10) How much is a billion?

A billion, in America, is a thousand million. That would be written like this:


If we wanted to make a book with a billion dollar signs, printed 1000 per page as before and with pages printed on both sides, our book would be 500,000 pages long.Now that's a very long book!

Interestingly, in England, the British define a billion as a million million. That would be 1,000,000 times 1,000,000 which would be written like this:


You can find out more about the British numbering system at the following website called Numbering Systems and Place Value:


David M. Schwartz has written a delightful book called How much is a million? . You can find it in the public library, and I'm sure you would enjoy it. In his book, he says:

"How big is a billion? If a billion kids made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon. If you sat down to count from one to one billion, you would be counting for 95 years. If you found a goldfish bowl large enough hold a billion goldfish, it would be as big as a stadium."

A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into perspective in one of its press releases:

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate Washington spends it.

In today's newspaper, July 6, 1999, to put it all in perspective, the editorial staff of the Advertiser writes:

"The president just announced that there could be an extra $1 trillion in the projected federal surplus over the next 15 years".

How much is a trillion?

A trillion, in America, is a thousand billion, which would be written as a one with 12 zeros:


Mr. Schwartz has this to say about how long it would take to count to a trillion:

"Since most of the numbers between one and one trillion are even larger than those on the way to one billion, the average time required to pronounce them is even longer. Try, for instance, 369,472,888,227 (three hundred sixty-nine billion, four hundred seventy-two million, eight hundred eighty-eight thousand, two hundred twenty-seven). How long did that take you? I would say that six seconds is an average time per number in counting to a trillion. (Remember, you have to pronounce every syllable!)

That means it would take six trillion seconds or 190,259 years to reach the number one trillion - assuming of course, that modern science discovers the secret of immortality long before you achieve your goal. (6,000,000,000,000 seconds divided by 60 seconds per minute divided by 60 minutes per hour divided by 24 hours per day divided by 365 days per year = 190,259 years)"

So how much is a trillion dollars? Let's look at the projected federal surplus. The population of the US is approximately 250 million. If we divide $1,000,000,000,000 by 250,000,000, we get $4,000. That's $4,000 for each man, woman and child in the United States. Hope they mail me my check soon!

Even Bigger Numbers

Now how about some RIDICULOUSLY big numbers? Have you ever heard of a googol? Here is a little story from a fascinating web page by Frank Pilhofer:

"The American mathematician Edward Kasner once asked his nine-year-old nephew to invent a name for a very large number, ten to the power of one hundred; and the boy called it a googol. He thought this was a number to overflow people's minds, being bigger than anything that can ever be put into words. Another mathematician then shot back with googolplex, and defined it to be 10 to the power of googol."

Take a look at his web site, at


The following information came from a website called "Numbering System and Place Values", which you can visit at the following link:


"One googolplex equals 10 raised to the



One googolplex is written as a one followed by

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 zeros."

Go to Topic 11: A Fable