Much has been written and proclaimed about the recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s face with Harriet Tubman’s on the $20 bill. It has been so long since a change has taken place in the lineup of US currency that it is easy to assume that the current faces behind the dollar signs have always been there.
In reality, 53 people have been depicted on US paper currency over the years (not counting fractional currency, which is a whole different subject). Some you would quickly recognize, but did you know about these not-so-famous faces that have adorned US banknotes?
Martha Washington (1731-1802) was not only the first First Lady of the United States, but she was also the first (and thus far, only) female whose face has appeared on US paper currency. She appeared on the 1886 $1 silver certificate.
William Windom (1827-1891) may not be a household name today, but as a 10-year member of the House of Representatives and a US Senator from Minnesota, as well as Secretary of the Treasury, Windom was a big enough deal in 1891 to earn a place on the $2 silver certificate.
Running Antelope (1821-1896) was the chief of the Hunkpapa tribe. His face on the 1899 $5 silver certificate caused quite the controversy when he was depicted with the headdress of the Pawnee because the feathers of the Hunkpapa/Sioux headdress were too tall to fit within the space allocated for the portrait. Despite the fashion and cultural faux pas, he remains the only Native American to appear on paper currency.
William Learned Marcy
With his face on the 1878 $1,000 silver certificate, it seems that William Learned Marcy (1786-1857) would be better remembered today. He was well known in the state of New York, where he served as an Adjutant General in the state militia, as New York State Comptroller, a judge on the New York Supreme Court, and ultimately as Governor. He also represented the state as US Senator prior to being appointed as Secretary of War under President James K. Polk and as Secretary of State under President Franklin Pierce.
Joseph King Fenno Mansfield
You may not have heard of Joseph King Fenno Mansfield (1803-1862), and if you saw a picture of him, you might mistake him for Santa Claus, but his service as a Major General in the US Army during the Mexican War and the Civil War earned him a place on the 1874 $500 legal tender.
Thomas Andrews Hendricks
Who was Thomas Andrews Hendricks (1819-1885)? In addition to being a member of the Indiana delegation to the US House of Representatives, Assistant Treasurer to the United States, and a Senator and Governor, Hendricks was, for eight months, one heartbeat away from the most powerful office on earth, serving as Vice President of the United States under President Grover Cleveland. His aspirations to higher office ended when he died in office, unexpectedly. He is the only Vice President whose face appears on currency: the 1886 $10 silver certificate.
Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) was a US Senator and member of the House of Representatives from his home state of Pennsylvania. He served as Secretary of the Treasury and as US Minister to France and to Great Britain. His face graces the 1862 $500 legal tender.
William Pitt Fessenden
William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) represented the state of Maine in the House and the Senate, as well as serving as Secretary of the Treasury in the final months of the Civil War. In addition to appearing on the 1882 $20 national bank note, Fessenden graced the 25-cent fractional currency note, being one of the few who was given that honor during that person’s lifetime.
As US Navy Commodore, Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) rose to national prominence for his service in the First Barbary War. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1813, and he was honored by being depicted on the 1878 $20 silver certificate.
DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) ran unsuccessfully for President in 1812, but his legacy as mayor of New York City, US Senator, and Governor of New York earned him a place on the 1869 $1,000 legal tender.