PRESIDENT Franklin D. Roosevelt's interest in architecture and design is well known, although few of us are aware that we handle evidence of it every day, every time we buy a lottery ticket, cough up a buck for a pack of cigarettes, or feel rejected when our slightly rumpled dollar bill glides mysteriously backwards from a Metro Farecard machine.
"Roosevelt was a great stickler for details and loved playing with them, no matter whether it involved the architecture of a house, a post office or a dollar bill." So wrote former vice president Henry Wallace in 1951, recalling a curious episode in 1935 when the design for a new dollar bill attained Cabinet-level status.
The new design proposed using the obverse and reverse images of the Great Seal of the United States on the back of the bill. According to Wallace's recollection, the president at first worried that using the Eye of Providence (the Masonic emblem atop the 13-step pyramid on the reverse side of the seal) would offend Catholics. After being assured by Post Master General James Farley that it would not, Roosevelt gave the go-ahead.
When the actual design crossed his desk, Roosevelt at first approved it, and then changed his mind, crossing out his signature and scribbling in some hasty instructions about what should be done. He wanted the images of the seals reversed in order, the eagle on the right and pyramid on the left, and he wanted the phrase "THE GREAT SEAL . . . OF THE UNITED STATES" added. There is no need to check your wallet to see what happened: It was, of course, done the president's way.