Many faces — famous and not-so-famous — have appeared on U.S. currency. You may have studied the solemn faces on the front of coins and paper money and wondered about the men and women who were honored by being immortalized in such a public manner. There is one face, however, you have probably seen without giving much thought to the story behind the image. That face is Peter, the bald eagle.
The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782, and its likeness appears on the Great Seal of the United States, as well as on much of its currency. When it came time to design a new silver dollar in 1836, the Treasury Department didn’t have to look very far to find a suitable model.
Since 1830, the Philadelphia Mint had a full-time resident; it was a bald eagle named Peter. He was so much at home at the Mint that he was allowed to fly freely around the building during the day. At night, Peter was let out to stretch his wings and fly all around Philadelphia. Each morning he would be back at the Mint, waiting to be let back in to start another day as one of the many workers.
One day in 1836, Peter was perched atop a coining press, keeping his co-workers company, when he got his wing caught in the press. Peter’s injuries were serious, and despite the best zoological care the federal government could provide, Peter succumbed to his injuries a short time later.
As word of Peter’s death spread throughout the Treasury Department, his colleagues paused their labors to mourn his passing. The workers at the Philadelphia Mint had grown so accustomed to being inspired by his majestic appearance that they took Peter’s body to a taxidermist and had him stuffed. Today, nearly 200 years later, visitors to the Philadelphia Mint are still greeted by the impressive sight of Peter, with his wings outstretched in flight.
It wasn’t long before a lot more people were seeing Peter, and they didn’t even have to travel to Philadelphia for the privilege. The newly-designed 1836 silver dollar was ready to be unveiled. The heads side of the coin featured “Seated Liberty.” On the tails side, however, is the impressive likeness of Peter, with wings outstretched, proudly taking his place as the national emblem of his country.
Peter’s likeness appeared in several different poses for the coins issued in the subsequent years. Although a different bald eagle adorns US currency today, Peter remains at his station at the Philadelphia Mint, and continues to greet and inspire all who walk by.