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What Those Symbols on the Dollar Bill Actually Mean

Updated: Feb. 21, 2024

You probably see the dollar bill every day, but have you ever thought about the symbols on the dollar bill and what they mean? These dollar bill symbols may not mean what you think.

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One Dollar Bill Close Up
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Money mysteries

While plenty of people have made the shift from carrying cash to mobile payments and debit/credit cards, some still prefer to keep a bit in their back pocket. When paying for things, we often solely pay attention to the amount and hand over our payment right away. But have you ever looked more closely at your dollar bills? Notice any of the symbols and wonder what it means?

Don’t worry if you never knew what they meant, because we often are like that with many things! We see things daily, but never inspect them closely with a detailed eye. For example, have you ever noticed or knew what these car symbols are? Or what about keyboard symbols, or even the real meaning behind these popular emojis? It’s easy to look over these things, but here we’re set explore one of the oldest forms of currency! Grab your dollar bill and take a closer look with us.

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Pyramid Dollar Bill Symbol
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Symbol: Pyramid

One of the most eye-catching dollar bill symbols is the pyramid, which represents strength and duration. Some interpret the missing top as a sign that the country wasn’t finished yet. Similarly, the western face of the pyramid is in a shadow while the front is lighted, which some say indicates that the nation hadn’t explored the West or figured out what it would do for Western civilization yet. Learn the hidden meanings of 12 everyday objects.

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Eye Above Pyramid Dollar Bill Symbol
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Symbol: Eye above the pyramid

When Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams gathered to design the seal (they were the first of three committees to make suggestions), they didn’t suggest a pyramid, but they did discuss an eye. They wanted the seal to have a symbol of divine providence, and the all-seeing eye shaped like the top of the pyramid is an ancient symbol of divinity. Here are 100 fun and interesting facts about practically everything.

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Pyramid Letters Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Letters on the pyramid’s base

Across the bottom bricks of the pyramid are the letters “MDCCLXXVI.” These dollar bill symbols aren’t random gibberish—they’re the Roman numerals for 1776, the year America declared its independence. Speaking of, do you know the history of the 4th of July and why we celebrate it?

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Eagle Shield Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Eagle’s shield

In front of the eagle—a uniquely American bird—is a shield, which is unsupported to signify Americans should rely on their own virtue. The horizontal top bar of the shield symbolizes the federal government, and it holds together yet is supported by vertical bars that represent individual states (13 at the time it was designed). Here are 50 astonishing facts you never knew about the existing 50 states.

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Stars Above Eagle Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Stars above eagle

It’s no surprise that the stars over the eagle represent the 13 colonies. But what are the dollar bill symbols surrounding them? The official description says it’s glory “breaking through a cloud” above the eagle, but current versions have a cloud surrounding the rays.

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Eagle Talons Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Eagle’s talons

The eagle on the back of the $1 bill holds an olive branch (representing peace) in its right talon and arrows (symbolizing war) in its left talon. But on silver coins from 1801 to 1807, the eagle held them in opposite talons. European diplomats and journalists claimed putting the arrows in the eagle’s dominant talon was a symbol of aggression, and called it a reason to start a war, so America decided to switch the peaceful symbol to the dominant side on the dollar. Do you know why the poppy is a symbol of Memorial Day?

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The Number 13 On Dollar Bill
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Symbol: The number 13

Unsurprisingly, the number 13—the original number of American states—appears on the $1 bill. But you might be surprised by how many times the number shows up. It’s one of the most frequent dollar bill symbols. There are 13 arrows, 13 olive branch leaves, 13 olive fruits, 13 stars above the eagle, 13 steps of the pyramid, and 13 bars on the shield. Plus, although this is probably a coincidence, “annuit cœptis” and “e pluribus unum” both have 13 letters. These facts about money will make your jaw drop.

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The Department Of Treasury Seal On Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Department of the Treasury seal

The balancing scales on the Department of the Treasury seal don’t represent a balanced budget (that’s handled by Congress) but are actually a symbol of justice. Under the scales are 13 stars, one for each of the original colonies. The key on the bottom signifies official authority.

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Latin Phrase Under Pyramid On Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Latin phrases

Latin phrases appear a few times on the dollar bill in a couple of dollar bill symbols. Above the pyramid reads “annuit cœptis,” which means “God has favored our undertaking.” Under the pyramid is the phrase “novus ordo seclorum,” which is interpreted as “a new order of the ages.” On the banner the eagle holds is “e pluribus unum,” which also appears on almost all U.S. coins and means “out of many, one.” Americans should know the meaning of the colors and symbols on the Juneteenth flag.

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Federal Reserve District Number Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Federal reserve district number

On the front of the dollar bill, a one- or two-digit number appears four times. This number refers to the Federal Reserve Bank that printed the bill. A “1,” for instance, would mean it was made in Boston, while “2” refers to New York. Do you know that these 36 hidden messages are hiding in company logos?

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Plate Position Dollar Bill
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Symbol: Plate position

By the top left and bottom right of the “1”s on the front of the bill, you’ll see a letter (A to H) and number (1 to 4). The combination refers to the position the note laid on the plate when it was printed. For example, A1 is the top left position, and H4 is the bottom right. Now that you know so many dollar bill symbols, find out the reason money is green!

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest