The Susan B. Anthony dollar is well known for its precedence in featuring a woman’s profile on a circulating American coin- a step that was considered at the time a great movement in equal rights. This historical significance gave the coin its fame and value to the people of the United States. It would be worthy for us to rewind into history to know how this unprecedented coin came to be.
The United States Mint first produced the Susan B. Anthony dollar in 1979, replacing the larger Eisenhower Dollar. It was minted from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999. The new smaller one-dollar coin was tested in many shapes and materials, but the vending machine industry (a group that highly influences coin legislation) refused all of them.
The obverse of the smaller dollar coin originally featured a depiction of Lady Liberty, but groups and individuals in Congress demanded that the coin feature a real woman. This is when William Proxmire proposed to the Senate on May 3, 1978, that Susan B. Anthony would be the featured woman. While some called for both Anthony and Harriet Tubman to be included, others also suggested Georgia Neese Clarke Gray, Abigail Adams, or Elizabeth Pole instead. The winner, obviously, was Anthony. But who is Susan B. Anthony and why is she the chosen candidate?
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts, and spent her entire life as a women’s rights activist. As a young social reformer, she worked hard to fight slavery. She even collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. However, she is best known for her influential role in the women's suffrage movement. She was pivotal in the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Pretty epic, right? It would now make sense why she was the woman chosen to be featured on the amended dollar coin.
Since large dollar coins were never accepted in the United States, such as the Morgan dollars and the Eisenhower dollar, the need to form a new smaller dollar coin was in action.
That is when thoughts of the Susan B. Anthony dollar started to formulate. In the year 1975, the U.S. government asked a nonprofit research organization called Research Triangle
Institute to find out what type of coin would be accepted by the people. However, even before the institute gave its final verdict, the government was already considering a smaller coin. Then in 1976, they published a report which claims that a coin must have four components to be successful: it should be smaller, have a unique edge, shouldn’t have the same color as the quarter, and have a major marketing campaign. However, the government decided to only follow the “smaller” component for the next coin.
Then on October 10, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act into law, known as the Public Law 95-447. This law did not only make a woman’s face appear on a circulated coin but also added some changes to the size and look of coins. The first official release of the coin was in July 1979. At first, the smaller dollar coin was doing well, but then it started to receive great backlash because it was confused with the quarter and cash registers did not have enough space for it. Some people also thought that it was simply not eye-appealing or even advocating for feminism and did not want it. The coin was considered a failure after the first four months of its release.
In 1981, production of the dollar coin was halted and they were only minted for collectors. While the original coins were stored and kept in vaults, many thought that Susan B. Anthony dollar will not be utilized again. Fortunately, when the Baltimore-Maryland Metro Subway opened in 1984, it started using dollar coins for purchasing tickets, and that is when demand started to increase. Not only this, but vending machines and stamp dispensing machines installed by the US Postal Service started accepting these coins as well. Consequently, the vaults were out of dollar coins by mid-1999.
It is true that without failure, there is no success. Despite its failure at the beginning of its production, the Susan B. Anthony dollar is considered one of the most successful dollar coins in United States’ history, making it widely admired and wanted by coin collectors in the U.S. and around the globe.