Who’s On the Dime?

Posted on February 15, 2021

The dime is a frequently used coin in current circulation. Whether you collect coins avidly, you're new to the hobby or you've just used the ten-cent coin as spare change, you have likely looked at the images on the dime countless times. Learn more about who is currently on the dime and how the dime we know today has changed over the years.

Who's On the Dime Today ... And Why?

The current dime, or ten-cent piece, is the Roosevelt dime. This dime shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt on its obverse (or heads) side.

The Roosevelt dime was authorized soon after President Roosevelt's death in 1945. After Representative James Hobson Morrison introduced a bill for a dime depicting Roosevelt, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. announced that this new coin design would replace the Mercury dime by around the end of that year. [1]

Roosevelt, who had suffered from polio since 1921, helped found and continued to support the March of Dimes organization that fought against that disease. [2] As the U.S. Mint could change the ten-cent coin at the time of Roosevelt's death without congressional action, officials quickly moved to replace the Mercury dime (also known as the Winged Liberty dime) that was then in circulation.

John R. Sinnock, the Chief Engraver, prepared models for the new coin. The coin first went into circulation in January of 1946. [1]

The Roosevelt Dime in Circulation

The Roosevelt dime has been produced in large numbers since it was first introduced. In 1965, the Mint transitioned from silver to base metal when striking this coin. The modern dime is therefore less widely sought by collectors, since it has neither silver content nor rare dates. The design has not changed very much since Sinnock first created it.

What's On the Back of Today's Dime?

The back of the dime displays three different symbols. [3] Those symbols are:

  • An oak branch: Symbolizing strength and independence
  • An olive branch: Symbolizing peace
  • A torch: Symbolizing liberty

Past Designs of the Dime

Before the Roosevelt dime was introduced, the United States Mint issued the dime in five major varieties. These varieties of the dime were:

  • 1796-1807: Draped Bust Dime
  • 1809-1837: Capped Bust Dime
  • 1837-1891: Seated Liberty Dime
  • 1892-1916: Barber Dime
  • 1916-1945: Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) Dime

The Roosevelt dime was issued in 1946 and is still used.

The Materials of a Dime and Other Coins

If you think that common coins in circulation are made out of silver, you are not alone in this common misconception. There was once a time in history that circulating coins in the United States were made of silver (and others of gold). However, as prices of precious metals increased, using silver and gold for coins became impractical.

As metals like copper, nickel and zinc do not command prices as high as gold and silver, they are available in abundant supply. As a result, these metals have played a big role in modern coin production.

Today's quarters, dimes and nickels are made from a combination of copper and nickel, known as Cupro-Nickel or Cupronickel. Cupro-Nickel provides a way to inexpensively produce circulating coins at bulk rates. Cupro-Nickel was chosen to replace pure silver for coins in circulation because it resists corrosion and is generally very durable.

Who Gets to Be on Coins?

There's a longstanding tradition when it comes to choosing who gets to be on United States coins: the person on the coin has to be dead. Since the United States came into being, patriotic citizens held the belief that it was improper to put an image of a living person on legal tender. This was thought to be especially true of circulating coins. In fact, George Washington declined to have his portrait on the first United States silver dollar. That set the tradition in motion.

When the United States first began minting coins, Lady Liberty (also referred to as Miss Liberty or the goddess of liberty) first appeared as the portrait. The reverse side typically depicted the American Eagle.

This began to change in 1909, which was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The first Lincoln Cent was supposed to be a special, commemorative coin. That version of the cent coin became so popular, however, that it has remained in use until today. [4]

After Lincoln started appearing on the one-cent coin, other dead presidents followed. You are likely very familiar with the Jefferson Nickel, Washington Quarter and of course, the Roosevelt Dime. [5]

Current circulating coins and their corresponding portraits include:

  • Dollar: Sacagawea
  • Half-dollar: John F. Kennedy
  • Quarter: George Washington
  • Dime: Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Nickel: Thomas Jefferson
  • One-cent coin (penny): Abraham Lincoln

The Living, the Dead and the Law

What started out as tradition has now been written into federal United States law. No living man or woman is allowed to appear on U.S. coinage. Furthermore, before presidents are eligible to be included in the Presidential Dollar series, they must be dead for at least two years. Congress could pass a new law to modify the current rule (or make an exception) if they choose to do so. [4]

Do the People on Coins Ever Change Over Time?

New designs can be considered for U.S. coins (as well as paper bills). New designs are sought to better represent the range of historical figures and symbols that defined America throughout its history. [6]

Who Designs Coins?

Many United States coins were designed by the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. This office is in charge of coinage design in the United States. Other times, outside artists were commissioned to design certain coins.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is on the front of today's dime, but that was not always the case. The image on the dime, as well as its composition, has changed since it was first introduced in circulation in the United States.

1. US Coin News. 'Coin History “ The Roosevelt Dime,' https://uscoinnews.com/2019/11/18/coin-history-the-roosevelt-dime/. Accessed September 8, 2020.

2. New York Times. 'Numismatics;
,' https://www.nytimes.com/1982/01/24/arts/numismatics-for-fdr-the-dime-still-marches-on.html. Accessed September 8, 2020.

3. U.S. Mint. 'Dime,' https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/dime. Accessed September 8, 2020.

4. The Spruce Crafts. 'Why Are Only Dead Presidents Featured on U.S. Coins?,' https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/only-dead-presidents-on-coins-768852. Accessed September 8, 2020.

5. Getty Images. '16,335 Us Coin Premium High Res Photos,' https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/us-coin?mediatype=photography&phrase=us%20coin&sort=mostpopular. Accessed September 8, 2020.

6. Biography. 'Which Historical Figures Are on U.S. Money?,' https://www.biography.com/news/historial-figures-on-us-money. Accessed August 30, 2020.