Work on the first Eisenhower dollar, a large-format dollar coin
released in 1971, began June 19, 1945, immediately after Victory in
Europe. Barely a month after Dwight
David Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary
Forces, accepted the Nazi surrender on May 8, 1945, he was feted June
19 in the largest ticker-tape parade ever held in New York City.
Frank Gasparro, who would later become the U.S.
Mint’s chief engraver, was in the crowd.
Copley News Service recounted that day in a 1971 article on the
dollar: “Gasparro got only a fleeting glance of Eisenhower as he rode
by. He carried his image of Eisenhower’s courage and character back to
work with him at the Philadelphia Mint. He immediately made a profile
drawing suitable to cut directly in steel and capture the strong
facial features that so deeply impressed him.
“When he was asked to design the Eisenhower dollar coin, he studied
his first drawing of Eisenhower and some 30 other pictures before
sketching his design for the face of the coin.”
The image that appears on the short-lived coin (1971 to 1978) shows
Eisenhower a few years before he became president.
On Jan. 25, 1971, as trial strikes were being made at the
Philadelphia Mint, Gasparro told the Associated Press the coin shows
Eisenhower with more hair than he had as president. “I had to add the
hair because when you strike a coin the luster on a bald head shines
prominently,” he explained.
The reverse of the coin shows an eagle landing on the moon, a
metaphor for the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.
The adopted coin looked nothing like the first proposed design to
surface. A drawing of the proposed coin displayed at a Sept. 30, 1969,
House Banking Committee hearing had a Peace dollar reverse and what
looks like a mashup of the Kennedy half dollar and the Mint’s
Eisenhower Presidential medal on the obverse.
The 1969 plan died in the U.S. House, victim of a fight between
those who wanted a silver dollar and those who wanted a copper-nickel
clad one. Rep. H.R. Gross, R-Iowa, who opposed the
silverless dollar, said, “You would do the memory of President
Eisenhower no favor to mint a dollar made perhaps out of scrap metal.”
The bulky coin, approved in 1970, proved unpopular and never
circulated much. It was succeeded in 1979 by the small but also
unpopular Anthony dollar.
This year, Eisenhower returns to the dollar as part of the
small-size Presidential dollar series.
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