Who are the people on coins and dollar bills and why were they placed there?

-- Sweta Maheshwari, 13, Gaithersburg

The person in charge of the U.S. treasury (the secretary of the Treasury) decides whose pictures will be on paper money. The U.S. Congress decides who will be on coins.

Most of the people pictured on bills now in circulation are former presidents of the United States. The exceptions are Ben Franklin ($100 bill), Alexander Hamilton ($10 bill) and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000 bill.)

"We don't really know why anyone is there," said Claudia Dickens of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints paper money. "When we were a country just getting started with a lot of people who didn't speak English, it was thought that pictures of prominent statesman would help people recognize the bills."

Recognition doesn't matter so much now and that's a good thing. Would you recognize Salmon P. Chase?

Coins, on the other hand, have been used to honor specific people. For example, Congress voted to put President John F. Kennedy on the half-dollar in 1964, after he was assassinated in November 1963.

The other side of the money, the "tails" side of the coin, is interesting too.

The reverse of the Lincoln penny is the Lincoln Memorial. That makes sense. But the George Washington quarter has recently been used to commemorate the individual states in the order they joined the United States.

The Jefferson nickel has a picture of Jefferson's home at Monticello, Virginia. Now Congress is considering changing that to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (the purchase of 828,000 square miles from France that doubled the size of the United States) and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Monticello supporters in Virginia are trying to make sure the change is only temporary.

-- Fred Barbash


One cent (penny) -- Abraham Lincoln, 16th president, 1861-1865.

Five cents (nickel) -- Thomas Jefferson, third president, 1801-1809.

Ten cents (dime) -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president, 1933-1945.

Twenty-five cents (quarter) -- George Washington, first president, 1789-1797.

Fifty cents (half-dollar) -- John F. Kennedy, 35th president, 1961-1963.

One dollar (silver) -- Susan B. Anthony, women's rights leader in the 1800s.

One dollar ("golden dollar") -- Sacagawea, Shoshone Indian guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition, 1804-1806.


One dollar -- George Washington.

Two dollars -- Thomas Jefferson.

Five dollars -- Abraham Lincoln.

Ten dollars -- Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the Treasury, 1789-1795.

Twenty dollars -- Andrew Jackson, seventh president, 1829-1837.

Fifty dollars -- Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president, 1869-1877.

Hundred dollars -- Ben Franklin, inventor, printer, patriot.

Five hundred dollars -- William McKinley, 25th president, 1897-1901.

Thousand dollars -- Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th president, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897.

Five thousand dollars -- James Madison, fourth president, 1809-1817.

Ten thousand dollars -- Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury, 1861-1864.

Hundred thousand dollars -- Woodrow Wilson, 28th president, 1913-1921. (Used only by banks. Bills of $500 or more have not been printed since 1945.)

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow adds his John Hancock.Woodrow Wilson is on the $100,000 bill.