check numbers

A couple of questions about checks.
Why do checks use that “futuristic if you’re from 1972” font for the routing and account numbers?
Why are routing numbers only nine digits long? Did the Federal Reserve establish this as a standard for all banking institutions?

Apparently, cheques are printed using the MICR font to aid optical recognition during processing.

It’s international – we have the same system here in NZ.

MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) relies on the shapes of the characters. Each character is shaped to have a unique amount of magnetic ink (in other words, a unique area, geometrically speaking). MICR readers distinguish the different characters by reading the level of magnetic flux. The numbers on the bottom of a standard check are the bank routing number (9 digits), a separator symbol, the account number, another separator symbol and the check serial number.

The numbers actually do mean something. The first 4 digits identify the Federal Reserve District and office. They are called the Federal Reserve Routing Symbol. The next 4 identify the institution itself and is called the ABA Institution Identifier. The final number is a check digit that insures the first 8 digits were entered correctly.

There are 12 Federal Reserve Districts in the country. gives a graphical representation of them. The first 2 digits of the routing code identify the district. The next 2 identify the local office.

Initially they were read with magnetic readers but I believe they may use optical readers today. At least I have been printing all my checks for a long time now with plain ink and no one has complained about it. OTOH, it could be that the magnetic reader fails and someone then reads it and inputs the number manually. In any case, it works fine for me.