Jul 21, 2020

Where did money come from?

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We’re going back to the beginning for our first episode. Benny from Irvine, California, wants to know: Who invented money and when?

For our very first episode, we’re traveling back thousands of years to learn about all the ways people got what they needed from each other before money was invented: bartering with whatever they had, making pacts with close friends and eventually inventing coins and other forms of money! Plus we’ll ask some random kids not-so-random questions, and Kristen Bell designs her own money.

A four-panel comic. The first says "Where did money come from?" The second shows a fish bone necklace, reading: "If you lived in the ancient hunter-gatherer groups of Papua New Guinea, you might give someone a fishbone necklace." The third panel shows two hands shaking, it says: "This acted as a kind of currency, meaning that person could rely on you if they ever needed a favor." The fourth panel shows two people high-fiving and reads: "Now we call them best friend bracelets."

Now some tips for grown-ups listening to “Million Bazillion” with kids

Money Talks

It turns out that ancient people had lots of ways to get the things they needed, and they often relied on personal relationships. When we started using money (like coins and objects), people who didn’t know each other personally could exchange goods and services. Over time, to some people, the currency itself became important — even though it’s really only a representation of things we value. 

Take a minute to recap the episode and review the key points. Here are some questions to get the kids going:

  1. Can you explain what bartering is? Can you think of an example of bartering?
  2. Do you remember what object professor Bill Maurer showed Jed and Bridget? Why was it important in the history of money? 
  3. We learned about King Alyattes in ancient Mesopotamia. What was so special about him? 

(Jump down to the answers)

Tip Jar

We talked a lot in this episode about ancient forms of money, but what about the money you see and use today? In the United States, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (aka the Money Factory) makes our paper money, and the U.S. Mint makes the coins we use. 

Check out this video featuring a guy with a really cool job: bank note designer. And here are some cool facts about pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

Gimme Five

As we talked about on this episode, a lot of interesting things can be used as money, like seashells, beads, cocoa beans and — at least if Jed had his way — turtles!

Our final question this week is this: If you had to design your own currency, what would you use? Remember, it should be small and light, so it’s easy to carry. It should be tough so it doesn’t call apart. And it should be something that’s hard to get. We already got one great suggestion from Kristen Bell: She said her currency would have Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on it and would take the shape of one of her collars.

Send us your suggestions and pictures here, and we’ll feature some of our favorites on the website.

Chances are you or your kids still have more questions. That’s great! We’re always looking for more ideas to explore, so we’d love to hear from you. Click here to send us your question.

Money Talks answers

  1. Answers will vary.
  2. A necklace made of fish bones and shells that were gifted among friends and family, and served as a reminder that they could call on each other for help — sort of an early form of currency.
  3. He was the king of metal! Alyattes is the answer to Benny from Irvine, California’s question,“Who invented money?” Alyattes took bits of metal and stamped them with an image, creating the first form of coins.

(Jump back to the top)

Correction: (July 22, 2020): An earlier version of artwork accompanying this podcast misspelled Papua New Guinea.

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“Million Bazillion” is Marketplace’s first podcast just for kids that answers the awkward, and sometimes surprising questions that they have about money through fun skits and a lot of creativity.

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The team

Jed Kim Host
Bridget Bodnar Senior Producer
Ben Tolliday Sound designer
Sanden Totten Editor
Erica Phillips Writer/Producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Sitara Nieves Executive Director of On-Demand

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