Sheets of dollar bills rolling off the presses at the Fort Worth Bureau of Engraving and Printing will soon bear the signature of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
But as it turns out, there was a lot riding on that little John Hancock, Yellen said Wednesday night as a guest on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
“I knew this was something you could really screw up, and I wanted to get it right,” she told Colbert. “And I practiced, and I practiced.”
In her first time as a guest on the late-night talk show, Yellen chatted inflation, economic uncertainty and the chicken scratch of the Treasury Secretaries who came before her.
“Two of my predecessors, President Obama’s Treasury Secretaries Tim Geithner and Jack Lew signed the currency, and their signatures were so illegible that people made fun of them,” she said, noting how Lew’s signatures looked like eight circles that were connected.
Colbert chimed in: “It looked like how a child would draw smoke coming out of a chimney.”
Lew ultimately changed his Spirograph-looking signature before it landed on the nation’s bills and Geithner before him had to tweak his to “something where people could read my name,” he told Marketplace in 2012.
It’s been tradition for more than a century that both the US treasurer and the Treasury secretary sign currency to make them legal tender. And despite Yellen being in her role since January 2021, it’s taken until now because of the delayed appointment of a new treasurer. In June, President Joe Biden appointed Marilynn Malerba to the post of treasurer.
Their signatures will carry some added significance: It’s the first time in history that two women’s signatures will appear on US bills.
Beyond the banter about handwriting, Yellen earlier in the conversation discussed inflation and fielded questions about whether a recession is imminent.
Like her successor at the central bank, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, had said just hours earlier, Yellen indicated she thinks a soft landing is still possible.
“I believe there is a path to bringing inflation down while maintaining a strong, healthy labor market,” she said. “We had a rapid recovery, growth has slowed down, I expect the pace of job creation to slow down. That’s natural and expected when the unemployment rate is close to the lowest in 50 years.”
“So I think we can take the heat out of the economy,” she said.