Today in 1785, the U.S. Congress made a decision that affects all of us even today: they decided that the name of our country’s currency would be the dollar.
It was a big deal for the U.S. to have one single uniform currency, because up to that point they had not had one.
In the colonial days, officially they used gold and silver to make pounds, which is what the English used.
But those weren’t always available.
So they used what was, which was sometimes Spanish money known as pieces of eight, sometimes German coins, sometimes other European currency, sometimes Native American currency known as wampum, and sometimes even receipts from tobacco crops.
The colonies issued their own paper money, but that meant there were a bunch of different currency systems floating around.
And then there were currencies that were backed not by a colony or a bank but by the value of someone’s land.
Plus there were plenty of counterfeit currencies floating around.
It was complicated.
So Congress wanted one currency to rule them all, so to speak.
In 1792 lawmakers would decide that the value of a dollar would be tied to the value of silver, specifically 371 grains and 4 sixteenths part of a grain.
That was the average weight of a Spanish dollar.
And the word “dollar” was also tied to silver, in a way.
Those German coins that had moved through the colonies had been made of silver mined from a valley called Joachimstal.
In German, the word “thal” means “valley,” so these valley coins became known as “talers.”
Eventually that word morphed into “dollar.”
Today our paper money is printed and our coins struck at the U.S. Mint.
So maybe we should start calling them “minties”?
Today in 1957, Queen Elizabeth handed a golden plate to Althea Gibson, who had just made history as the first woman of color to win both the singles AND doubles title at Wimbledon.
The runner-up, fellow American Darlene Hard said of Gibson, “She’s the world’s champ—and doggone it, she’s earned it.”
The Almighty Dollar (AdamSmith.org)
Althea Gibson: Tennis Turmoil and Triumph (Library of Congress)
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