A recent Star Tribune article about the latest campaign to put more female faces on American currency (“$20 and some change: Group advocates for image of a woman,” March 5) has drawn the usual heated responses from readers. “Andrew Jackson is not and never was worthy of the honor” (of being depicted on the $20 bill), snapped one. “This is another crackpot idea from a wild-eyed flaming liberal bent on sterilizing the world with political correctness,” snarled another.
If there’s room for one more oar in this teapot, I think both sides have it wrong. Booting Old Hickory off the $20 won’t fix what’s wrong with our currency. The problem is that our currency is in a rut. It’s boring. All of the bills look the same: portrait on the obverse, picture of a building or monument on the reverse. If they weren’t legal tender, no one would want anything to do with them.
It’s time for a change. Instead of continuing to squander our currency as a medium for honoring long-dead presidents and others of their ilk, let’s use our money to salute the creative artists, scientists, inventors and thinkers who have made America what it is today.
Many European countries did this for decades before the euro swept aside national currencies in 2002. Austria, for example, commemorated composer W.A. Mozart, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, architect Otto Wagner, feminist Rosa Mayreder, physicist Erwin Schrödinger and biologist Karl Landsteiner, among others, on its pre-euro currency.
There is no difficulty assembling a roster of creative Americans who have made lasting contributions to our country. The United States is, after all, the nation where aviation got off the ground; the birthplace of jazz; the country that built the Model T and found a way to prevent polio; the film capital of the world; the land of Hawthorne, Twain and Angelou; the place where baseball and basketball were invented; the nation that won the race to the moon.
It’s high time we recognized these kinds of achievements and the individuals responsible for them. Our currency would be much more colorful and attractive and have not one but many portraits of women — for creativity, unlike politics, knows no race or gender.
Over the years, the Treasury Department has done away with all currency denominations larger than $100. This, too, is the wrong approach: It is the small denominations, the $1s and $2s, that should be eliminated. Europe, after all, is getting along just fine — and spending much less money on printing — by using coins exclusively for one and two euros. As for the large denominations, I vote to bring back the $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills. You can’t have too much of a good thing.
Here then, are my candidates for the new U.S. currency:
$5 bill: Aviation
• Obverse: Orville and Wilbur Wright
• Reverse: The first manned flight at Kitty Hawk
• Obverse: Mark Twain
• Reverse: Huck and Jim floating down the Mississippi on their raft
• Obverse: Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald
• Reverse: The Ellington Band in performance at the Apollo Theater
• Obverse: Martha Graham
• Reverse: An original-cast performance of “Appalachian Spring”
• Obverse: Judy Garland
• Reverse: Dorothy and her companions on the Yellow Brick Road
• Obverse: Grant Wood
• Reverse: “American Gothic”
• Obverse: Frank Lloyd Wright
• Reverse: Fallingwater, perhaps his most famous design
• Obverse: Marian Anderson
• Reverse: Her 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
$10,000: Space exploration
• Obverse: Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin
• Reverse: “Earthrise,” astronaut William Anders’ famous photo of Earth taken from the moon
Roy M. Close is a Minneapolis writer.