‘Where’s George’ – Tracking Washington on a marked $1 bill
I was pulling three bucks out of my wallet to leave a tip for the waitress when I saw the $1 bill. Someone had stamped a message in red on the front of it.
I was used to paper bills wrinkled and worn to the point of obliteration, but never one with such an unusual directive:
Support dollar bills
This is a registered bill
Please enter me again
The serial number was highlighted with a red box, and the outline of a moose was stamped to the left of George Washington’s bust. On the back of the bill were stamped the words “Currency Tracking Project. www.wheresgeorge.com.”
Curious, I Googled the web address. It seems that the sole purpose of this site is to track where bills have been. It invited users to follow the journey of their bills through the cities, states and countries where people had handled them, along with how many miles the bills had traveled and the amount of time it took to get there. As an example, it offered a report of a bill that got started in Virginia in 2006 and ended up in Greece in 2010 (by a tourist, perhaps).
According to the ever-changing calculator on the page, more than 250 million bills had been entered into the site.
“Where’s George” was created in 1998 by a web developer named Hank Eskin who was curious about the path of bills after seeing a $1 bill with the words “Write this message on 10 other dollars, and good luck will come to you.”
Instead, he apparently figured that tracking them through the internet was a lot more fun than through a chain.
The project has developed a devoted cadre of users/hobbyists engaging in “Georging,” entering their bills and then spending them. When you get a “Where’s George”-inscribed bill, it is hoped that you will be compelled to go to the site, enter the serial number and your zip code for tracking. You can also see a report on that particular bill.
The site contains rules for participating, including that you enter the bills and then spend them, and not rob a bank to acquire them.
To keep the site operating, Eskin once sold rubber stamps that participants could use to imprint their own bills. He no longer sells them, but he does offer T-shirts, mugs and other items.
In its FAQ, the site insisted that it does not encourage people to deface money and directed them to the website of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. According to that site, it’s illegal to mutilate, cut, disfigure, perforate, unite or cement together currency. Stamping and writing on paper money apparently is not a crime.
Interestingly, my marked $1 bill had been given to me as change when I paid for a buffet meal before I was seated at a restaurant just northeast of Philadelphia. At home later, I registered the bill and checked its journey.
It hadn’t traveled very far. It was entered in the database last August in Oak Ridge, NJ, in the northern part of the state. It had traveled for 66 miles in 83 days. I was only the second person to register it.
I wonder if the waitress will do the same.