History of US Currency

History of US Currency

This lesson explores our historic currency and provides teachers with resources to teach math using these primary sources. Teachers may take advantage of the images on the various attachments to teach a variety of topics, such as comparing and contrasting currency, fractions, and basic math concepts. By showing students how currency has changed over the years, you can discuss history with the students by considering why we have kept or removed certain items from our currency. Also, point out to students the potential issues with counterfeit currency and each bank creating their own currency.  The primary sources in this lesson are to be used at the teacher’s discretion based on which currency you want the class to explore.

Students should finish the lesson by creating their own currency either based on symbols from their own life or modeled after what they think the new ten dollar bill should look like since a new face will appear on this currency by 2020. If you wish to dive deeper into the symbolism on the currency and our economic history check out the Economic Timeline and Latin Phrases Decoded.

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?


Students will be able to:

  1. Understand historic currency and how it has changed overtime.
  2. Learn how to add and subtract money, both fractions and whole numbers.
  3. Analyze primary source documents and discuss their importance in history.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Teachers may go through the primary sources provided and determine which currency they would like to use in their classroom.
  2. Pull up the PowerPoint titled "The History of US Currency" and have students compare and contrast the currency to today as well as compare and contrast the shilling to the Continental currency. Explain that the shilling was our first currency since it was also used in England and then we switched to the U.S. dollar.
  3. Talk about what images are on the currency and why they are important to our history. Also, discuss if the amounts are the same or different to what we have today.
  4. Explain to students that money used to be different at every bank and how a lot of money was counterfeit. Make sure students understand that today all of our money in the United States is the same regardless of what bank you use.
    1. Counterfeit: a fake imitation of something, usually something with value.
    2. Talk with students about the issues that would come with having different currency in the same country and if everyone used different money from different banks.
  5. For further use of the paper currency, utilize the fractions worksheet so students can further understand how cents are a part of a whole. If students are able to successfully finish the worksheet, continue the activity by printing out the paper money and have students order the currency in ways that create different amounts.
  6. To expand students knowledge check out the economic timeline and the meaning behind the Latin symbols on our continental currency.


Continental Currency: Our first currency, used to fund the Revolutionary War.

Counterfeit: To make an illegal copy of money.

Department of Treasury: Section of the government responsible for issuing all currency.

Financial Panic: When people try to take all their money out of a bank from fear of a bank closing.

Greenbacks: Another name for paper currency issued by the United States during the Civil War.

Secret Service: The original secret service was in charge of suppressing counterfeit money.

The Federal Reserve: Central banking system of the United States started in 1913. 

US Mint: Where coins are made.