Guide to U.S. Eisenhower Dollars
The Eisenhower Dollar was introduced in 1971 and struck until 1978. The obverse design honors Dwight D. Eisenhower, while the reverse celebrates the Apollo 11 moon landing. The series represents the only large sized dollar coin struck in copper-nickel clad, although numismatic versions of the coin would also be struck in silver composition. Despite the short duration of the series, the different compositions, multiple varieties, and conditional rarities provide complexity and challenge for collectors.
The production of dollar coins had entered a lengthy hiatus after the final Peace Dollars were struck in 1935. By this time, the required production under the Pittman Act had been fulfilled and abundant supplies were stockpiled which would last for decades. The denomination almost made a comeback when Congress authorized the production of new silver dollars in 1964, however, the entire quantity produced was recalled and melted before issuance. In the following year, the Coinage Act of 1965 would eliminate the silver content from most circulating U.S. coins and forbid the minting of silver dollars for a period of five years.
The first legislation to create a new dollar coin at the conclusion of the five-year period was introduced in October 1969. The legislation sought to authorize a circulating dollar coin to commemorate recently deceased former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Apollo 11 space flight, which marked man’s first steps on the moon. There was some debate as to whether the coins should be struck in the 40% silver composition which had been used for the half dollar or the copper-nickel clad composition used for quarter and dime. A modified bill was eventually passed on December 31, 1970, which provided for the dollar coins to be struck in copper-nickel clad for circulation and 40% silver for collectors.
The Chief Engraver of the United States Mint Frank Gasparro would design both the obverse and reverse of the new coin. The obverse bore a profile bust of Eisenhower created by Gasparro after studying 30 pictures of the former President as well as a drawing he had made in 1945 after catching a glimpse of Eisenhower at a parade. The inscription “LIBERTY” appears above the portrait, with “IN GOD WE TRUST” to the left, and the date below.
The reverse design of the coin was based on the Apollo 11 mission insignia, which had been designed by astronaut Michael Collins. This was deemed particularly appropriate by Congress since the space program had begun under Eisenhower’s administration. The design features the image of a bald eagle landing on the surface of the moon carrying an olive branch. A semi-circle of thirteen stars is present and the Earth is visible in the distant background. The inscriptions read “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”, “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, and “ONE DOLLAR”.
Trial strikes for the Eisenhower Dollar were conducted at the Philadelphia Mint on January 25, 1971 in an event open to members of the press. The first production strikes would take place at the San Francisco Mint on March 31, 1971. Orders for the numismatic versions of the coin struck in 40% silver were first accepted on July 1, 1971 with fulfillment beginning in early August. The standard copper-nickel clad composition versions were first released into circulation on November 1, 1971.
Initially, Eisenhower Dollars would be struck in large numbers, with nearly 300 million pieces produced during the first two years of issuance. Although there was strong public interest for the coins as souvenirs or collectibles, they failed to circulate widely. No Eisenhower Dollars would be struck for circulation in 1973 and the coins were only available within mint sets. Production for the remaining years of the series remained relatively low, with the exception of the issues dated 1976, which carried a special Bicentennial reverse design. Since the main impediment to circulation was believed to be the size and weight of the coins, legislation was passed to authorize a new series of small-sized dollar coins, officially bringing an end to the Eisenhower Dollar series.