How and why people are chosen to appear on US currency
Most Americans can tell you the names of at least a few U.S. presidents, if for no other reason than they ride around in our wallets all day. But have you ever wondered exactly how some Presidents ended up with their portraits on bills and what it takes to be among the chosen few? Back in 2014, President Barack Obama admitted that he personally endorsed a young girl’s opinion that at least one U.S. bill should feature a woman. Should the treasury ever get with the program and take her suggestion, who would be the lucky lady to be featured?
The first (and last) woman ever featured on U.S. paper currency
It may be surprising to learn that if a woman should be featured on a U.S. bill in the future, she actually wouldn’t be the first. Back in 1886, Martha Washington actually began to appear on the $1 Silver Certificate. Unfortunately, the lone-lady featuring paper currency has been long discontinued, though Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea have been featured on U.S. coins.
Hardcore eligibility requirements
So what are the eligibility requirements for appearing on a bill and who decides who makes the cut? Well, the good news is that it only seems to take two major qualifications. The less fortunate news is that neither of them is a walk in the park. First of all, you have to be more or less a superstar of American history. Guys like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton are all names that most Americans would probably know whether their faces were printed on our bills or not. The idea is to select people who most Americans are so familiar with, we’re not likely to forget their legacies or what they stood for any time soon.
If you think that’s a hard qualification to live up to, wait until you hear the second. Unfortunately, in order to be considered, you have to be dead. The reason for this goes back to the American Civil War. Apparently, at the time, some random clerk decided that no one could grace the face of printed currency better than himself. It wasn’t long after these odes to his own narcissism began circulating before people decided that the whole thing was pretty ridiculous and that maybe we should make it a little harder to nominate yourself. From that point on, it became impossible to be around long enough to spend anything with your own face printed on it.
Who decides which portraits make the cut?
Ultimately, the person who decides which great Americans are worthy of currency consideration is the Secretary of Treasury. So if you plan on living a life of patriotic notoriety, it’s never too early to start getting into the good graces of the treasury department. That said, the odds of achieving currency immortality are incredibly slim, given that there aren’t likely to be any openings any time soon.
The men whose faces you’ve come to know and love each time you visit the ATM have retained their positions on our current currency since 1929. While the bills are frequently given a few tweaks as far as their designs go, this is mostly for security purposes and hasn’t changed whose portrait appears on them for a very long time.
Many women’s groups, however, say that the time has come to open things up a bit by featuring a woman’s portrait on at least one piece of printed currency. Luckily, Americans have plenty of patriotic ladies to chose from. Names like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, and Betsy Ross have all come up in hypothetical debates about whose portrait would make a great addition to the annals of U.S. currency history.