The Susan B. Anthony dollar honors one of America's most prominent women's rights figures, Susan Brownell Anthony (1820-1906).
Why did the U.S. Mint produce a dollar coin so much smaller than previous dollar or half dollar coins?
The U.S. Mint has wanted to replace the one-dollar bill, which has an average lifespan of only 22 months, with something more durable, but popular opposition has prevented that from becoming reality.
All the previous versions of dollar coins had a diameter of 38 millimeters, or almost one and a half inches. But it was thought that this would be too bulky for modern cash drawers. The Mint's intent this time was to create a smaller coin that would not fill cash drawers or pants pockets and be of a compatible size for vending machines. So they decided on a coin that was almost the same size as a quarter, which has a diameter of 0.955 inches. The new dollar coin is 1.043 inches in diameter, a mere 0.088 inches larger than a quarter. The new dollar coin would have the distinction of having 11 sides rather than being round. However, vending machine operators objected to that proposal, as it would have required them to retool all machines if they wanted to be able to accept it.
How was Susan B. Anthony selected for the dollar coin?
During the design phase in the mid 70s, the woman's rights movement was very active in trying to get equal rights and equal pay for females, and a suggestion was made that, instead of Miss Liberty, a real historical woman be placed on the new coin.
Up until that time the only adornments had been deceased U.S. presidents or Miss Liberty. The Mint was not overly enthusiastic about that proposal, but in the end, Ms. Anthony, a champion for women's suffrage, was the person selected.
The designer, Frank Gasparro, had to work from some unflattering historical photographs, which resulted in an image that would not please the public in general. The coin was not widely used, the same fate suffered as the two dollar bill.
President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-447 into law in 1978, authorizing the minting of the coin. This law authorized the Mint to reduce the size of a dollar coin from one and a half inches to a little over one inch.
The first coins were put into circulation on July 2, 1979, and were an immediate flop. The public rejected a dollar that was the size of a quarter. Between the stampings of 1979, 1980 and 1991, a total of 905,634,452 coins were struck.
Where did the coins all end up?
There was a huge effort by the Mint, which spent over 60 million dollars to advertise the product, with Wal-Mart shipping millions of them to their stores, but in the end it was subway and bus-fare collectors and vending machines that used many of them up. If you wonder why you rarely see them, it is because of several nations that have accepted the U.S. dollar currency as their own, where the coin is in everyday use.
If you go to Ecuador, Panama, El Salvador or several of the islands in the Caribbean, you will likely be given your change in Susan B. Anthony dollar coins.
Is Susan B. Anthony the first woman ever on U.S. currency?
She is the first woman ever on a coin, but during Ms. Anthony's lifetime, Martha Washington's portrait graced the one-dollar silver certificates in 1886, 1891 and 1896.