Jefferson, economics and history

Jefferson dollars will be unveiled today in a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. They officially go into circulation tomorrow, August 16, 2007.

Jefferson dollar; U.S. Mint image via Associated Press

Jefferson dollars are the third in a series commemorating U.S. presidents. The series started with Washington and will proceed, three new coins a year, through all the presidents. (Quick: What’s the cheapest amount you can invest to get dollars representing all 43 administrations? Don’t forget Grover Cleveland’s anomaly . . .)

The Associated Press story notes three things of interest:

History: Fewer than a third of Americans know Jefferson was the third president. They did better with Washington as the first president. I had a few scary moments last year covering a Texas history course when kids kept answering either “George Washington” or “Abraham Lincoln” to the questions, “Who was the the Father of Texas?” (Stephen F. Austin) and “Who was the first president of the Republic of Texas?” (Sam Houston).

Economics: The vending machine industry loses about $1 billion each year when dollar bills jam in the machine’s vending mechanism. The U.S. Mint and vending machine operators hope the dollar coins catch on and help reduce those losses.

Dollar coins are unpopular: This is another in a series of efforts to “wean” people from paper dollars to coins — remember the Sacagawea dollar? The Eisenhower dollar? The Susan B. Anthony dollar? Just last week I got an Eisenhower dollar in change from our local Starbucks — they had mistakenly put it in the coin drawer for quarters. You can get dollar coins in change at the U.S. Post Office, but not at many other places. Our local post office occasionally sneaks a Euro into the dollar change mechanism. Bonus!

The Washington Post story carried more details of the poll, conducted by the Gallup organization for the U.S. Mint:

According to the telephone poll, conducted by the Gallup Organization last month, nearly all those questioned knew that Washington was the first president. However, only 30 percent could name Thomas Jefferson as the nation’s third president, and memories of the other presidents and where they fit in was even more limited.

Only 7 percent could name the first four presidents _ Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison _ in the correct order. While 94 percent knew that Washington was first, only 8 percent knew that James Madison was fourth.

And when it came to the next four presidents _ James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren _ only 16 percent of those surveyed could name any president in that group and only 2 percent could name them all.

Mint Director Edmund Moy believes the new dollar coin series will be an antidote for that. And he can cite a good precedent. The Mint’s 50-state quarter program, the most popular coin series in history, has gotten 150 million Americans involved in collecting the quarters that are honoring the states in the order they were admitted to the Union.

“My nieces and nephews know a lot more about geography than I did at their age and the state quarters are playing an instrumental role in that,” Moy said in an interview with The Associated Press.

* * * * *

To bolster the educational part of the coin program, the Mint has developed special lesson plans on its Web site for use by parents and teachers.

The survey to find out people’s knowledge of the presidents was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults conducted July 18-25. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The website for the U.S. Mint is Lesson plans are available at Texas economics teachers will particularly want to look at the lesson plans for financial literacy:

5 Responses to Jefferson, economics and history

  1. jd2718 says:

    In New York, railroad vending machines (New Haven, Harlem, Hudson, Long Island Rail Road, don’t know about New Jersey Transit) give dollar coins as change. I ride occasionally, and usually save a few of the gold-colored coins for “presents” for nieces and nephews. I have a short stack just now, and found 3 gold Sacs and 1 GW. He looks circulated. But the Statue of Liberty on the back makes it look like a game token. Oh well.

    In Europe, common coin values go higher (I used Euros and Bulgarian Lev this year, euros and New Turkish Lira last…) My blue jeans had a pocket in the front pocket, which I found a good place to stick a handful of coins. They didn’t clang around, and I found them easy to get at.

    There is a very useful 2 euro coin, btw.


  2. Pam says:

    This is from the free newsletter,

    “Science in the News” is produced daily by Sigma Xi as a service for its members and the public. It highlights science and technology news stories appearing in the mainstream media. The accompanying Web links provide access to the full text of the articles on the Web sites of the individual media outlets from which they are taken.

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    If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of “Science in the News”, which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

    Revolutionary Minds
    from American Scientist

    In 1790, Thomas Jefferson began his tenure as America’s first Secretary of State in the cabinet of George Washington. In this role, he would wrestle with a host of issues facing the struggling new republic…

    But politics and government represented only one side of the life of the man who would become known as one of America’s most cerebral presidents. Among other pursuits, Jefferson had an abiding interest in science, including the science of weather and climate.

    …Jefferson not only took measurements himself but also encouraged others to do so, including his close friend and political ally, James Madison. …[In] meteorology as in politics, Madison was among the American founders of measures that represented a revolution against British [scientific] practices.

    To read more:



  3. teal4two says:

    You got an Eisenhower dollar for a quarter? I could see confusing a quarter and a Susan B, but what was this person thinking? Perhaps you could pay in game tokens and get them accepted as quarters as well.


  4. Will B. says:

    The best single unit of currency, in my opinion, is the pound. The one pound coin is the perfect size with a good weight. It feels important, substantial, heavy, powerful, and worth a lot.

    I spent the last 8 months abroad in Austria and Taiwan, and I realized coins slow me down. I did not have an adequate way to hold all of the coins. What I found made sense: The biggest difference I noticed, in terms of how coins are stored, is that most male wallets have a zippered change pocket. What a great solution –if you have one, which I didn’t.

    Obviously, the wallet industry would never let wallets have zippered change pockets. (Think of how much money it would cost the companies to rework their infrastructure to add the zipper!) For this reason –the difference in wallets –alone, the one dollar coin will follow the foot steps of (my favorite) Ms. Sacagawea towards a dead end in the land of forgotten coins.


  5. Are you suggesting that there are dollar coins of Washington and Adams already in circulation? Because I’ve never seen one.

    Until we drop the dollar bill, no one will use these coins. Which is too bad, because as I understand it, coins are cheaper to put in circulation.


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