History

With a Face Like Mine, It Ought To Be On Money

$10,000 bill Salmon P. Chase Secretry of Treasury

You have to think highly of a person if you are going to suggest that person’s face to adorn a denomination of currency. That gives you a pretty good idea of what Salmon P. Chase thought of himself when he selected his own face to be memorialized on the first US $1 banknote. 

As the United States entered into the Civil War, the money supply became a serious issue. Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to issue Treasury Notes, payable upon demand of the bearer. Congress left it to the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury — Salmon P. Chase — to design such notes.

Chase was unquestionably an ambitious man and jumped at some free advertising for future political campaigns. He quickly settled on himself as the best candidate to adorn America’s first paper currency. Hence, the $1 Demand Note was born.

Chase did make it to the top seat of government but in the judicial branch, rather than the executive. Lincoln nominated Chase as Chief Justice of the United States in 1864. The Senate confirmed him the same day.

While most Americans do not immediately recognize Chase’s face or name, he earned distinction as Chief Justice by presiding over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. While serving on the bench he was a fierce advocate of the monetary system he helped develop.

Chase may have been a bit presumptive to put himself on the $1 bill, but he ultimately was honored with an even more valuable position. In 1928 Congress authorized the issuance of a new $10,000 bill. When it came down to deciding who should have the honor of adorning the largest publicly-circulated US currency, the honor went to Salmon P. Chase, in recognition of his efforts in creating a working, sustainable paper currency system.

The $10,000 bill is no longer printed, but it is still legal tender. 336 of them have yet to be redeemed, and if you have one, you can use it to buy your next package of gum. Of course, you might want to hold onto it; that $10,000 bill can bring closer to $100,000 from currency collectors.


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