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Museum of Trade, Finance, and the Fed

Exhibit 4: How Do You Picture Money?

Photo of Exhibit 4 - How Do You Picture Money?The design of U.S. currency, including the imagery, is not only a way to instill trust but also a strategy to deter counterfeiters. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has devised several security features to protect our currency. You can read about those features on the Atlanta Fed website.

Below are images that have appeared on currencies circulating in New Orleans and elsewhere in the United States. You can view the notes with these images on the Cleveland Fed's website.

People
Presidents and other political leaders
Presidents and other political leaders, who represent the will of our people, have often appeared on currency. Treasurers and other financiers whose reputations support the value of our currency have also frequently been shown.

Presidents that have appeared on currency include George Washington, William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, James Madison, James Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Monroe, and Woodrow Wilson.

Statesmen include Thomas H. Benton, Salmon P. Chase, Spencer M. Clark, Henry Clay, Dewitt Clinton, William Crawford, Samuel Dexter, Edward Everett, William P. Fessenden, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas A. Hendricks, Michael Hillegas, John J. Knox, Daniel Manning, John Marshall, Hugh McCulloch, William M. Meredith, William H. Seward, John Sherman, Francis E. Spinner, Edwin M. Stanton, Charles Sumner, Robert J. Walker, Daniel Webster, and William Windom .

Women
Only two women have been pictured on American currency. Martha Washington's portrait has appeared on several notes, including the 1886 $1 silver certificate. And Pocahontas appears in the engraving "Introduction of the Old World to the New World," which is also featured on several pieces of U.S. currency.

Native American
Sioux chief Running Antelope, or Ta-to-ka-in-yan-ke, is the only Native American whose portrait is featured on American currency. The artist portrayed the chief in a Pawnee headdress rather than his Sioux tribal headdress, which created a cultural scandal.

Inventors and inventions
Many famous inventors and their inventions have been featured on our money as symbols of American progress and ingenuity. The following men have appeared on money.

  • Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals, among other things
  • Samuel Morse, an inventor of Morse code and the telegraph
  • Robert Fulton, creator of the commercial steam boat

Heroes and explorers
Images of American heroes and heroic deeds have often been printed on our money, as have famous generals, battles that defined our national character, and brave explorers of the American continent. These people have appeared on American currency: William Clark, Meriwether Lewis, Christopher Columbus, Hernando de Soto, Sir Walter Raleigh, Stephen Decatur, David G. Farragut, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joseph Mansfield, James McPherson, Robert Morris, Philip H. Sheridan, and George Thomas.

American history
The character of a nation can be understood through its history. Some of the historical scenes that have appeared on many issues of our currency appear in the following list.

  • Pilgrims embarking on their journey and landing on Plymouth Rock
  • The signing of the Declaration of Independence
  • George Washington crossing the Delaware
  • The Battle of Lexington, in 1775
  • Commodore Perry leaving the Lawrence
  • George Washington resigning his commission
  • George Washington at prayer
  • Columbus at study
  • Columbus sighting the New World
  • De Soto reaching the Mississippi River
  • Pocahontas being presented to the Queen of England
  • Sir Walter Raleigh exhibiting tobacco and corn from America
  • The baptism of Pocahontas
  • The landing of Columbus on the American shore

American economy
One way to highlight the productivity of a nation is to show images of its economy on money. Money has frequently carried images depicting the economic engines of agriculture, industry, mechanics, navigation, and transportation.

Allegorical figures
Allegory—symbolic figures that represent ideas and ideals—often finds a place on our currency. Allegories depicting the nation, its industry, and its arts and sciences are a beautiful way to express our national character. U.S. currency has carried allegorical figures depicting agriculture, prosperity, the United States, peace, commerce, liberty, justice, victory, manufacturing, electricity, steam, mechanics, science, art, architecture, history, youth, and the Union.

Symbols
Our money displays many symbolic images. Symbols of prosperity, peace, strength, and national unity commonly figure on money. The different seals that have appeared on much of U.S. currency themselves incorporate sometimes several different symbols, including the unfinished pyramid and a war shield. Seals that have been part of currency design include the Great Seal of the United States, the Federal Reserve Seal, and the seal of the U.S. Treasury. You can get more information about the seals from this Philadelpia Fed publication.

Animals can symbolize a number of concepts. Our national bird, the bald eagle, has often appeared on U.S. currency. Ben Franklin thought the turkey should be the symbol for the new United States, and he made this suggestion to the Continental Congress. The Continental Congress disagreed and chose the eagle instead. The eagle first appeared as part of the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 and has appeared on U.S. currency more than any other symbol. Other animals that have appeared on banknotes through U.S. history include a buffalo, snake, bullfrog, and pelican.

Plants have also frequently been used as symbols on currency. Olive branches have represented peace; laurel wreaths, victory; and oak leaves, strength. Cornucopias, usually overflowing with fruits and grains, have represented prosperity and good fortune. Agricultural products of the United States have also been used, such as corn, cotton, wheat, and tobacco.

Fasces (a bundle of rods) are included in a classical Roman symbol of civic authority, consisting of an axe within a bundle of rods bound together by a strap. Fasces are also used as a symbol of American democracy; the states, like the rods, achieve their strength and stability when bound together through their union under the federal government. Many banknotes carry images of fasces.