What Is the Biggest Number on a Bill?

If you’re an American, you’re probably thinking the biggest number on the US dollar is just a fat 100. Maybe it isn’t, but hey the biggest bill we see on a regular basis is a $20. You’ve probably seen those fake $1,000,000 bills around, and if someone handed you one as a joke you might be wondering what the biggest number on a bill is. 

Bigger American Bills

For those who thought that the most valuable American bill was the $100, you are kind of right. The $100 bill is the highest denomination still in production. This does not mean it’s the highest valued bill that’s still recognized by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as legal tender (meaning you could buy stuff with it). 

(Total sidebar, but their website is literally “moneyfactory.gov” and that’s pretty good.)

Anyway, bills above $100 not only exist, but are still legal tender. They’re just no longer in production. One such bill is the $500 bill. Funnily enough, you should never actually try buying something with a $500 bill. Most of them are held by collectors who are willing to pay a lot more than $500 for one of these. The $500 was discontinued in 1969.

But wait! There’s more. The $1,000; $5,000; and $10,000 bills can be used to buy things. All three of these were discontinued in 1969 with the $500. All 4 of the bills we’ve mentioned so far were discontinued in 1969 for fear of money laundering, and the higher in face value they get, the rarer they are. Less than 170,000 $1,000 bills remain, and less than 400 $5,000 bills are still kicking. 

Kind of funny that nowadays some actually might find real, legitimate use for a $500 or $1,000 bill now that the US dollar is so inflated. To put it in perspective $500 dollars in 1969 has the same value as $3,700 now. Take the reverse, if you brought $500 in today’s money back to 1969, it’d be like carrying just $70 in your pocket. $1,000 brought back to the 60s might as well just be a $100 bill. 

The $10,000 was the largest bill ever printed for public use–but nobody really used it. $10,000 bills were first printed in 1918–but most Americans didn’t even have $10,000 to their name.

$500 bill, featuring Willian McKinley $1,000 bill, featuring Grover Cleveland $5,000 bill, featuring James Madison $10,000 bill, featuring Salmon P. Chase

The Biggest American Bill

But there exists an even larger bill. Only 42,000 of these bills were ever printed, and they were never issued for use by the public. This bill is the $100,000 bill, and you will probably never own one. Mostly because it was A never issued for public circulation and B you can’t legally own one. In fairness, if you’re rich enough to be seeking out $100,000 bills point B probably doesn’t worry you at all.

So why did the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (or the money factory, as their website suggests) make a bill that was never intended for public use? Well its purpose was served during the Great Depression. $100,000 bills were just used so Federal Reserve Banks could trade with each other.

$100,000 bill, featuring Woodrow Wilson

The Biggest Bill Ever. Of All Time. 

But what about non-US currency? There has to be something with a denomination larger than 100,000 right?

If you asked that question, you are 100% correct. Enter the Hungarian pengő, which was in use from 1927 to 1946. The pengő lasting only 20 years probably has something to do with it experiencing the most hyperinflation of any currency ever recorded. 

How inflated was the Hungarian pengő? Well prices spiraled completely out of control in the wake of WWII. Once hyperinflation of the pengő began, it only took 4 days for it to lose over 90% of its original value. 

Which brings us to the 1 sextillion note. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. For those counting, that’s 1 with 21 zeros after it. You may be disappointed to find out the sextillion note was never issued, and they stopped at 100 quintillion notes. Which is still 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 (one less zero than the sextillion). 

The sextillion pengő

In 1946 the Hungarian forint was reintroduced at a rate of 1 forint to 400 octillion pengő. Also known as they just lopped 29 zeroes off it.

See if you know more money trivia here.