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Way Before the Benjamins...
Money is a fact of life, it always has been. So as long as there has been an America, there have been many different kinds of currency.
That is precisely what Native American tribes had to do. These beaded shells, called wampum, were the most common form of money in North America. By 1637, the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared wampum legal tender (ok to use as money).
WILDCAT AND BROKEN NOTES
But back in the day when individual banks were allowed to print their own money, the so-called Free Banking Era, America was flooded with various currency notes - many of which were redeemable in gold or silver, but some were worthless. Some banks would set up shop in remote mountainous regions, prompting people to comment that it was easier for a wildcat to redeem these notes than people - thus the name.
As for "broken" notes, the name refers to the frequency in which the banks that issued them went bust. Without the confidence that these notes could be redeemed, they were virtually worthless. By 1860, an estimated 8,000 different state banks were issuing "wildcat" or "broken" bank notes.
GREENBACKS - UNITED STATES
FEDERAL RESERVE NOTES
Currently, the $100 bill is the largest currency note in circulation. The largest bill ever circulated in the United States is the $10,000 bill, which features the face of Salmon P. Chase, who was Abe Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury. If you have one, you can spend it, but most of them are in museums these days.
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