Jefferson dollars will be unveiled today in a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. They officially go into circulation tomorrow, August 16, 2007.
Jefferson dollars are the third in a series commemorating U.S. presidents. The series started with Washington and will proceed, three new coins a year, through all the presidents. (Quick: What’s the cheapest amount you can invest to get dollars representing all 43 administrations? Don’t forget Grover Cleveland’s anomaly . . .)
History: Fewer than a third of Americans know Jefferson was the third president. They did better with Washington as the first president. I had a few scary moments last year covering a Texas history course when kids kept answering either “George Washington” or “Abraham Lincoln” to the questions, “Who was the the Father of Texas?” (Stephen F. Austin) and “Who was the first president of the Republic of Texas?” (Sam Houston).
Economics: The vending machine industry loses about $1 billion each year when dollar bills jam in the machine’s vending mechanism. The U.S. Mint and vending machine operators hope the dollar coins catch on and help reduce those losses.
Dollar coins are unpopular: This is another in a series of efforts to “wean” people from paper dollars to coins — remember the Sacagawea dollar? The Eisenhower dollar? The Susan B. Anthony dollar? Just last week I got an Eisenhower dollar in change from our local Starbucks — they had mistakenly put it in the coin drawer for quarters. You can get dollar coins in change at the U.S. Post Office, but not at many other places. Our local post office occasionally sneaks a Euro into the dollar change mechanism. Bonus!
The Washington Post story carried more details of the poll, conducted by the Gallup organization for the U.S. Mint:
According to the telephone poll, conducted by the Gallup Organization last month, nearly all those questioned knew that Washington was the first president. However, only 30 percent could name Thomas Jefferson as the nation’s third president, and memories of the other presidents and where they fit in was even more limited.
Only 7 percent could name the first four presidents _ Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison _ in the correct order. While 94 percent knew that Washington was first, only 8 percent knew that James Madison was fourth.
And when it came to the next four presidents _ James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren _ only 16 percent of those surveyed could name any president in that group and only 2 percent could name them all.
Mint Director Edmund Moy believes the new dollar coin series will be an antidote for that. And he can cite a good precedent. The Mint’s 50-state quarter program, the most popular coin series in history, has gotten 150 million Americans involved in collecting the quarters that are honoring the states in the order they were admitted to the Union.
“My nieces and nephews know a lot more about geography than I did at their age and the state quarters are playing an instrumental role in that,” Moy said in an interview with The Associated Press.
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To bolster the educational part of the coin program, the Mint has developed special lesson plans on its Web site for use by parents and teachers.
The survey to find out people’s knowledge of the presidents was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults conducted July 18-25. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The website for the U.S. Mint is http://www.usmint.gov. Lesson plans are available at http://www.usmint.gov/kids/teachers/. Texas economics teachers will particularly want to look at the lesson plans for financial literacy: http://www.usmint.gov/kids/teachers/financialLiteracy.cfm