I finally got a look at the “new” (2013) $100 bill today. I went to transfer some money from one credit union to another, and they were having trouble printing checks, so I took my withdrawal in Benjamins.

I can’t say I’m particularly enamored of the design. Still, slowly but surely we’re moving away from the drab green / black monochrome monstrosities we’ve been saddled with for so long. I’d say someday US currency might be as attractive as that of many other countries, except for the likelihood that paper money will be extinct before we get there.

Here’s a graphic showing $100 bills from 1862 to present. I kind of like the obverse of the 1862 note.

You probably recognize the guy on the 1878 and 1880 notes; maybe not the one on the 1890 Treasury Note, Admiral David Farragut (who didn’t quite say “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead“). Not shown on that page is the Series 1878 Silver Certificate with James Monroe pictured. 

What about the 1922 Gold Certificate, though; who’s that?

That’s Thomas Hart Benton; you may have heard of him. Or you may not have. I know I haven’t.

He was a Senator. So were a lot of other guys, so why’s his picture on this note? Good question. Wikipedia says he was known for being “an architect and champion of westward expansion by the United States, a cause that became known as Manifest Destiny.” That hardly seems sufficiently, ahem, noteworthy. (See what I did there? I kill me.)

Wikipedia also says:

Benton was an unflagging advocate for “hard money”, that is gold coin (specie) or bullion as money—as opposed to paper money “backed” by gold as in a “gold standard”. “Soft” (i.e. paper or credit) currency, in his opinion, favored rich urban Easterners at the expense of the small farmers and tradespeople of the West. He proposed a law requiring payment for federal land in hard currency only, which was defeated in Congress but later enshrined in an executive order, the Specie Circular, by Jackson (1836). His position on currency earned him the nickname Old Bullion.

Well, that explains it, then. They put his picture on paper money solely to make him spin in his grave.

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