This article appeared in the March 20, 1941 issue of The Wanderer. (Well, 70 years later we can add 15 trillion into the example.)
Here’s a simple and homely illustration of what one billion dollars amounts to:
Suppose we take an imaginary boy, aged 15 years, and assign to him the task of counting one billion dollars in one-dollar bills.
If he’s unusually alert and tireless, he might manage to count about 100 one-dollar bills a minute. (Try it and see.)
We’d have to be sure our young man was strong and persevering, for we propose to work him eight hours a day and five days a week until the task of counting one billion dollars is completedAfter he finishes this job you might think he would be able to qualify for a position in a bank, or at the US Treasury, or even at some of the race tracks where a they handle more money than you would imagine. Well, wait and see whether our dollar bill counter would be apt to get such a job.
But to get back to the counting work.
Counts 48,000 dollars every Day
If he counts 100 one dollars a minute, he will real off $6,000 dollars an hour. That’s a tough pace,, but well have to keep the young mans nose to the grindstone, so to speak, or we we’ll never get this through.
He’s working eight hour a day, remember. That will account for f$48,000 by the end of the first day.
Now we are getting started. By the end of the first week are young man has counted $240,000 and he thinks he is making a dent in the pile of billion one dollar bills. Poor boy! Working steadily with no vacation, and only five days off for holidays, this youth finds that at the end of the first year he has counted $12,240,000.
When he reaches his 21st birthday, his tally shows that he has counted $73,440,000. Six years of steady work, and still a huge pile of $1 bills in front of him.
Forty Years to Count a Half-billion
As the years rolled by the pile gradually grows smaller, but by the time both piles are equal in size — the counted pile and the uncounted heap of one dollar bills — the man counting them has passed his 55th birthday. While, no use stopping now; he’s half through!
So he continues to count. The years pass and monotonous succession. He never realized that counting one billion dollars was going to occupy his entire life. But here he is, an old man. He’ll see it through, however–if he lives long enough.
At last the job is done. The whiskered old man has completed his life’s work. He’s passed 96 years old and he has just counted one billion dollar bills. He was 15 years old when he started. Its hard to realize, isn’t it?
It would require about seventy lifetimes to count the money Mr. Roosevelt has spent since he became president and we would use an additional thirty to count the money that will be spent within the next two years.