September 29, 2023
Discover the historical significance, hidden symbolism, and artistic style behind presidential portraits featured on American currency. Learn how U.S. presidents are chosen and reflect America's values. Also learn about the secret message and the art of engraving in money-making.


Have you ever wondered why certain U.S. presidents are featured on American currency? Presidential portraits on money have a long and complex history, reflecting the country’s values, cultural changes, and societal expectations. In this article, we will explore the meaning behind each presidential portrait, the hidden messages, and artistic style of engravers, and the evolution of presidential portraits on money.

From Washington to Franklin: A Guide to U.S. Presidential Portraits on Money

The first U.S. president to appear on American currency was George Washington. His portrait was initially featured on the one-dollar silver certificate and then in the modern Federal Reserve Note issued today. Washington’s portrait on the one-dollar bill reflects his pivotal role in American history as a general and political leader. Other U.S. presidents appeared on currency as well throughout history, such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

Each portrait has historical significance and symbolism behind it. For example, the portrait on the five-dollar bill features Abraham Lincoln, whose image is recognized worldwide as a symbol of freedom and equality. The ten-dollar bill, on the other hand, features Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and an influential figure in the early history of the United States.

Decoding the Hidden Messages Behind Presidential Portraits on Money

Presidential portraits on money are not merely artistic representations of U.S. presidents but a symbol of America’s values and aspirations. The symbolism, clothing, and facial expressions in presidential portraits can convey ideology and reflect the political tone of the time. Some presidential portraits even have hidden messages, such as the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill, which features hidden representations of the number “100” and the Liberty Bell.

Sometimes, the choice of presidential portrait subjects can be controversial, such as the case of Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill. Although widely recognized as a successful military leader and president, Jackson’s controversial policies towards Native American Indians and his association with slavery have led to calls to remove his portrait from currency.

Presidential Portraits on Money: A Reflection of American Values

Presidential portraits on money are not static; they have changed throughout history. Changes in which presidents appear on money reflect social, political and cultural values of American society. For example, the decision to feature Harriet Tubman on the redesigned twenty-dollar bill reflects the growing recognition of her role in the abolition of slavery and the advancement of women’s rights in America.

Unmasking the Engravers Behind Our Presidents on Money

The art of engraving the presidential portraits on money is a highly skilled and meticulous process. The engraver is responsible for creating a realistic and precise representation of the president’s portrait that can withstand the wear and tear of everyday use. The original engravings are accomplished through a multi-step process involving an original die, a master hub, and a master die.

Some of the most renowned engravers throughout history include G.F.C. Smillie, who engraved all of the president’s portraits featured on U.S. paper currency from 1928 until 1996. Another legendary engraver is William Wolfram, whose work can be seen on several U.S. coins, including the Peace Dollar.

The Evolution of Presidential Portraits on Money: From Realism to Abstraction

The earliest examples of presidential portraits on money featured realistic and precise depictions of U.S. presidents based on photographs taken during their lifetime. However, in more recent times, the portraits have become less representational and abstract. For example, the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill features an abstract and interpretive stylization.


Presidential portraits on money capture more than just the image of a U.S. president, they serve as time capsules of values, social movements, and cultural changes in America. The history, hidden messages, and evolution behind presidential portraits on money are a fascinating look at the intersection of art, history, and symbolism in American culture.

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