DEFINITION of 'Greenback'

A slang term for U.S. paper dollars. Greenbacks got their name from their color, however, in the mid-1800s, "greenback" was a negative term. During this time, the Continental Congress did not have taxing authority. As a result, the greenbacks did not have a secure financial backing and banks were reluctant to give customers the full value of the dollar.


It took half a century to get all the foreign coins and competing state currencies out of circulation, but by the early 1800s, the U.S. was ready to try the paper money experiment again. Bank notes had been in circulation for a while, but because banks issued more notes than they had coin to cover, these notes often traded at less than face value.

In the 1860s, the U.S. created over $400 million in legal tender to finance its war against itself. These were called greenbacks simply because the backs were printed in green. The government backed this currency and stated that it could be used to pay back public and private debts. The value fluctuated according to the North's success or failure at certain stages in the war. Confederate dollars, also issued during the 1800s, followed the fate of the confederacy and were worthless by the end of the war.

  1. Fiat Money

    Currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, but ...
  2. Federal Reserve Bank

    The central bank of the United States and the most powerful financial ...
  3. Currency

    A generally accepted form of money, including coins and paper ...
  4. Loonie

    Colloquial term that refers to the $1 Canadian coin, and also ...
  5. Kiwi

    A slang term for the New Zealand dollar (NZD). It derives its ...
  6. Federal Reserve Board - FRB

    The governing body of the Federal Reserve System. The seven members ...
Related Articles
  1. Options & Futures

    A Primer On The Forex Market

    Moving from equities to currencies requires you to adjust how you interpret quotes, margin, spreads and rollovers.
  2. Forex Education

    Play Foreign Currencies Against The U.S. Dollar And Win

    Don't panic when the dollar drops. Learn to exploit the greenback's decline and profit from it.
  3. Forex Education

    Commodity Prices And Currency Movements

    Find out which currencies are most affected by fluctuations in gold and oil prices, and improve your trading.
  4. Forex Education

    Dollarization Explained

    Find out how fledgling economies can find some stability in their currency and attract foreign investment.
  5. Bonds & Fixed Income

    6 Factors That Influence Exchange Rates

    Find out how a currency's relative value reflects a country's economic health and impacts your investment returns.
  6. Options & Futures

    How U.S. Firms Benefit When The Dollar Falls

    When the greenback is weak, smart investors will invest in multinational companies to benefit.
  7. Investing Basics

    Understanding Cash Management

    Cash management is a broad term that applies to the collecting, managing and investing of cash.
  8. Investing Basics

    Explaining the Real Effective Exchange Rate

    The REER is a measure of the weighted average of a country’s currency against an inflation-adjusted and trade-weighted index of other currencies.
  9. Investing

    What a Fed Delay Means for the ECB & BoJ

    The Fed’s continued delay has repercussions for more than just the U.S. economy and markets. The ECB and the BoJ may support the case for stocks in Europe.
  10. Investing

    How Worried Should We Be About China?

    An economic slowdown, a freezing up in trade and plunging markets and currencies are casting a shadow across Asia—and the globe. How worried should we be?
  1. What will happen to my U.S.-based stock portfolio if the U.S. dollar substantially ...

    The effect of a significant depreciation in the value of the U.S. dollar on the value of an investor's U.S-based portfolio ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Who decides when to print money in India?

    The Reserve Bank of India, or RBI, manages currency in India. The bank's additional responsibilities include regulating the ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How is a block chain network useful for trading goods and assets in virtual currencies?

    Perhaps the most famous quote associated with blockchain technology came from an anonymous virtual currency user, who described ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What types of companies benefit from reporting results utilizing constant currencies ...

    Any company that does a substantial amount of business in foreign countries, and is therefore subject to foreign currency ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are key benefits to a country that has engaged in a policy of currency depreciation?

    In the modern world, most currencies represent fiat money not backed by any commodity or precious metal and whose value is ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does a block chain prevent double-spending of Bitcoins?

    Double-spending – the incidence of one individual successfully spending a Bitcoin balance more than once – is a major concern ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  2. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  3. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
  4. Zero-Sum Game

    A situation in which one person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss, so that the net change in wealth or benefit is zero. ...
  5. Capitalization Rate

    The rate of return on a real estate investment property based on the income that the property is expected to generate.
  6. Gross Profit

    A company's total revenue (equivalent to total sales) minus the cost of goods sold. Gross profit is the profit a company ...
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!