The Eisenhower dollar was first minted in 1971 to commemorate the legacy of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, after his passing. The obverse features a depiction of President Eisenhower facing left, while the reverse features the mission patch design of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing. These large history-rich coins were in circulation until 1978, when they were replaced by the smaller Susan B. Anthony dollar.
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A Brief History of the Eisenhower Dollar
The iconic Eisenhower silver dollars and clad dollars were the first dollar coins to be minted since the Peace dollar in 1935, after a gap of nearly four decades. However, the journey to its production had been a tumultuous one. In 1964, Congress passed legislation for the minting of just 45 million new silver dollar coins amid rising silver prices and a crippling coin shortage. While many numismatists argued that striking these dollars would be a waste of Mint resources, the striking of 1964-D Peace dollars began as planned on May 12, 1965.
The announcement of the new pieces was met with further objections from the public. Due to public pressure, the Coinage Act of 1965 was passed in response. It barred any new silver dollar from being minted for the next five years, removed silver from the dime and quarter, and reduced the silver content in the half dollar to 40%.
Following Eisenhower’s passing in 1969, the idea for a new dollar coin was revisited. Congress expressed interest in creating a coin to honor the late president and his contributions to the country. After listening to arguments from Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and other pro-Eisenhower coin advocates, a plan was passed by the Senate in 1970 to produce the Eisenhower dollar. It was signed into law by Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970 — just in time for production to begin in 1971. The final result was a stunning coin that captured Eisenhower’s likeness, achievements, and spirit, all in one remarkable coin.
When he was young, Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro briefly glimpsed Eisenhower during the 1945 Allied Victory parade. In a moment of inspiration, he left the crowd to sketch Eisennhower’s profile. That sketch became the basis for the obverse of the Eisenhower dollar coin.
The obverse features the simple profile of Eisenhower facing left, with “LIBERTY” emblazoned above him and the standard “IN GOD WE TRUST” engraved just below his chin. The reverse design is based on the Apollo 11 mission patch designed by astronaut Michael Collins. On this patch, an eagle clutching an olive branch with both claws lands on the moon, with the Earth visible in the background. A set of 13 stars encircle the eagle.
Including this version of the eagle on the coin was a significant departure from tradition. Previous eagle designs also held a bundle of arrows. However, during the creation of the reverse design, one of the biggest critiques Gasparro received was that the eagle appeared to be too intimidating and predatory. The arrows were likely removed to make the eagle appear less warlike.
Special Bicentennial Anniversary Eisenhower dollars were struck in 1975 and 1976. A contest had been hosted to determine a new design, which was won by 22-year-old art student Dennis R. Williams. While Eisenhower’s profile remained the same on Williams’ obverse, the reverse featured a depiction of the Liberty Bell in front of the Moon. This design was never used again after 1976.
Circulation and Availability
When the Eisenhower dollar was approved for production, it was approved with one caveat: 150 million collectors coins would be produced with a 40% silver alloy, while those made for circulation would not contain any silver. This clause was introduced to avoid the plight of the recent Kennedy half dollar, which had experienced widespread, immediate, and consistent hoarding after its release.
The 1971 Eisenhower silver dollar coins were minted at the San Francisco Mint. The test coins were first minted January 25, 1971, and the first of the 40% silver proof coins were minted in July of 1971. The Eisenhower clad dollars, on the other hand, were only minted at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. They were released for circulation in November of 1971. Unfortunately, like the Kennedy half dollar, these coins were subject to severe hoarding and would often be used for just one transaction before exiting circulation.
By 1975, it was clear that the coin was not circulating as hoped and was proving to be a waste of money for the Mint. This may have been due to the coin’s large size, which made it inconvenient to carry and use. In 1978, the Eisenhower dollar coin was replaced by the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which had been designed to be smaller to incentivize circulation.
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What are Eisenhower dollars made of?
Circulation strikes of these dollars were composed of outer layers of 75% copper and 25% nickel clad with a core of 100% copper for a total composition of 91.67% copper and 8.33% nickel. Silver-clad Eisenhower dollars were composed of 80% silver outer layers and 20.9% silver centers for a total composition of 60% copper and 40% silver.
What are the key dates for Eisenhower dollars?
Key dates to look out for are the 1971-S proof, the 1972 Types 1 and 2 proofs, and the 1976 Bicentennial design. The 1971-S proof is highly sought after due to its low mintage, while the 1972 Types 1 and 2 proofs are notable for their different design on the reverse side. The 1976 Bicentennial design, with its unique date of 1776-1976, has also become a staple in many collections.
How many Eisenhower silver dollars were minted?
In total, more than 220 million of these coins were struck.