US currency has a long history of having famous faces emblazoned on it. People who have made a difference to the nation and who have influenced and affected the world in some kind of way. Of course, you have all the usual suspects on there, such as George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.
These Faces Might Surprise You
But, there are also more surprising additions, people you would not necessarily expect to find on US banknotes. The United States has such a rich and varied history, and there are so many people who have helped to shape the New World. These are some of the more surprising ones you might not necessarily have thought of.
David Glasgow Farragut
Heard of this guy? Nope, us neither. But he must have been an important character for his face to make it onto the 1890 $100 Treasury Note. So, who is David Glasgow Farragut, and what did he do that was so impressive? Well, he is best remembered as being a flag officer in the US Navy.
He is known for his victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay and is considered something of an icon in the Navy world. He is one of the only US naval officers in history to have the honor of appearing on a postage stamp, as well as, of course, the famed $100 Treasury Note.
Thomas Hart Benton
Benton was a Democrat who served in the Senate for an unprecedented five terms. He was a vocal and staunch advocate of the expansion of the continental United States, especially in a Westerly direction. He was nicknamed Old Bullion due to his being a strong advocate for what’s known as hard money.
In many ways, though lesser known, Benton was one of the chief driving forces behind the growth of the US in the 1800s. He was only denied a sixth term in Senate due to new legislation. His legacy has lived on, and he was commemorated with his face on a $100 Gold Certificate, just 12 years after his death.
Susan B. Anthony
We know that only two women ever appeared on US paper currency, but other women have made appearances on coins. One of these women was Susan B. Anthony, a woman best known for being a fierce women’s rights activist. She founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866.
Susan campaigned to abolish slavery and to try to win the right for women to vote. This finally happened nearly a decade and a half after her death. In 1979 she was honored by Congress when her face was included on a new one dollar coin. We think Susan would have been reasonably happy with that.
John Jay Knox, Jr.
John Jay Knox, Jr. was a financier from New York who had a pretty big impact on the banking world. He worked in the Treasury Department and eventually made the position of Comptroller of the Treasury. This was a role that required auditing all accounts and overseeing all financial affairs for the country.
He was also instrumental in the development of a bill that prompted the Coinage Act of 1873. It was basically a way of organizing and codifying currency and contributed to the banking system we have today. It’s probably for this reason that Knox, Jr. appeared on a $100 in 1902.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse
Samuel Morse makes our list because, in spite of his work being a worldwide phenomenon, not many people would necessarily know the name off hand. He is, of course, the gentleman who is responsible for co-creating the Morse code. So you can understand the importance of his work.
In his early years, Morse was a painter, but he invented a telegraph system in his later years, as well as the Morse code. Morse was recognized for his work with his portrait appearing on the back of a $2 Silver Certificate in 1896. Morse is one of the few people to be depicted on paper currency who was not a politician.
Meriwether Lewis is one of the more surprising additions to this list because he isn’t widely known. We know that he was an explorer and politician active during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson. You might have heard of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; Meriwether was the leader of that.
The goal of this expedition was to cross the Westernmost point of the United States and establish trade and sovereignty where possible. In 1809 he died from gunshot wounds, but it’s unclear if this was as a result of murder or suicide. Both Lewis and Clark appeared on a $10 note in 1901.
The other half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was William Clark. He was a Captain and militia in the United States Army for some time before becoming an explorer. Together with Meriwether Lewis, he is known for the expedition to claim the Pacific Northwest.
It’s for this reason that he is quite rightly honored on a $10 bill along with his friend Lewis. Did you know, in 2001 President Clinton posthumously promoted Clark to the position of Captain? We underestimate the impact the Lewis and Clark Expedition has had on us, and for this reason, Clark is deserving of his place.
If you’ve not heard of Sacagawea then don’t feel bad, most Americans haven’t. She was a Shoshone Indian who traveled for two years as part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. She was the only woman in the group and also carried a small child with her during this time.
She proved to be one of the key components of the expedition due to her knowledge of tribal relations and the contacts she had. She is believed to have passed away in 1812. In order to commemorate what she did, she was placed on the front of the US gold dollar coin; it replaced the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.
DeWitt Clinton is one of the great US politicians, and he served many roles within the government. He worked in the state and US Senate, served as the Governor of New York, and as the Mayor of New York City. His influence can be felt all through the state of New York, even to this day.
One of Clinton’s crowning achievements was the constriction of the Erie Canal that runs through New York City. For his achievements and legacy, a portrait of his likeness was featured on a $1000 bill of legal tender, and this can be viewed on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s website.
Robert Fulton is an inventor who made it onto US banknotes. This might not sound surprising, but he’s not exactly an inventor as well known as the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. Nevertheless, Fulton played an important role in the history and development of the US and is a worthy addition to US currency.
