Presidents’ Day is a national holiday held on the third Monday of February each year. While Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both held birthdays during the month of February, today we celebrate all presidents! And we honor our presidents by featuring them on U.S. coins. The presidents displayed on the following circulating coins were all hand selected by Congress. While each president was chosen under different circumstances, they each appear on the obverse or front side of a coin.
The first Lincoln penny was produced in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Designed by Victor Brenner, the “wheat penny” has wheat ears on the reverse. Today, the reverse side contains the Lincoln Memorial. This one-cent coin is made of copper, with the exception of the 1943 steel penny. Nearly all circulating pennies at that time were struck in zinc-coated steel because copper and nickel were needed for WWII.
The death of Franklin D. Roosevelt prompted many requests to the U.S. Treasury Department to honor the late president. Less than one year after his death, the dime bearing John R. Sinnock’s portrait of FDR was released on the president’s birthday, January 30, 1946. The Roosevelt dime bears a torch, olive branch and oak branch on the reverse side, which symbolizes liberty, peace, strength, and independence.
In 1932, the Washington quarter replaced the standing liberty quarter. Designed by sculptor John Flanagan, this coin was selected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of our first president’s death. The reverse side depicts an eagle holding a bundle of arrows with two olive branches. In 1975, the George Washington Bicentennial quarter was produced to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the independence of the United States.
Kennedy Half Dollar
The tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy prompted President Lyndon Johnson to request that Congress authorize the Treasury Department to create new 50-cent pieces. These half dollar coins contained a portrait designed by Gilroy Roberts of the late JFK. The first Kennedy half-dollars were minted on February 11, 1964 and made of 90 percent silver. From 1965 to 1970 the silver content was reduced to 40 percent. Beginning in 1971, all Kennedy half-dollars made for circulation contained a mixture of copper and nickel and contain no silver.
The Eisenhower dollar was issued from 1971 to 1978. This was the first U.S. dollar coin to be issued since the Peace dollar series, which ended in 1935. The reverse contains an eagle clutching an olive branch landing on the Moon, based on the Apollo 11 mission. Frank Gasparro designed both sides of the Eisenhower dollar. This coin is made of copper and nickel, with the exception of the 1971-S (made in San Francisco Mint), which is 40 percent silver.
Happy Presidents’ Day!
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.