Oct 14, 2017 | By Julia

Two US makers are taking American currency into their own hands with a new initiative of stamping Harriet Tubman’s face onto $20 bills. Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried were compelled to start the project after hearing the good news that the United States Treasury would be putting the civil rights hero on the American $20 bill, followed by the less-than-good news that the first designs wouldn’t be unveiled until 2020 at the earliest. Drawing on their keen sense of history, the abysmal state of US politics, and some 3D printing experience, Torrone and Fried decided to act: the Harriet Tubman stamp was born, and the $20 bill never looked better.

You might be familiar with the pair of makers already from their contributions to the DIY hardware community. Torrone is known widely as the founder of Hackaday, has graced the cover of Wired magazine, and describes himself as a “hardware-hacking evangelist.” Fried is an engineer and electronics hobbyist, and the founder of popular open-source hardware company Adafruit Industries. Put together, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Torrone and Fried are on the forefront of today’s maker movement, and leaders in the art of DIY tech projects. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the US treasury announced it wouldn’t be making the Harriet Tubman $20s anytime soon, the dynamic duo went right ahead and did it themselves.

The project itself was fairly straightforward: all Torrone and Fried needed to get started was a 3D printer and a handful of basic materials. After creating the stamps with Tubman’s face, the makers dipped them in ink, and began stamping $20 bills. That’s all it took for Andrew Jackson to become Harriet Tubman.

“We have this technology,” says Fried. “We know how to 3D print stamps. Instead of just making birthday card stamps, I thought it would be neat to make something a little more countercultural—something that would help people see, here’s what technology can do.”

Torrone and Fried also released a tutorial on how to create your own DIY stamp mold. As explained in the Adafruit instructions, any image can be used for the stamp; a lithophane generator is what creates the basic mold. Next, a laser cutter is used to remove the portions that will be featured in the stamp. Making the actual stamp involves placing two types of putty into the mold, then simply attaching a handle. Fried notes that the stamp is also a great project for familiarizing yourself with these technologies in general.

Tinkering aside, Torrone and Fried’s project is a fierce display of countercultural politics. “If you see these faces every day, they gain power. They’re on the most powerful currency in the world,” Fried explains. “It’s hard to tell some girl, ‘Hey, you can grow up to be a founding father.’ No, you can’t. But you can learn about Sally Ride or Harriet Tubman and be like, ‘This person had strength in adversity and was able to do something amazing.’”

The project builds on a long tradition of politicizing currency that dates back to the 1900s, when Suffragettes first stamped pennies with the powerful words “votes for women.” More recently, an underground group called the Society of Stampers has started selling custom rubber stamps with activist messages, as an effort to “stamp big money out of politics.” Now, Torrone and Fried have taken that tradition one step farther, using 3D printing technology to inspire others to create bills proudly displaying heroes of their own choosing.

Though this lineage of customized currency is in some sense revolutionary, it’s all legal according to federal US law. Defacing bills with the intent of rendering them unfit for circulation is prohibited, but Torrone and Fried are doing exactly the opposite. The two makers want their stamped bills to pass through as many hands as possible. The more people see Harriet Tubman on their $20 bill, the duo reckons, the more likely they are to rethink who should represent them on their money.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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jay morris wrote at 6/18/2019 4:05:51 PM:

Andrew Jackson, defied the Supreme Court and order the removal of hundreds of thousands of native people, not just the Cherokee, the trail of tears was repeated dozens of times. He alone was responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. The votes were taken, tubman was to replace him, until trump. Trump is the one not following the rule of law. THIS is just another reason that trumpenfuhrer and jackson together will go down in history as the worst presidents in american history.

Flip wrote at 5/4/2018 7:37:49 AM:

Defacing by rendering it unusable. Like cutting it in half, or cutting the numbers off of the corners.

Rob Smith wrote at 10/21/2017 11:20:28 PM:

Sounds like another group funded by Soros.... anything to undermine the United States of America.

Corey wrote at 10/18/2017 8:46:35 PM:

"...with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued..." This part is crucial.

Another anonymous user wrote at 10/18/2017 12:21:07 AM:

I think 3Ders can breathe easy, nobody will be nocking down their door for putting a stamp on a $20. The bills can still issued with stamps or light ink drawing on them so long as it doesn't completely cover any security features of the bill and thus Title 18 isn't triggered. That being said, I agree this is totally the kind of behavior that caused people to go out and vote for Trump.

Prime wrote at 10/17/2017 5:56:51 PM:

The reason people are free to express themselves is because of the rule of law. Cherry picking which laws apply and which don't leads to anarchy. The rule of law was made difficult to change on purpose in order to avoid knee jerk reactions. If these activists want to change the face on a $20 bill they should go through the normal process, not just skip to the end to get what they want.

sholomowhinestien wrote at 10/16/2017 5:00:40 PM:

lol whites have to do everything for blacks.

ThatGuy wrote at 10/16/2017 4:59:14 PM:

Looks more like Che Guevara

SH wrote at 10/15/2017 7:27:59 PM:

Defacing currency is, I thought, a Federal crime. Has this also been changed? Why are we replacing a president with a historical civil war hero. When we are at the same time tearing down Civil war monuments to remind us how far we have come as a society since that period.

Ben wrote at 10/15/2017 1:20:21 AM:

This is why Trump won the US election.

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