Making it Official; The Birth of the Mighty Dollar
The 13 Colonies may have declared independence in 1776, but it wasn’t until 1785 that the United States adopted the dollar as the official name for Continental Currency.
It was July 6, nearly nine years after the first states ratified the Declaration of Independence, well nigh we had some form of our own currency.
Like many details of forming a new country, it took the U.S. a few years to hammer out the details of the national currency, but it was time well spent. Despite its critics, the dollar remains one of the most powerful forms of currency on the planet.
The name comes from a German word, thal, which means valley. Today they spell it tal. The word is also found in the name of a historic silver mine where the Germans once mined silver to make coins, Joachimsthal.
Thaler, in 1785, was the name given to many silver coins in Europe, all with roots tracing back to those early German coins.
When the Continental Congress kicked around the word thaler as the new form of currency, it was Thomas Jefferson who suggested a more anglicized spelling and pronunciation, the dollar.
At that time, there were already instances of colonists in Spanish and British colonies using something called the thaler as currency. We didn’t want to make things confusing.
The forefathers wanted to do things a little bit different. Dollar struck that unique chord.
Deciding on the name was one thing, but there was a long road of design and standardization ahead for the United States. It wasn’t until 1794 that the first minted bills appeared in circulation. Some of them even bore the name dollar as valuation.
Between 1776 and 1794, money in the U.S. was kind of a mess. There were notes of various values and origins. The best way to ensure against counterfeits was to use gold or silver, which is what we did.
In June to 1775, long before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress issued the first official Continental Currency, sometimes called “Continentals,” sometimes “dollars,” backed always by gold and silver coins.
The problem with those first notes was counterfeiting. They were too easy to reproduce. Who could trust the value of paper over the real thing?
Treasury and Mint
In February of 1776, the Continental Congress created the first Treasury Board. This was before the U.S. created The Great Seal, and before they had a design for a bill.
To better regulate the treasury, they established a Mint, but without official seals, and without a design for the bills, the Treasury had nothing to do with the Mint. In time, the Treasury and the Mint would serve the dollar, but we needed a design first.
Then, in 1782, Congress approved the fourth and final design for The Great Seal. It would eventually go on the back of the dollar bill and other official documents.
With the Seal and the dollar in place, in 1792, Congress passed the Coinage Act and agreed on the design for the first dollar. Ironically, The Great Seal didn’t make the first design. Neither did Gorge Washington, of course. Instead we had Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury.
None of it mattered. The Treasury officially had something to do.
Two years later, the new dollars hit the streets.
Somehow we’ve lost track of the truth behind the symbol for the dollar, the $. The best we have is speculation, even though some historians will bellow about “the truth.”
Some believe it is the combination of the Peso and the Dollar, a P and S smashed together. Fans of Ayn Rand novels insist that it should be a double line through the S, as it was in the beginning, symbolizing the combination of the letter U and S.
Others still speculate a more heroic origin, referencing the pillars of Hercules, from the Spanish currency which influenced the dollar.
You can decide which version best suits your narrative, but a simple shrug will do… as in, who cares?
The U.S currency isn’t necessarily the best. Some would argue the U.S. messed up its currency when they partially privatized the Federal Reserve, but that’s a whole different blog.
The fact remains that the U.S. dollar gets plenty of international love, spent in other countries alongside their national currency.
What will happen when and if cryptocurrency overtakes the paper form? That’s a whole ‘nother blog too.