The Roosevelt Dime: Going Like Sixty

BY ED REITER
Sixty years ago, Americans checking their pocket change were finding a new coin with growing frequency. That coin, the Roosevelt dime, was considered quite a knickknack back then – which may seem heavily to believe today, since most people nowadays don ’ t give it a second gear look .
After more than six decades of use, this unprepossessing mint is just taken for granted by Americans in general and collectors in especial .
As it moves through its seventh ten, it deserves a closer expect, though, for while it may seem commonplace and conventional today, it was actually quite radical 60 years ago. And, in authoritative ways, it helped set the tone for much of the raw U.S. coinage that came in its wake up.

To begin with, the decision to honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a circulating U.S. coin was more than a little controversial and very a lot at odds with U.S. coinage tradition at the time .
At the end of World War II in 1945, three U.S. coins – the cent, nickel and quarter – carried portraits of celebrated presidents. But all three men – Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington – had been absolutely for many years, and all were securely ensconced in the pantheon of great national leaders .
By contrast, FDR had been abruptly for merely weeks when the Roosevelt dime was authorized. And for all the frightful accomplishments that stamped him as one of the nation ’ sulfur outstanding presidents, he had acerb critics who strongly opposed such a protection and made a concert attempt to prevent it .
Roosevelt had died on April 12, 1945, at the age of 63, shortly after starting his one-fourth term in the White House and fair a few months before the end of the bitter war. indeed, observers believe the strenuous exertions required of him as a wartime president shortened his animation by years .
many of his countrymen idolized FDR for his role in leading the nation through both the Great Depression and the war during his 12 years at the helm of the embark of state. But while these admirers viewed his New Deal programs as innovative and necessity, equally ardent detractors considered them extreme and even dangerous. For that cause, honoring him on the dime – while legitimate in review – stirred predictable protest at the meter .
By bestowing such a tribute so soon after the death of the president of the united states being honored, the Roosevelt dime bag laid the basis for two subsequent coins that did likewise : the Kennedy half dollar and the Eisenhower dollar. possibly more importantly, it changed the direction of U.S. coin designs not only from the point of view of their subjects, but besides in terms of their creators : It was the first new regular-issue coin in more than half a hundred to feature a design by a U.S. Mint staff artist. significantly, Mint artists have designed most of the regular-issue coins introduced since that time .
The tax of designing the dime bag went to John Ray Sinnock, the Mint ’ randomness chief sculptor-engraver – primarily because time was of the essence and the Mint didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate want to risk the electric potential delays built-in in a coin-design competition. mint officials wanted to ensure that the mint would be cook by the culmination of the March of Dimes crusade on Jan. 30, 1946 – which, by no mere coincidence, would have been Roosevelt ’ s 64th birthday .
nowadays, the March of Dimes is a charitable arrangement focused largely on combating parentage defects and early health problems associated with american babies. primitively, however, it was an annual fund drive that raised tens of millions of dollars Рfrequently dime bag by dime bag Рto combat the scourge of poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, a disease as feared at that meter as cancer is nowadays. To FDR, the campaign was intensely personal, for he himself was thought to be a victim of the disease. Roosevelt was stricken in 1921, at the historic period of 39, while vacationing at his summer home on Campobello Island in the canadian state of New Brunswick. He was paralyzed from the waist down, and never regained more than limited practice of his legs. ( A inquiry composition in 2003 concluded that his paralytic illness credibly was Guillain-Barr̩ syndrome, not poliomyelitis, but this does not alter its shock on his life or the heroism with which he fought to overcome it. )
