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The Face of the One-Dollar Bill

30 January 2013
Salmon P. Chase on the obverse side of the first official $1 bill of the United States in 1862. (Source)

Salmon P. Chase on the obverse side of the first official $1 bill of the United States in 1862. (Source)

“Show me the money!” In order to pay the expenses for the Union Army during the Civil War, the U.S. Treasury decided upon a national “greenback.” Up to this point there was no national paper currency (as we know it today) issued by the government. Initially, it started with the $1 and $2 bills. The one-dollar bill has an interesting history, especially since George was not the first man to be featured on the bill.

Portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, officer of the United States government. (Cropped Photo Credit: Mathew Brady/Library of Congress)

Portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, officer of the United States government. (Cropped Photo Credit: Mathew Brady/Library of Congress)

The U.S. Treasury was ordered the task of creating the currency. Salmon P. Chase, a former senator, was serving as Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln. He was responsible for designing the original $1 bill in 1862. When searching for a portrait to grace the front of the bill, he did not look far. He chose himself. Hoping to run for president, he probably used this opportunity to get his ‘face’ out there.

A few years later the Supreme Court declared that the money designed during the Civil War unconstitutional. By 1869 a newly created $1 bared the portrait of the first president – George Washington – who has been on the bill ever since.

Chase and Lincoln had, what one could call, a love/hate relationship. Lincoln depended on Chase and his contacts to hold the interest of the Radical Republicans. Chase and Lincoln both shared strong anti-slavery ideals and agendas. Chase tried twice to resign but Lincoln denied both attempts. He finally accepted Chase’s third resignation, but gave Chase the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court position later that year.

Chase failed to receive the nomination to run for the presidency twice. However, his portrait graced the $10,000 Federal Reserve Note from 1929 until it was discontinued after the Great Depression. Chase National Bank was named after him, even though he was not connected to the bank. The bank has since evolved into JPMorgan Chase, if you have a credit card that bares part of that name – you now know why.

Salmon Chase on the $10,000 bill. It was the highest denomination US currency ever to publicly circulate. Although a $100,000 bill featuring the portrait of Woodrow Wilson was issued, its purpose was to transfer funds between Federal Reserve Banks, and not to pass in retail transactions. Since 1969, the highest denomination note issued in the US has been the $100 bill. (Photo Credit: Museum of American Finance)

Salmon Chase on the $10,000 bill. “It was the highest denomination US currency ever to publicly circulate. Although a $100,000 bill featuring the portrait of Woodrow Wilson was issued, its purpose was to transfer funds between Federal Reserve Banks, and not to pass in retail transactions. Since 1969, the highest denomination note issued in the US has been the $100 bill.” (Photo Credit: Museum of American Finance)

Sources:
Ethan Trex, “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Salmon Chase,” Mental Floss, May 21, 2010.
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Museum of American Finance
Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

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