August 29

“On the 29th day of August, 1862 I commenced the work with one male assistant and four female operatives.” With this short statement by Spencer M.Clark, the chief clerk of the Bureau of Construction of the Treasury Department of the United States, recorded the promulgation of his orders from Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving could now be considered an active organ of the government.

With the advent of the Civil War the United States Government found it necessary to float a series of loans, as it was upon the verge of bankruptcy. During a special session of the Congress called by President Lincoln on July 4, 1861, Secretary Chase recommended the procedures to be followed, which included the issuance of non-interest-bearing notes which would circulate as money. In spite of the grave doubts entertained by many members of the Congress concerning the constitutionality of the idea, the legislature did authorize the adoption of Chase’s plan, and the United States for the first time issued paper money. Having no facilities for printing, the Treasury Department found it necessary to order the paper notes from the American Bank Note Company and the National Bank Note Company, both of which were located in New York City.

Under existing law it was necessary that all of the notes be individually signed by the First or Second Comptroller, or the Register of the Treasury, and then countersigned by “such other officer or officers of the Treasury as the Secretary may designate!’ Since these officers could scarcely perform this task and fulfill their other obligations at the same time, it quickly became obvious that new regulations would be necessary. In August, 1861, President Lincoln signed a bill authorizing a change in the signature requirements, designating that they be signed by the Treasurer of the United States and the Register of the Treasury. It was also provided that the Secretary could designate other personnel to sign the notes for these officers.

Within a short time, there were seventy clerks, hired at salaries of $1,200 a year, signing their own names to the notes, a practice which was of questionable security in the authentication of the notes. Spencer Clark then suggested that the notes be imprinted with facsimile signatures, that a Treasury seal also be imprinted, and that this work be done on the Treasury premises.

The notes were delivered to the Treasury in sheets of four, which necessitated the employment of seventy women, equipped with scissors, to cut them apart and to trim them to size, at a monthly salary of $50. Clark, appalled at the tediousness of this task, ordered machinery installed to perform this work. In a letter to Clark from Secretary Chase, the Chief Clerk was instructed to “take charge of the preparation for the issue of the one and two dollar Treasury Notes, in accordance as near as practicable, with your program. . . .”

A week after the receipt of this letter, Clark had installed a steam engine and boiler in the basement of the Treasury Building, along with presses for sealing and trimming the notes. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving could thus be considered to be in operation.

Leave a Reply