He is regarded as being the first inventor of the steamboat and was hired by Napoleon to design the Nautilus, the first submarine in history. Fulton appeared on the reverse of the $2 Silver Certificate in 1896 and remains an important figure in the history of the country.
The only woman ever to have been featured on US paper currency is the legendary Martha Washington, First Lady of the United States. You will no doubt be aware that she is the wife of former President George Washington. Even though as of now she’s the only woman to have appeared on paper currency, this looks set to change soon.
Martha made appearances on the $1 silver certificates in 1886, 1891, and 1896. This was unheard of at the time and hasn’t happened since. It looks like the new ground is being broken, with Harriet Tubman set to appear on the new $20 bill, and other women to appear on $5 and $10 bills.
Unknown Native American Male
There is another instance of Native Americans appearing on US currency, and that is on the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar. This fifty cent piece depicts one side with a wagon being pulled along the trail, and, on the other side is an image of a Native American man in a feathered headdress.
The coin was designed by James and Laura Fraser and was created to honor those who lost their lives on the trail. The depiction of the Native American, stood with a hand up against a borderless map of the US, could be seen as a suggestion of peace and acceptance.
Edwin McMasters Stanton
US Attorney General and US Secretary Of War, Stanton served under President Lincoln. Though he managed and organized much of the military to great effect, he was often criticized for his micromanagement and for being too cautious. He was appointed Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court but died before taking office.
He was formerly a Democrat and later a Republican, helping Lincoln win the war, and hunt for the President’s killer John Wilkes Booth. Stanton appeared on a $1 US Treasury Note from 1890. He also became only the second American who wasn’t a President (the first was Benjamin Franklin), to appear on a postage stamp.
Winfield Scott Hancock
Major Winfield Scott Hancock was one of the greatest military men the country has produced. His leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg is thought to be one of the defining moments in American warfare. His skill as a soldier won him the respect and admiration of his peers, and his enemies.
In an era of such great corruption, Hancock stood out due to his integrity. He was a man of honor in a den of thieves, and people recognized this. He ran for President in 1880 but was unsuccessful. His portrait can be found on the $2 Silver Certificate of 1886, and you can still find a few of these today.
Another precedent-setting event for US currency saw the appearance of Running Antelope on the 1899 $5 bill. The Sioux Chief of the Hunkpapa is the first (and to date, only) Native American to grace any of the paper currency in the United States, though some have appeared on coins.
It’s important for the Native Americans to be given a public identity. So much of their history and culture is not taught in America, and many people know little about them. That’s why Chief Running Antelope appearing on a $5 bill was such a big deal. Unfortunately, we’ve not seen a repeat since, but hopefully, we will.
James Abram Garfield
The only President to make it onto our list is James Garfield. Yes, plenty of US Presidents are depicted on our currency, in fact, there are 13 in total. But, people like Washington and Lincoln are obvious. James Garfield makes our list for being the second shortest serving President ever (behind William Henry Harrison).
Garfield had a long political career before finally taking office in March of 1881. But, James’s tenure was to be short-lived, and he was shot just three months later by Charles J. Guiteau. Garfield died 79 days later in September 1881 and was commemorated on currency the following year.
Salmon P. Chase
One of the favorite myths that have circulated for some time is that only US Presidents get to have their faces on US currency. This is simply not true and has been proven as such in many examples. Another example is to take the case of Salmon P. Chase. He was a senator, governor, and Chief Justice.
However, Mr. Chase never held the position of President. Despite this, he managed to get his face on the 1861 $10,000 bill. There are believed to be a few hundred in circulation. But the plot also thickens. See, Salmon, in his capacity as Secretary of the Treasury, put his own face on the bill!
Native Americans are grossly underrepresented on US currency, but hopefully, this will change over the next decade. Another of the famed Native Americans to make it onto currency is Chief Blackfish of the Shawnee tribe. He was featured greeting Daniel Boone on the front of the Daniel Boone Bicentennial half dollar coin.
In fact, Blackfish is primarily known for his interactions and connection to Boone. The famed frontiersman was captured by Blackfish and his tribe during a daring raid. A respect grew between the two men as Boone began to respect the Shawnee way of life. Blackfish eventually died in 1779 from a gunshot wound to the leg became infected.
No, we’ve not made that up! Native American Pocahontas was actually the only woman beside Martha Washington to appear on any US paper currency. For a short time, she could be found on the reverse of a $20 bill at some time during the 1860s. This is something that not many people are aware of and has not happened since Martha Washington.
There is a debate about who should be put on the new $10 bill, and there are calls for more female candidates. The new note will be revealed in 2020, and it seems very likely the Treasury Department will feature a woman’s portrait on the bill. This is precedent setting, and we will have to wait to find out who it’s going to be.