Counting Down the Federal Reserve Districts

Posted on 12/18/2018

For more than 100 years, the Federal Reserve System has maintained central control of the US monetary system through its 12 bank districts.

Have you ever wondered why there are names of cities printed with a letter on our Federal Reserve Notes? Maybe this is where the money was designed? Or where it was printed?

In fact, these cities are Federal Reserve Districts. The Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the United States. There are 12 districts, along with several branch offices that perform a multitude of important monetary functions. These districts hold cash reserves, clear checks, move currency through circulation and regulate commercial banks.

1918 US $1,000 Federal Reserve Note
PMG graded Very Fine 30
Federal Reserve Note from the 1st District of Boston. The distrct is noted by both a number and a letter in the seal.
Click image to enlarge.

The Federal Reserve System was created in 1913 by the Federal Reserve Act. The following year, 12 districts were created throughout the country by the Reserve Bank Organization Committee (RBOC) to improve the management of currency throughout the United States.

Here's a quick breakdown:

  • 1st District (A) Boston: All of New England with the exception of Fairfield County, CT.

  • 2nd District (B) New York: The largest in terms of asset value, covering New York City, New York state, northern New Jersey, Fairfield County, CT, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • 3rd District (C) Philadelphia: Serves eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. It covers the smallest geographical area of all the Districts.

  • 4th District (D) Cleveland: Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky and the West Virginia panhandle. Branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

  • 5th District (E) Richmond: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and most of West Virginia and Washington, DC. Branches in Baltimore and Charlotte.

  • 6th District (F) Atlanta: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, southern Mississippi, southern Louisiana and eastern Tennessee. Branches in Jacksonville, Miami, Birmingham, New Orleans and Nashville.

  • 7th District (G) Chicago: Serves most of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. One branch in Detroit.

  • 8th District (H) St. Louis: Arkansas, portions of Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Branches in Little Rock, Memphis and Louisville.

  • 9th District (I) Minneapolis: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, parts of Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. One branch in Helena.

  • 10th District (J) Kansas City: Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, northern New Mexico and western Missouri. Branches in Denver, Omaha and Oklahoma City.

  • 11th District (K) Dallas: Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico. Branches in El Paso, Houston and San Antonio.

  • 12th District (L) San Francisco: California, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Branches in Los Angeles, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle. San Francisco is the largest geographical area of the Districts.

There were originally 37 cities that applied to have a reserve bank. The RBOC traveled the country to conduct public hearings and meet with representatives from National Banks on their votes for the districts.

2017 US $1 Federal Reserve Note
PMG graded Gem Uncriculated 66 EPQ
Atlanta district noted by the letter "F" in the seal.
Click image to enlarge.

The 12 districts that were ultimately chosen met certain criteria. This included the ability to maintain a minimum of $4,000,000 in capital; mercantile, industrial and financial connections in each district; the ability to meet the demands of businesses; fair division of available capital within the district; convenient geographical location to facilities and transportation; and the ability to show promise for growth based on district industries, such as agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

A map of the 12 districts of the Federal Reserve System,
with the 12 banks marked as black squares and the 24 branches marked as red circles.
Image courtesy of ChrisnHouston.

One of the first things you may notice about the districts is that 9 out of the 12 are at least partially east of the Mississippi River. Why not have them more evenly distributed throughout the country? In 1913, the population of the US looked a lot different than it does today, so the districts are not divided evenly in terms of population or geographical area they serve today.

For example, District 7 (which serves the greater Chicago area) was the most populated Federal Reserve District in the country, though it is relatively small in terms of the land area it covers. Compare this to District 12, the largest district in terms of land area, which had the most sparsely populated area of the country.

Today, District 12 has nearly a quarter of the entire U.S. population. Even though the population of the Western states has experienced significant growth, the districts remain the same as they were in 1913.

2004 US $20 Federal Reserve Note
PMG graded Superb Gem Uncirculated 68 EPQ
There is no longer a district seal with bank printed.
Instead, the district is identified by the second letter in the serial number and the "A1" notation.
Click image to enlarge.

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