Unlike his body, Roosevelt ’ s political ambitions – and his dogged decision to achieve them – never were crippled, and he battled doggedly to rebuild his health and his career. Though not so far 40 at the time he fell ill, he already had scaled impressive political heights .
Helped by his class ’ south wealth and his relationship to the enormously democratic President Theodore Roosevelt, who was his fifth cousin, FDR won election doubly as a state senator in New York. He then served eight years as adjunct repository of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. then, in 1920, the Democratic Party chose him to run for vice president on a national ticket headed by Ohio Gov. James M. Cox. The ticket went down to defeat in an election succeed by republican Warren G. Harding and his run mate, Calvin Coolidge, but Roosevelt made many significant contacts that proved invaluable 12 years late, when he ran for the presidency in his own right .
At that point, Roosevelt ’ s political prospects seemed about unlimited. soon after the election, though, his paralyzing illness forced him to withdraw from public biography. Over the next respective years, he spent much of his time recuperating in the healing waters of Warm Springs, Ga., a little-known health resort to which he would bring international fame .
By 1924, he felt well adequate to attend the democratic National Convention in New York, where he delivered a agitate lecture nominate Alfred E. Smith for president – a speech memorable for his mint of the phrase “ felicitous Warrior ” to describe his companion New Yorker. Smith missed the nomination that class, but got it four years later – and in the lapp year, 1928, he induced Roosevelt to run for governor of New York, the mail he was leaving behind .
The 1928 election was a calamity for Smith, who was overwhelmed by his republican opposition, Herbert Hoover. But Roosevelt managed to win the governorship, bucking the potent Republican tide which swept the state – including New York – that class. Two years later, he was re-elected resoundingly .
then, in 1932, he sought and won the democratic nomination for president and drive to victory over Hoover, who was seeking re-election. Voters were frustrated with the Great Depression and Hoover ’ s apparent inability to cope with it – and to much of the nation, Roosevelt ’ s victory intend that glad days were, indeed, hera again .
FDR went on to win re-election three times, making him the merely president in U.S. history to hold the office for more than two terms .
Roosevelt brought such vitality and energy to the presidency that people tended to forget he was physically handicapped. The March of Dimes served to remind the nation each year that for all his dynamism, this noteworthy leader had to rely on braces, crutches and a wheelchair .
The March of Dimes was identified with Roosevelt a closely as the New Deal and the commodity neighbor Policy. In 1937, he personally announced the establishment of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to “ lead, direct and unify the fight on every phase of this nausea, ” and thereafter he played a personal character in the annual fund drives whenever possible .
Roosevelt ’ s interest with the March of Dimes was underscored by the fact that it climaxed each class on his birthday. possibly his greatest contribution to the cause, though, was not what he did during any specific fund drive, but what he represented throughout his subsequently life : a symbol of homo ’ s ability to surmount this fear disease .
FDR ’ s close up association with the annual appeal was particularly apparent on Jan. 30, 1946, when the end of that year ’ s store drive served as the official kickoff for the new dime. The importance of this linkage to officials at the Mint was abundantly clear. Leland Howard, the Mint ’ s acting director, put it this way : “ It is desired that the newfangled dimes be produced at the beginning of the calendar year in sufficient quantity to use them in the infantile paralysis drive. ”

