You've held them in your hands thousands of times. But have you ever really taken a look at the bills and coins of U.S. currency? To get a better sense of the money that passes through your hands each day, take out a few bills and some coins and give them a closer look. You'll notice the faces of presidents, but who are they? What do you really know about them?
Smaller denominations of currency change hands rapidly. It's quite likely that you see or hold a one-dollar, five-dollar, or ten-dollar bill every day. On the one-dollar bill, you see the portrait of George Washington, the first U.S. president. His face has graced that bill since 1869, 70 years after his death. The five-dollar bill bears the face of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, who is widely credited with putting an end to slavery in the United States and maintaining the union of the southern and northern states through the Civil War. The ten-dollar bill sports the face of a slightly less famous figure, Alexander Hamilton. The first U.S. secretary of the treasury, he is one of the few non-presidents to be portrayed on U.S. currency.
On the 20-dollar bill is one of the United States more controversial presidents, Andrew Jackson. The seventh president of the United States, he was brought onto the bill to replace Grover Cleveland's portrait in 1928. Given Jackson's involvement in the removal of Native American indigenous populations from their homelands as well as other controversial stances, his continuing presence on the bill is sometimes called into question through popular petitions and activism. On the 50-dollar bill, you can see the face of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States as well as a general during the Civil War. At two points in history, in 2005 and 2010, legislation attempted to replace Grant with Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, but the motions did not pass. On the 100-dollar bill, the face of Benjamin Franklin has adorned the front side since 1914. Like Alexander Hamilton, he was never president but remains one of the country's most beloved and history-shaping founding fathers.
All of the common coins currently being minted for circulation have the faces of U.S. presidents in profile on one side with monuments or other symbols on the obverse. The penny, or one-cent coin, features the face of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, you can also see a tiny image of Lincoln on the other side, if you look carefully between the columns of the Lincoln Memorial. The nickel, or five-cent coin, bears Thomas Jefferson's face. The dime, or ten-cent coin, features Franklin D. Roosevelt, in commemoration of his work with the March of Dimes foundation. On the quarter, or 25-cent coin, George Washington's face has appeared since 1924, which marked the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth year. Two unusual U.S. coins bear the faces of important women from American history: the Sacagawea dollar and the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The former is still minted but not in circulation, while the latter was minted for a few years in the late 20th century. Both are legal tender, but neither is widely in circulation.
Most people have looked at the faces on their money numerous times. However, few people take an extra moment to consider the figures depicted. Since U.S. currency uses the faces of past presidents and other important historical figures, taking out a wad of cash can trigger an informative history lesson. Any one of the pictured individuals, whether celebrated or controversial, is worth further study for any curious historian.