Posts Tagged ‘Bureau of Engraving and Printing’

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

On this day in 1956, two years after successfully pushing to have the phrase “under God” inserted into the pledge of allegiance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s official motto. The law also mandated that the phrase be printed on all U.S. paper currency. The phrase had already been placed on U.S. coinage starting in 1867, when the “Union” side during the Civil War started the practice.

In recognition of the anniversary of our official adaptation of this motto, on this ride I went by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  Paper currency is printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is a component of the Treasury Department.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is located at 300 14th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.  Coins, however, are produced separately by the United States Mint.  So I also rode by the headquarters for the U.S. Mint, which is located at 801 9th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.  Although the headquarters for the Mint is in D.C., production facilities are no longer located here. The production facilities are located in Philadelphia and Denver. Production of proof coin sets and commemorative coins also take place in San Francisco and West Point, New York.

Although some historical accounts claim Eisenhower was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, most presidential scholars now believe his family was Mennonite. Either way, Eisenhower abandoned his family’s religion before entering the Army, and took the unusual step of being baptized relatively late in his adult life as a Presbyterian. The baptism took place in 1953, barely a year into his first term as President. He is the only president to be baptized while in office.

Although Eisenhower embraced religion, biographers insist he never intended to force his beliefs on anyone. In fact, the chapel-like structure near where he and his wife Mamie are buried on the grounds of his presidential library is called the “Place of Meditation” and is intentionally inter-denominational. At a Flag Day speech in 1954, he elaborated on his feelings about the place of religion in public life when he discussed why he had wanted to include “under God” in the pledge of allegiance: “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

The first paper money with the phrase “In God We Trust” was not printed until 1957. Since then, religious and secular groups have argued over the appropriateness and constitutionality of an official national motto that mentions “God.” “In God We Trust” also became the official motto of the state of Florida in July of 2006, where the same arguments take place on the state level. The debates will continue, and may someday result in a change to the motto and our national currency.  However, more important than what constitutes our national motto or a state motto is what constitutes your personal motto.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The Treasury Building in D.C. is a National Historic Landmark which was built over a period of 33 years between 1836 and 1869. Composed of five stories on five acres of landscaped gardens, the Neoclassical-style building is located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to The White House in northwest D.C. This building, which serves as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The Department of the Treasury, a U.S. Cabinet department, was established by an Act of Congress in 1789 to manage government revenue. The Treasury Department prints and mints all U.S. paper currency and coins through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint. The Department of the Treasury also collects all federal taxes through the Internal Revenue Service, and manages U.S. government debt instruments.

The initial portions of the Treasury Building, the east side and central wing, were designed by architect Robert Mills, and built between 1836 and 1842. The South Wing of the building was designed by Ammi B. Young and Alexander H. Bowman, and continued the basic Mills scheme. Construction of the South Wing occurred between 1855 and 1861. Isaiah Rogers designed the West Wing, which was built between 1862 and 1864. And the North Wing, designed by Alfred B. Mullett, was built between 1867 and 1869, completing the building.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The Treasury Building is the third oldest federally occupied building in D.C., after the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. It would have been the oldest, but the original building and subsequent restorations were destroyed by fire on several occasions, including an accidental fire in 1801, an attack by British troops during the War of 1812, and arson on the night of March 30, 1833. The fire of 1833 was set by Richard H. White, a former clerk, in an attempt to destroy fraudulent pension papers. Although destruction of documents was kept to a minimum, the fire completely destroyed the building. The fire might have been contained if it had been discovered earlier. But at that time, the building had only one night watchman, who was allowed to sleep after making a round of the building at ten o’clock. After four separate trials, however, White was not convicted because the statute of limitations had expired.

The origins of the current Treasury Building has an interesting history. In the early days of the national capital city, the White House and the Capitol Building faced each other at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. However, President Andrew Jackson’s relationship with the Congress were so contentious that it was rumored that he had the Treasury Building placed in its present location so it would block his view of the Capitol. After a prolonged fight with Congress over the location of the new Treasury Building, President Jackson is said to have walked to the site on 15th Street near where the former building had been, drove his cane into the ground, and commanded, “Put the damned thing right here.”

If you’re unable to visit the actual  Treasury Building in D.C., you can see an image of the building any time you want inasmuch as it is featured on the back of the ten-dollar bill.  A portrait of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is on the front of the bill. 

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