Read more: Events Timeline

Sinnock was selected as designer of the dime not only in the pastime of saving meter, but besides because Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross greatly admired the FDR decoration he fashioned years earlier for the Mint ’ s presidential serial. The project was kept under wraps, according to Frank Gasparro, then a junior adjunct engraver and subsequently chief engraver himself for 17 years .
“ This was all done softly, ” Gasparro recalled in 1986, when the coin reached its fortieth anniversary. “ Some people – and peculiarly some newspapers – still had a big deal of hostility toward Roosevelt, so Mrs. Ross didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate want the news getting out that a coin was being planned in his honor. Sinnock did a lot of his cultivate in the back room, and sometimes he worked on this at home. The public was not supposed to know about it so far. ”
FDR ’ s portrait was, of naturally, a natural choice for the obverse of the dime. But designing it proved surprisingly troublesome for Sinnock, evening with his presidential decoration available as a guide .
“ John was reasonably ill at the time, ” according to Gilroy Roberts, Sinnock ’ s exceed assistant in 1945 and later his successor as head engraver. “ He had a brain tumor and his health was failing, and that may explain it – but for whatever reason, he good couldn ’ thyroxine get the same kind of heart in his mint design as he had been able to get in the decoration. ”
This insufficiency was apparent to the federal Commission of Fine Arts, which reviewed the design in October 1945 and rejected it .
“ In the opinion of the Commission, the question of the late President Roosevelt, as portrayed by the models, is not good, ” Commission Chairman Gilmore Clarke wrote in a letter to the Mint. “ It needs more dignity. It may be that the place of the fountainhead – the angle at which it is placed on the background – and the form and ending of the neck are at fault. ”
keenly mindful of the express time remaining before the coin ’ mho scheduled introduction, Lee Lawrie, a sculptor member of the Fine Arts Commission, intervened personally to offer artistic guidance. Forty years late, Gilroy Roberts ( who, like Gasparro, is now deceased ) described how Lawrie did it :
“ With the blessing of the superintendent of the Mint, John Sinnock and I took the plaster mannequin and rode down to Maryland to Lee Lawrie ’ sulfur studio. I was just an perceiver ; John didn ’ triiodothyronine drive, so I drove him down and then stayed around while he and Mr. Lawrie worked on the mannequin .
“ We stayed for two or three days, and during that time John and Lee Lawrie worked together revising the original model. Mr. Lawrie wanted to make it more bouncing – more dramatic, possibly – and for some foreign rationality, John had worry at beginning capturing that kind of liveliness. finally, though, with Lee Lawrie ’ sulfur help, he succeeded in pepping it up – and the deliver dime, I think, is a very well representation. I ’ d say it ’ sulfur pretty close to the portrayal he did for the decoration, but without the coat and all that. ”
Sinnock prepared a number of different sketches for the fresh coin ’ s inverse. Two of these portray female figures – a capped Liberty holding the lamp of exemption in one translation, a capless girl grasping a slender flashlight in the other. A third gear design displayed a blowtorch along with four scrolls – two on each side – representing the “ Four Freedoms ” about which FDR had spoken so articulately. A fourthly depicted the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, locate of the United Nations Conference at which the global body came into being in 1945 .
The choice was narrowed to two designs featuring a torch amid emblematic branches of laurel and oak. One of these showed a hand clutching the torch. The early – the one accepted – just showed the torch with the branches neatly arrayed on either side. Roberts viewed this as superscript neologism artwork .
“ I think it ’ mho one of the best coin designs we ’ ve ever had, ” he commented in a 1986 interview. “ It took all the previous standards and the classical material and rearranged them in a very effective manner. And we got away from the distinguished effect of fasces and things like that. ”
Roberts prepared the plaster model for the turn back of the dime bag. But, he stressed, the concept and design were entirely Sinnock ’ s workplace .
“ It ’ s the theme that very counts, ” he declared. “ It ’ s the musical composition, the artist ’ s creation – his concept – that ’ s actually important. You can get a stonecutter to cut a portrait without any problem. But how do you arrange the elements ? That ’ s the very magic trick. I modeled it, yes, but this was John ’ south design and he was the one who had to – and did – approve the final examination models. ”
The dime bag ’ randomness successful launch and broad populace blessing boosted Sinnock ’ mho morale, but his health continued to deteriorate and on May 14, 1947, at the age of 59, he died at the U.S. Marine hospital on Staten Island. even as the end drew approximate, he was burnishing his bequest one survive time : In his final examination months at the Mint, he fashioned the basic design for the Franklin half dollar. That coin made its debut in 1948, the year after his death – a posthumous tribute to the fine artistic skill of its couturier .
The Roosevelt dime bag became an immediate mainstay in the March of Dimes campaign. By 1953, good 15 years after the beginning March of Dimes, the annual appeals had raised more than $ 50 million – and, most important, they were turning the tide in the struggle against poliomyelitis. Many of the dimes had been plowed into research, and one of those engaged in that solve, Dr. Jonas E. Salk of the University of Pittsburgh, had developed a vaccine which showed predict of being effective in preventing the disease .
across-the-board plain trials were conducted in 1954. And on April 12, 1955 – the tenth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt ’ s death – a elated nation learned the stimulate results : The Salk vaccine was safe and effective, and poliomyelitis had been vanquished – trampled by millions of persistent marching dimes .
Like the March of Dimes, the Roosevelt dime has undergo major change since that discovery : originally 90-percent silver, it became a silverless “ sandwich-type ” coin of copper-nickel “ clothed ” basal metallic in 1965 .
But the mint and the lawsuit remain firm linked in Americans ’ collective consciousness, bound by the common train of thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt ’ mho enthusiasm, optimism and determination.

More than 62 years have passed since FDR ’ s death – about the same distance of time he was animated. But the big dime bag that bears his chipper image provides a daily reminder of precisely how much he meant to the nation he served .
And his memory, like his coin, still marches on .

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