You have probably heard of the March of Dimes, but the origins of that organization have faded from the public’s memory. One ever present reminder is found on the Roosevelt dime - the ubiquitous coin you use everyday to pay for small items or make change. President Franklin Roosevelt, the March of Dimes, and the change in your pocket are all connected, and in this blog we will explain how.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an enormous impact on the history of the United States. He was the 32nd President of the United States, and he won four national elections - more than any other president. His presidency lasted from the early days of the Great Depression until the final days of World War II. He was loved (and hated) by Americans and citizens of many other countries.
One fact people do remember about FDR’s personal history is that he was disabled. In 1921, when Roosevelt was 39, he contracted a disease believed to be polio and his legs became permanently paralyzed. This setback did not stop him from becoming Governor of New York or President of the United States, but it was debilitating and affected his day-to-day activities a great deal.
Polio as a disease had existed in humans since before human history was recorded, but it wasn’t an epidemic disease until the 20th century. In 1916, five years before Roosevelt’s paralysis, an outbreak of polio occurred in Brooklyn, New York, and 2,000 people died of polio that year in New York City. Over 27,000 people contracted polio in the United States alone in 1916. This caused widespread panic in the population and demands that action be taken.
The March of Dimes
Over twenty years later, in 1938, Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes, then known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The organization was an alliance between scientists and volunteers. The volunteers were tasked with raising money to support research, patient care, and education about polio. The name “March of Dimes” was a play on words by Eddie Cantor referencing The March of Time, a radio and newsreel series of the time. Cantor launched a nationwide fundraising campaign the week before FDR’s birthday, and lapel pins were sold for 10 cents each. Thousands of people sent letters to the White House with a dime enclosed for this charity event. More than $85,000 was collected, and the March of Dimes became the name of the organization’s annual drive.
The war on polio was eventually won, partly due to the huge investment of money into scientific research. The NFIP also spent $233 million dollars on care for patients with polio between 1938 and the inception of polio vaccination in 1955. What’s more, the NFIP and its approach to fundraising was an inspiration to many other nonprofit organizations.
The Roosevelt Dime
Franklin Roosevelt did not live to see the eradication of polio. He died on April 12, 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His death was unexpected, and many Americans felt bereft. As a memorial to Roosevelt’s leadership and because he had founded the March of Dimes, a new dime was designed and minted in his honor. This Roosevelt dime was issued on January 30, 1946, on the 64th anniversary of his birth. It replaced the Mercury, or “Winged Liberty” dime.
John Sinnock, the treasury’s Chief Engraver, was responsible for the Roosevelt dime, and future Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts did much of the work. It featured Franklin Roosevelt with the words “Liberty” and “In God We Trust” and Sinnock’s initials on the obverse. A torch flanked by sprigs of oak and olive with the words “E Pluribus Unum,” “United States of America,” and “One Dime” are found on the reverse. The Roosevelt dime is still in production and is much the same as it was when it appeared in 1946 except it no longer contains any silver. After the Coinage Act of 1965, this dime and other coins were made of copper sandwiched in a layer of copper nickel.
How many coins have deadly, epidemic disease and a massive, national charity drive as part of their origin story? The Roosevelt dime does. The next time you use it, remember that this coin exists as a reminder of the ways we as individuals and collectively can influence our world.