The Fascinating Story of US Currency Paper

Crane & Co – From the US Currency to the finest Stationery

With the explosion of couture lingerie in modern retail, we know there’s money in women’s underwear, but Crane & Co. became one of the most successful paper makers in history by putting women’s underwear in money.

The Crane family were making paper as early as 1770. The legend is that they supplied Paul Revere with paper for currency during the Revolutionary War, but that maybe more legend than truth. We do know that a branch of the Crane family setup a factory in Dalton, Massachusetts in 1801.

Crane Paper Co
Crane Paper Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Image – Wikimedia Commons

Starting with only a handful of employees, they were soon supplying high quality paper to businesses, local government and even banks. Banks at the time printed their own money and so the Crane money connection continued.

Some of their success can be ascribed to the exceptional strength and quality of their paper. What was their secret? In 1806, Zenas Crane put out an ad in a local newspaper asking for woman of all ages to support American manufacturing by handing over their old undergarments and nightgowns. In prudish 19th century American society this was an outrage, so he soon changed the wording to ask for women’s “rags” instead.

Zenas Crane, Image – Wikimedia Commons

The soft cotton and strong linen of these garments made for some of the highest quality paper pulp, which granted Crane and Co. the most lucrative orders.

Their innovations were not limited to what they put into their paper, however. They also innovated in what they put their paper into. When there was a recession following the assassination of Lincoln in 1865, many factories shut down, but the Cranes adapted. They tapped into a fashion fad at the time and used their strong and smooth paper to make paper collars for men. It was a hit and that kept them afloat. Speaking of which, by 1876, they had a 15 foot paper boat in their factory, strong enough to use but light enough to be lifted by three men. 

They also experimented in less glamorous areas. They patented high-strength paper belts for machinery and soon won over many industrial clients with their longer lasting product. The traditional rubber belts loosened over time. The Cranes even helped make a paper dome for the U.S. Military Academy which lasted a whole 78 years until the building was torn down in 1959.

In 1879, the Cranes won the U.S. Treasury contract to supply the paper for all U.S. currency and they have continued to do so till date.

US one dollar bill obverse series 2009
US One dollar bill, Image – Wikimedia Commons

The Crane & Co. story is a fascinating tale of the endless possibilities if you embrace the wonders of paper, and if you’re lucky enough to be printing money. 

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