Web site shows you where your dollars go, literally and exactly
By Liz Enochs
Bloomberg News Service
BROOKLINE, Mass. Most dollar bills are anonymous. All but about 15 million of them.
That's how many ones and fives, tens, twenties and hundreds have had their journeys around the U.S. and the world chronicled at wheresgeorge.com, a Web site that lets the curious follow their money as it flows through the economy.
The three-year-old site has brought couples together, sparked friendships and inspired classroom projects. It's tracked bills from Natchez, Miss., to Santa Monica, Calif., and from Pittsburgh to Keflavik, Iceland.
"People have told me it's nice to find a highly interactive diversion on the Internet where I'm not trying to sell them anything and I'm not trying to profit off them," said Hank Eskin, 37, the site's creator. "It's just fun."
The site has attracted more than a million users. Some are inquisitive about where that five-dollar bill they found in the laundromat came from. Others are so obsessive they've spent months recording the serial numbers off thousands of bills in the online database. One user entered more than 121,000.
Enthusiasts usually stamp currency with the Web site's address and a note asking anyone who finds it to record the serial number and the zip code where they spent it. Fans of the site track hits as subsequent users log in the numbers.
The practice doesn't violate any laws. While defacing currency is illegal, merely stamping or writing on bills doesn't fit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's definition of an improper act: intentionally rendering currency unfit to be used.
The Web site tracks about $89 million of the $584 billion in U.S. paper currency that is in circulation worldwide. Just $195 billion of that is in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
And some of the bills that are tracked take some circuitous journeys. One George as dollar bills with the image of George Washington are called in the Web site's vernacular started its travels at a cinema in Natchez, Miss., in January 2000. Four months later it bought shoes in Santa Monica, Calif. In November, it purchased lunch at a school in Warren, Mich.
By the time this George landed in Twin Rocks, Pa., this month, it was looking wrinkled and old. And no wonder: The average dollar bill only circulates for a year and a half, according to the Fed. The George from Natchez lasted at least six months longer.