It's Abe... Honest
Photo: Laszlo-photo via Flickr/CC

It might be that one of the greatest memorials to the presidents is one we can carry in our wallets. Out of seven paper bills we use today, five feature former Chief Executives – Washington ($1), Jefferson ($2), Lincoln ($5), Jackson ($20) and Grant ($50). Four more were featured on bills no longer in use: McKinley ($500), Cleveland ($1000), Madison ($5000) and Wilson ($100,000!). Then there’s the Lincoln penny, the Jefferson nickel, the FDR dime… I can keep going, but you get the idea.

The long history of presidential currency is why I’d like to, time permitting, visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing while I’m in DC. Why did each of these fellers end up on a bill or a coin, and why did others get short shrift? The Mint was, at one point, distributing dollar coins of each US president, but the project was considered too expensive and was more or less put to a halt.

I also wonder about this: our relationship with money has changed a whole lot in the last few decades, to the point that some of us can go for extended periods of time without using any cash at all – using instead electronic bill paying, credit and debit cards, and the like, none of which have any presidents on them. I wonder if seeing Abe Lincoln every time we use a five-spot has influenced culture in any way – and if so, I wonder if that changes when we use our debit card instead. You could make the same argument about stamps – there’s no Andrew Jackson commemorative email signature, after all.

The BEP, by the way, has the absolute best web address of any part of the government. That is genius.