May 19, 2024
From Washington to Obama, U.S. currency has featured numerous presidents throughout history. Explore the reasons behind the selection of each president, the artistic design of each bill and coin, and the cultural and political implications of these portraits. Discover how personal connections to these portraits can reveal larger truths about American society and history.


Almost everyone has held a dollar bill in their hands at some point, but how much do we really know about the faces staring back at us? From Washington on the one dollar bill to Franklin on the hundred, there are currently six U.S. presidents and one non-president prominently featured on American currency. But why were they chosen, and what do their portraits say about American culture and history? In this article, we will explore the history and meaning behind the presidents on our money, examining their artistic design, cultural significance, and political implications.

Historical Analysis

U.S. currency has a long and complex history, dating back to colonial times when different states and banks issued their own money. After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. government began to issue its own currency, starting with the Continental in 1775 and later the first U.S. dollar in 1792. The use of presidential portraits on currency began in 1861 with the one-dollar bill featuring a portrait of Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who created the first federally-issued paper currency. Since then, six U.S. presidents and one non-president have been featured on currency:

– George Washington on the one dollar bill
– Thomas Jefferson on the two dollar bill
– Abraham Lincoln on the five dollar bill and penny
– Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill
– Ulysses S. Grant on the fifty dollar bill
– Benjamin Franklin (non-president) on the hundred dollar bill

Each president was chosen for different reasons, often reflecting their contributions to American history or their political beliefs. For example, Washington was chosen for the one dollar bill due to his central role in the founding of the United States, while Lincoln’s portrait was added to the five dollar bill shortly after his assassination as a tribute to his leadership during the Civil War.

Artistic Analysis

The design of U.S. currency is far from arbitrary, and the portraits of presidents are no exception. In fact, each portrait goes through a long and detailed design process, involving consultations with art experts, historians, and sometimes even living relatives of the president in question. The artists who created the bills and coins, such as John Mercanti who designed the eagle on the reverse side of the one dollar bill, were also chosen for their skill and expertise.

The symbolism of each portrait is also carefully considered. For example, Washington’s portrait on the one dollar bill shows him staring resolutely ahead, representing his unwavering commitment to the new nation he helped create. Lincoln’s portrait on the five dollar bill, on the other hand, shows a more contemplative side of the president, with his gaze directed slightly downward in reflection.

The design of the currency has evolved over the years, reflecting changes in American politics, society, and technology. The current designs of the one, five, twenty, and fifty dollar bills were introduced in 2003, with updated designs featuring larger, more colorful portraits and additional anti-counterfeiting measures. The penny, featuring Lincoln’s portrait, has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 1909.

Cultural Analysis

The selection of certain presidents on U.S. currency can have cultural implications and may spark controversy or debate. One example of this is Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the twenty dollar bill. While Jackson is celebrated for his role as a military hero and his championing of democracy, his legacy is also tarnished by his support of slavery and his brutal treatment of Native Americans. Some activists have called for his portrait to be replaced or removed from the bill altogether.

There are other ways in which different groups may interpret each presidential portrait. For example, many African Americans may feel a sense of pride and empowerment in seeing an image of Barack Obama, the first Black president, on some U.S. coins. On the other hand, some conservative groups may feel that these depictions are a form of political correctness or even an attempt to rewrite history.

Political Analysis

The selection of presidents on U.S. currency can also have political implications, reflecting certain values and beliefs held by the nation. For example, the portraits of Washington and Lincoln, both of whom played pivotal roles in shaping American history, reflect the importance placed on strong leadership and patriotism. The inclusion of non-president Benjamin Franklin on the hundred dollar bill speaks to the importance of scientific inquiry and entrepreneurship in American society.

There are also political reasons why certain presidents may have been excluded from currency. For example, Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace amid the Watergate scandal, is unlikely to ever be featured on U.S. currency. Similarly, former President Donald Trump’s legacy remains contentious, with some arguing that his behavior and policies during his time in office disqualify him from being memorialized on currency.

Personal Analysis

Finally, the presidents on U.S. currency can have a personal significance for individuals, reflecting their own values and beliefs. Public opinion data shows that some presidents are more popular than others, with Lincoln and Washington topping the list and Jackson ranking lower. Many people may also have fond memories or sentimental attachments to coins from different eras, such as mercury dimes or buffalo nickels.

Gathering anecdotes from people about their own personal relationship with U.S. currency can reveal a lot about how Americans view these portraits. Some may see the presidents as heroic figures worth emulating, while others may simply see them as a practical necessity for daily life. Whatever the case may be, the presidents on currency serve as a tangible link to American history and culture.


The presidents on U.S. currency are more than just faces on bills and coins. They represent different aspects of American history, politics, culture, and even personal identity. By examining the history, artistry, cultural significance, political implications, and personal connections surrounding these portraits, we can gain a deeper understanding of what they mean to us as a nation. So next time you reach into your wallet for some cash, take a closer look at the faces staring back at you, and think about the stories they tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *