Greenback: How The Dollar Came To Rule The World

Ep 1-5/5

Monday 2 December to Friday 6 December



The first programme of a five-part series presented by Graham Ingham tracing the extraordinary history of the American dollar up to the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

The US dollar - or the Greenback, as it is often known - is still the world's most important currency today, just as it was for most of the 20th century. Wherever you go in the world, you can be pretty certain that one currency - the American dollar - will be accepted. Yet it was not always so - and indeed, the dollar had a tortuous birth and a chequered history.

Although today it seems obvious that the international importance of the dollar is a reflection of American power, the establishment and development of the dollar didn't at first mirror the growth of the US economy. Indeed, long before the dollar became America's currency, the 17th-century colonists from Britain had been forced to address the basic question of what money was and who should control it.

In this first programme, Ingham tells of when the first colonists arrived in the 17th century, money was in such short supply they bartered with Native Americans using Wampums, or cowrie shells in order to survive. Later they traded with each other using nails, peas or even dried tobacco – anything that was small and could be carried around. They also used an assortment of foreign coins, but there was always a shortage of money because the British parliament prevented the colonies from raising taxes or issuing currency.

Presenter/ Graham Ingham, Producer/ Ruth Evans for A Ruth Evans Production

BBC Radio 4 Publicity