What does a 500-dollar bill look like? The 500-dollar bill, with the face of President William McKinley on it, is an elusive piece of U.S. currency. Although it is no longer printed, some remain in circulation, capturing the imagination of history and money enthusiasts alike.

If you have ever wondered, “What does a $500 bill look like?” or wanted the intricate details on this high-value banknote, you have come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here is the essence of the answer: The last $500 bill produced had an abstract design printed in orange on one side and the portrait of President William McKinley on the other against a dark background. Approximations of the bill’s dimensions were 6.14 inches by 2.61 inches.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover every aspect of the $500 bill’s design, dimensions, security features, production history, and current legal status step-by-step.

An Overview of $500 Bills: Brief History and Legal Status

When $500 Bills Were Issued and Discontinued

The $500 bill is one of the highest demonetized banknotes in U.S. history. This high-value banknote began circulation in 1929 due to the booming economy and the need for larger transactions. The U.S. Department of the Treasury issued several series of these bills until 1945.

At its peak, these banknotes were extensively used for interbank transfers and large payments. However, after World War II ended, production of the $500 bill gradually diminished. The final $500 bill printed was the Series 1934F in 1945.

In 1969, due to concerns over lack of use and association with criminal activities, the Treasury announced it would cease distributing high-denomination bills above $100. While the Federal Reserve legally recognized outstanding $500 bills for redemption, these banknotes have not been distributed to banks since 1965.

Consequently, $500 bills were officially discontinued and removed from circulation.

The Current Legal Status and Redemption of $500 Bills

Despite being discontinued over 50 years ago, $500 bills remain valid legal tender eligible for redemption. However, most $500 bills have been removed from circulation or destroyed over time. According to the U.S. Treasury Department records, only 165,372 of these rare banknotes were known to be in existence as of 2019.

While no longer circulated, individuals can redeem $500 bills they possess by depositing or exchanging them at banks. Many banks will accept valid $500 bills. However, they typically scrutinize their authenticity closely before redeeming due to counterfeits.

The redemption value is the $500 face value adjusted for inflation based on the last production year of 1945. Using the U.S. Inflation Calculator, $500 in 1945 equates to approximately $7,500 in 2023 dollars.

Year Discontinued Number in Existence (2019) Redemption Value in 2023
1969 165,372 $7,500

Very few legitimate $500 bills remain in private hands today. Occasionally, these vintage bills appear at auction and fetch high prices from collectors far exceeding their redemption value due to scarcity and demand.

However, counterfeit $500 bills also abound, so authentication by experts is essential before purchasing.

Physical Characteristics: Dimensions, Colors, and Materials


A $500 bill measures 7.4218 inches wide by 3.125 inches tall. This makes the $500 bill wider than currency notes of smaller denominations, though it has the standard height. The increased width helps make the high-value bill more noticeable and aids machine handling.

Paper and Fabric Components

Modern dollar bills are made of 75% cotton and 25% linen. This fabric combination gives the bills durability and a distinctive texture and feel. The paper itself contains small blue and red synthetic fibers along with color-shifting ink to aid authentication and thwart counterfeiting attempts.

There is also a security strip embedded in every dollar bill no matter the denomination. When held up to light, this plastic strip displays the note’s denomination. This offers a quick way for people to validate the bill’s value without extensive examination.

Predominant Colors

The most noticeable color on the $500 bill is purple. This distinct purple color comes from the large number 500 on the banknote’s front, along with ornamental borders and detailing. Smaller design elements employ metallic gold ink.

The reverse side maintains the purple and gold color scheme. A large gold numeral 500 is balanced by purple flourishes in each corner of the bill. This color combination gives the $500 note an elegant, upscale aesthetic well-suited to its high face value.

Design Elements of the $500 Bills

Portrait and Vignette

The front of the $500 bill features a portrait of President William McKinley, who served from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. The oval frame around his portrait is commonly referred to by numismatists as the vignette. It features allegorical figures representing strength and prudence.

