The Bureau of Engraving and Printing says the average life of a $50 bill in circulation is 55 months before it is replaced due to wear. Approximately 6% of all notes printed in 2009 were $50 bills. They are delivered by Federal Reserve Banks in brown straps.
A fifty dollar bill is sometimes called a Grant, based on the use of Ulysses S. Grant's portrait on the bill.
1861: Three-year $50 Interest Bearing Notes were issued that paid a cent of interest per day, and thus 7.3% annually — the so-called seven-thirties. These notes were not primarily designed to circulate, and were payable to the original purchaser of the dollar bill. The obverse of the note featured a bald eagle.
1862: The first circulating $50 bill was issued.
1863: Both one and two year Interest Bearing Notes were issued that paid 5% interest. The one-year Interest Bearing Notes featured a vignette of Alexander Hamilton to the left and an allegorical figure representing loyalty to the right. The two-year notes featured allegorical figures of loyalty, and justice.
1864: Compound Interest Treasury Notes were issued, intended to circulate for three years and paying 6% interest compounded semi-annually. The obverse is similar to the Series of 1863 one-year Interest Bearing Note.
1865: Three-year Interest Bearing Notes were issued again with a slightly different bald eagle and border design on the obverse.
1869: A new $50 United States Note was issued with a portrait of Henry Clay on the right and an allegorical figure holding a laurel branch on the left of the obverse.
1918: Federal Reserve Bank Notes (not to be confused with Federal Reserve Notes) were issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis. The obverse was similar to the 1914 Federal Reserve Notes, except for large wording in the middle of the bill and a portrait with no border on the left side of the bill. The note was an obligation of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank and could only be redeemed there.
Small size note history
(6.14 × 2.61 in ≅ 156 × 66 mm)
1929: Under the Series of 1928, all U.S. currency was changed to its current size. All variations of the $50 bill would carry the same portrait of Ulysses S. Grant, same border design on the obverse, and the same reverse with a vignette of the U.S. Capitol showing the east front. The $50 bill was issued as a Federal Reserve Note with a green seal and serial numbers and as a Gold Certificate with a golden seal and serial numbers.
1933: As an emergency response to the Great Depression, additional money was pumped into the American economy through Federal Reserve Bank Notes issued under Series of 1929. This was the only small-sized $50 bill that had a different border design on the obverse. The serial numbers and seal on it were brown.
1934: The redeemable in gold clause was removed from Federal Reserve Notes due to the U.S. withdrawing from the gold standard.
1950: Many minor aspects on the obverse of the $50 Federal Reserve Note were changed. Most noticeably, the treasury seal, gray word FIFTY, and the Federal Reserve Seal were made smaller; also, the Federal Reserve seal had spikes added around it.
1966: WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND was removed from the obverse and IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the $50 Federal Reserve Note beginning with Series 1963A. Also, the obligation was shortened to its current wording, THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE.
1969: The $50 bill began using the new treasury seal with wording in English instead of Latin.
1991: The first new-age anti-counterfeiting measures were introduced under Series 1990 with microscopic printing around Grant's portrait and a plastic security strip on the left side of the bill.
October 27, 1997: Major design changes were implemented under Series 1996 to further deter counterfeiters. Included were an enlarged and off-center portrait, an enlarged and updated view of the U.S. Capitol now showing the west front on the reverse, a security thread which glows yellow under ultraviolet light, a numeric 50 which shifts color from black to green when tilted, and a watermark of Grant. Also, for those with vision limitations, a large dark 50 was added to the bottom left corner of the reverse. The Federal Reserve seal was also changed to a unified Federal Reserve System seal and an additional prefix letter was added to the beginning of the bill's serial number.
September 28, 2004: A revised design was implemented, as Series 2004, with the first use of multiple colors since the 1905 $20 Gold Certificate. Around the new border-less portrait of Ulysses Grant appears a subtle, stylized blue and red background image of the American Flag. A small silver-blue star was also added to the lower right of Grant's portrait. All previous Series 1996 security features were included, although the color-shifting numeric 50 now shifts from copper to green. The oval border and fine lines surrounding the U.S. Capitol on the reverse have been removed and replaced with sky and clouds. The new design also seems to have the "EURion constellation" on the back to prevent photocopying of the bill.