The unexpected results of an assassination

?Senior staff writer Paul Gilkes’ cover on the centennial anniversary of the Winged Liberty Head dime kicks off our celebration of the 100th birthday for the nation’s most beautiful silver coinage issued for circulation. It’s an event that we might not even be celebrating had an unemployed wire mill worker from Detroit chosen to not attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901.

At 4:07 p.m. that afternoon, Leon F. Czolgosz stood in a receiving line at the Temple of Music on the grounds of the exposition. Those standing in line were waiting to greet the distinguished visitor at the expo that day — William McKinley, president of the United States. 

Czolgosz, however, carried an Iver Johnson revolver in his right hand, which was wrapped in a cloth as though bandaged for an injury. When Czolgosz reached McKinley, he fired two shots at the president. The first was deflected by a button on McKinley’s clothing; the second bullet entered the president’s abdomen. Afterwards, at first McKinley  seemed to be responding to treatment, but then he suffered a relapse and, on Sept. 14, he died.

Upon McKinley’s death his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in as president. At 42, Roosevelt, “that damned cowboy” in the words of Republican boss Mark Hanna, was the youngest man to enter the office of president. With his youth he brought a new outlook to the office, and a goal to make the nation a world power.

Not long after entering the office, he met, through Henry Adams (grandson and great-grandson of two presidents) the nation’s leading sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The two men became frequent companions and their many discussions led Roosevelt to order a complete redesign of the nation’s coinage. Saint-Gaudens managed to redesign the gold $10 and $20 coins before dying of cancer in 1907, but the process had begun, leading to new designs in 1908 for the rest of the gold coins; to the Lincoln cent in 1909 and the Indian Head 5-cent coin in 1913; and finally to the three silver masterpieces of 1916: the “Mercury” dime, the Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and the Walking Liberty half dollar. The nation was set on a new path in 1901 with an assassin’s bullet, a path that would a few years later lead to the Golden Age of U.S. Coinage Design.