COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) — The Biden administration announced plans Monday to restart the effort to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
Replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman would mark the first significant change in standard U.S. currency design in our lifetime.
“Our paper money has been static for a very long time and for good reason,” Douglas Mudd, curator and director at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs said.
According to Mudd, following World War I, U.S. dollars became a worldwide currency. They are still used frequently all over the globe in place of or in addition to local currency.
“And so the tendency is you fix the currency so that everybody can recognize it,” Mudd said.
The iconic green bills have a drawback though, Mudd says.
“Over the last hundred years, U.S. currency went from being some of the best designed, most interesting currency to sort of looking not very interesting compared to what’s going on in the rest of the world,” he said.
Some Canadian bills, for example, have hockey players on the back. New Zealand currency has a penguin on the back of its $5 bills. The back of South African bills feature the “Big 5” safari animals including rhinos, elephants and lions. Many countries are also experimenting with materials, colors and designs that reflect more modern ideas.
“We have great figures on our money but because of changes in our society there’s an interest in showing different aspects. So, having a woman, having a woman of color, that reflects something, a change that’s going on today and it makes sense from that standpoint,” Mudd said.
Putting Tubman on the $20 bill reflects a step toward the U.S. letting its currency more accurately tell the country’s story.
“Coins are really history in your hands. They can tell you things about history that you may not be able to find elsewhere,” Mudd said.
Tubman would not be the first woman depicted on U.S. currency. Martha Washington was the central figure on $1 Silver Certificates in the 1880’s. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea were both featured on $1 coins in the 1980’s and early 2000’s, respectively.
She would, however, be the first person of color to appear on a U.S. bank note or coin minted for general circulation.
If and when Tubman is put on the $20 bill, Mudd says it opens up the possibility for U.S. currency to get more creative in the future to more accurately reflect the country.
“As somebody who tries to think about how money can be more relevant, it makes sense to add more popular themes or current themes,” Mudd said.