher than what their face values are.  For example, a $10,000 bill that is pristine on the open market can go for as much as $140,000.

What occurs if you bring one of those large bills into a bank?

Your bill would be completely safe if you placed it in your safety deposit box.  One of the $10,000 bills was acquired by Chase Bank for its currency collection after the family of a deceased customer found the bill inside of her deposit box and it was traded in for $10,000 in cash.  However, if the historic bill was deposited into your checking account, that would be bad news for it.  The cash will be deposited into your account, however, since the order in 1969 for the distribution to be stopped, the notes have been pulled from circulation by Fed banks and destroyed anytime one is received.  

There, of course, are other potential pitfalls when a big bill is deposited, such as your cover being blown when you are on the lam.  Three teenagers last February in Texas Township, Michigan stole one of these bills from their parent’s safe and then took the money with them and drove down to Birmingham, Alabama.  Their downfall occurred when they attempted to change a $1,000 bill at a bank that came from the safe.  The thieves were nabbed by the police after a suspicious teller called them.

Do Monthly Beer Clubs Accept $1,ooo,ooo Bank Notes?

Considering its legal tender, they should, but I doubt they have the right amount of change for you 🙂  But they do accept credit cards. If you’re considering giving a beer of the month club to someone you know, you’re making a wise decision. Here are the 3 Best Monthly Beer Clubs that we recommend. These beer clubs have been around since 1990 and have shipped millions of bottles of beer combined. We’re actual members of these beer of the month clubs as you can see by the pictures of beer we received in our reviews.