Cross-Country Trip V, Day 6: Texas ~ Bureau of Engraving & Printing, Fort Worth

“What to do in Dallas?” we asked ourselves. We were really at a loss, as we Googled. Fortunately I hit upon the idea of searching for things to do in Fort Worth as well, and discovered that the Bureau of Engraving & Printing‘s Western Division is in Fort Worth, one of two locations in the United States where U.S. currency is printed. On many occasions, we had considered touring the facility in Washington DC and never bothered to take the time. (The tour of the DC facility has a reputation for being difficult to get into – you have to arrive first thing in the morning to get tickets.) This seemed like a good opportunity, and a good way to spend our morning in Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Of course, this metropolitan area has astonishing sprawl, so it took a good hour through morning traffic to get there. Once we parked, we had to figure out what wouldn’t be allowed inside, and leave those items in our car. (Note: All electronic devices, including iPods.) We went through a security checkpoint, then boarded a shuttle bus to take us to the main visitor’s center and the production center.

Fortunately, we arrived just as a tour was about to start, so the greeter handed us red tour stickers and we joined the group.

The tour is along a series of elevated hallways, which look down on the production floor. It’s a bird’s-eye view of the printing and engraving process, from the first printing of color onto the sheets (which are actually a cotton-linen blend, and not paper) through to the cutting and bundling of individual notes. While the process is pretty fascinating, the tour was surprisingly generic and not that interesting. The tour guide seemed to be striving to use her most generic tour guide voice, and gave a scripted explanation of the process without peppering her talk with much in the way of interesting anecdotes.

When the tour was over, she encouraged those who had joined the tour late (which included us, as we found out) to take 15 minutes to watch the “informative video”. (She used this phrase twice in one sentence, which I found impressive.)

The video was indeed informative, and Dave commented afterward that the tour might have made more sense if we had seen the video first. I’m not sure that it told us anything that we didn’t gather from the tour, but it certainly gave a little more personal perspective on the process, through interviews with employees.

It was also very patriotic and rah-rah, we love our jobs and we’re proud of our product, which was entertaining.

After seeing the video, we wandered through the exhibits for a while. There were a lot of interactive features that explained the various features of the currency. It was pretty interesting to learn the details of the anti-counterfeit features, in particular, especially the stories of the designers who created the new designs. There were a lot of videos of employees explaining their aspects of the design or production process. Overall, it was a pretty good exhibit, though something seemed to be missing that we couldn’t quite identify. We were expecting just a little bit more, though we’re not sure what that “more” would have been.

Dave had always been fascinated by the possibility of buying a sheet of money, so we stopped by the gift shop before we headed out. Sadly, we did not purchase any money. Dave commented, “I’m really disappointed about how much they charge for a sheet of money.” Especially since it’s not actually money, and can’t be spent, since it hasn’t been monetized by the Federal Reserve. Dave was willing to pay around $30 for a sheet of 16 $1 notes. However, since the price for what they had in stock was well over $100, we walked out empty-handed. “Ridiculous,” Dave said.

We had to console ourselves with lunch at Whataburger. I watched the birds outside seek tiny scraps of shade. It was so hot they were panting! I’ve never seen birds pant before…

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