Tonawanda News


January 12, 2013

How big is a trillion?

Tonawanda News — A footnote to those of you who generously donated to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle drive: Joanne Guercio from the Salvation Army noted that 300 families and 540 children were served at Christmas. An amazing — and very sad — total. Just remember, you can donate to the Salvation Army any time, you don’t have to wait until next December.


You math-lovers were quick to respond about how to judge trillions of dollars.

Jim James emailed that he liked George Soemann’s facts in last week’s column on how many seconds are in a million and billion and to see what the U.S. $16 trillion debt looks like in seconds, Jim wrote: “A trillion is 2056.71 years. We’re in trouble.” 

Peter Gfroerer also responded:

“For your mathematically challenged readers: one day is 86,400 seconds, 11 days is 950,400 seconds, (not 1 million as you reported.) And, a trillion seconds would be how many years?” (See Jim James’ answer above.)

Speaking of Jim, another Jim, Jim Horton, emailed that he and Jim James’ dad, Don, hung around together when in elementary school at Highland.

“The last section of your article refreshed my memories back to when I was teaching seventh and eighth-graders at Tonawanda Junior High,” Jim Horton emailed. “I used to put $1,000,000,000 (1 billion) on the board to get kids to estimate ‘How Big Is a Billion.’ ( I agree with you that 16 trillion is unbelievable.) Here’s a way to teach it:

“I would put $1,000,000,000 on the board and ask: ‘If I sent Johnny up to the top of the Empire State Building with $1,000,000,000 bills and had him throw it over one at a time at one second intervals, how long would it take to throw it away? You can imagine the answers I got, but if you figure it out: $60/minute, 60x60 = 3,600/hour, 3600x24 = 86400/day, 86,400x365 = 31,536,000/ year; 1,000,000,000 divided by 31,536,000 = 31.7 years.

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