11/23/99- Updated 02:27 PM ET


Site watches how far  dollar really goes

Bills registered by serial number tracked online

By Thomas A. Fogarty, USA TODAY

Anecdotally, at least, one (bill) traveled from New Jersey to Ireland and back.


George Leigh Mallory climbed Mount Everest because -- as he said in 1923 -- it's there. Hank Eskin tracks circulating U.S. currency because, in this electronic age, he can.

Eskin, 34, of Brookline, Mass., is founder of the Internet site www.wheresgeorge.com, The Great American Dollar Bill Locator.

It's the place to go if you want to know where your paper money has been. And as of Thursday, 28,000 users had registered 415,000 serial numbers from all kinds of bills.

If a subsequent visitor registers the same bill, they can see where it's been, and anyone who registered the bill earlier learns about it by e-mail.

The registered bills are a fraction of the estimated 20 billion bills in circulation, so Eskin and his currency-tracking groupies improve their odds by stamping the bills with a message encouraging future recipients to check the Web site.

The most frequently registered bill has been entered six times while it circulated around Kansas and Oklahoma. Over four months, it traveled 193 miles.

Eskin doesn't officially recognize the bill that's traveled farthest. But anecdotally, at least, one traveled from New Jersey to Ireland and back.

The Federal Reserve says the average $1 bill wears out after 18 months. A $100 bill, which travels less, lasts about nine years.

Eskin, who holds an MBA from the prestigious Wharton School and has a day job as a database architect, says the idea for the site struck him on the way to lunch.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to track bills?' A Web site seemed the perfect medium."

He says revenue from advertisers (yes, advertisers) roughly offsets operating costs.

Eskin says he's entered only about 400 bills himself. He prefers maintaining the site and interacting with people who are clearly enjoying it.

He acknowledges the site isn't for everybody. Some people tell him they think it's stupid. But many regular visitors are very faithful.

Adam Kushner, 34, of Fairfield, N.J, has the most bills entered (43,463) and the most hits (2,624).

Kushner says he's doing nearly all his business using $1 bills, giving him more bills to register.

Roy Lewis, 31, of Houston, says he got hooked in April.

"I've got friends who will look at me and say, 'Get a life,' " says Lewis, a petroleum accountant with a long list of other hobbies.

"But I think it's neat to see where this stuff goes."