The Bureau of Engraving and Printing Factory in Downtown DC is one tour you will really wish gave away free samples at the end! Watching how our US currency is created is an educational experience for both parents and kids alike.
Tours of Engraving and Printing are held weekdays only beginning at 9am. The logistics of touring the plant vary greatly depending upon the time of year of your visit. From September through February no tickets are required for the tours. Groups are taken every 15 minutes from 9 to 10:45am and 12:30 to 2pm from the line out front of the Visitor’s Center on 14th Street. Beginning in March through August, visitors wishing to take a tour must obtain a free ticket from the booth around the corner from the Visitor’s Entrance. The ticket booth opens at 8am daily and remains open until all of the day’s tickets have been distributed. Additional tours are held from 5 to 7pm in spring and summer.
Tours of the “money factory” begin in the Visitor’s Center with a short film about the process of making US money and how that has changed over time. There are displays on the walls of this area with information about all of the protections built in to our current dollars to avoid counterfeiting. The most popular display in the lobby here is the glass case containing one million dollars in ten dollar notes! Once the film is over and you begin to tour the actual money printing areas you must park any strollers that you have brought along. The corridors are tight and there are several staircases to maneuver along the way.
The guided tour takes you through the process of making money step by step. On the day of our visit they were printing $100 bills. We saw the paper come out of the printer with the background colors, the front and back printing process, the cutting of the printed bills and the sorting and packaging into bundles. Along the way we were able to see how many times the currency is checked for defects or misprints. Seeing that many $100 bills in one place was amazing!
Taking a page straight from Disney, the half hour tour ends in the gift shop. There are many money themed items are for sale including wallets, balls, pencils, and toys. Stickers of the $100 bill are available for 25 cents and erasers with the same image are $1.00. You can also view uncut sheets of bills for sale here and measure yourself along the wall to see how tall you are in 100 dollar bills.
To fully enjoy the experience of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing kids should be old enough to understand a bit about the value of a dollar and why seeing so many in one place is unique. To get the most out of your tour I would recommend introducing the word “currency” to your children before you go as they used it more often than the word money in both the tour and the film. Overall a visit here is best suited for kids in elementary school and up.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is closed on weekends, Federal Holidays and the week between Christmas and New Years Day. Scour your school calendar for a mid week teacher prep day for the perfect time for a visit! Tours are most popular during Spring Break/Cherry Blossom time of year and tickets during these weeks often run out by 8:30am. Tickets in summer also go fast but often are still available until 10 or 11am.
To get there by metro, exit at the Smithsonian station on the blue and orange line and follow signs to Independence Ave/Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The closest free parking is along the Independence Avenue side of the Mall. Restrooms and baby changing stations are available in the Visitor’s Center.
Find a day off and head over with your kids for this educational tour in Downtown DC.