Seals and Serial Numbers

There are several key security features on $500 bills related to seals and serial numbers. On the front of the note is the United States Treasury seal, comprised of a balancing scale and the number “500.”

The back features both the Great Seal of the United States with an unfinished pyramid and eye as well as a green Federal Reserve seal.

All $500 bills have a unique serial number consisting of one letter and eight numbers printed in black ink. This can be used to verify the authenticity of the note. Serial numbers on $500 bills from 1934 have an extra star symbol at the beginning.

Microprinting and Other Anti-Counterfeiting Features

Modern technology has enabled several advanced anti-counterfeiting features on the $500 bill:

  • Microprinting – The borders around McKinley’s portrait and the Federal Reserve seal contain tiny printed text visible under magnification.
  • Color-shifting ink – The number “500” in the bottom right corner shifts from copper to green when tilted.
  • Watermarks – Hold the bill up to the light to see faint images similar to the portraiture visible from both sides.
  • Security thread – The embedded plastic strip reads “USA FIVE HUNDRED” in tiny blue and red lettering.

Additional security features added over the years include fine-line printing patterns around the borders, intricate background designs, fluorescence under UV light, and a 3D security ribbon with images that change when tilting the bill.

Year Production Amount
1918 Blue Seal Less than 200 exist today
1928 and 1934 Green Seal Over 1 billion bills printed

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, less than 165 million $500 bills remain in circulation today. This scarce high-denomination note remains highly collectible among numismatists and U.S. currency enthusiasts.

To learn more, visit the U.S. Currency Education Program’s resource page on $500 bills.

Fun Facts and Figures About the $500 Bill

The legendary $500 bill, which features President William McKinley on the face, enjoys an intriguing history and place in American lore. Though no longer in circulation today, these banknotes continue to captivate the public imagination.

When Were $500 Bills First Issued?

The U.S. Treasury Department first printed $500 bills in 1918. Up through 1969, these banknotes remained in active production and circulation. However, rampant counterfeiting and lack of public use led the government to officially cease distributing high-denomination bills in 1969, including $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 notes.

What Was the $500 Bill Nicknamed?

The $500 bill’s high value and relative rarity in daily life earned it an array of colorful nicknames over the decades. These include “McKinley’s Bust,” a reference to the 25th U.S. president featured on the portrait side.

Others called it a “pumpkin seed” thanks to its orange hue, the “big boy,” or simply the “five-hundred-dollar bill.”

How Many $500 Bills Were Issued?

According to the U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, over 600 million $500 banknotes entered circulation from 1918 up through 1969. As an illustration of this rarity today, there are over $2 trillion worth of $1 bills currently in public hands.

What Was the $500 Bill Worth Adjusted for Inflation?

Year Value Then Value Now
1969 $500 $3,700

In today’s money adjusted for inflation, the buying power of a $500 bill in its final year of 1969 equates to around $3,700. So while these banknotes carried serious purchasing power decades ago, their nominal face value alone fails to capture their immense relative worth at the time.

Do Any $500 Bills Still Exist Today?

Yes, some number of $500 notes likely persist in private collections and dealers’ inventories. However, estimating total figures proves difficult given these bills’ age and the owners’ incentive for confidentiality.

Rare currency dealers occasionally offer authenticated $500 bills for sale, with recent asking prices ranging anywhere from $2,000 to over $4,000 depending on condition.

What Does A 500-Dollar Bill Look Like – Conclusion

With its striking orange coloration, large portrait of President McKinley, and abstract backside design, the $500 bill cuts an impressive figure. Although no longer printed, some remain accessible to collectors and history enthusiasts.

We have explored everything from this banknote’s dimensions, fabric components, and security features to its production history and current legal status. Whether you have wondered “What does a $500 bill look like?” out of curiosity or have hopes of obtaining one, you now have an intricate picture of this elusive, high-value piece of U.S. currency.

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