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The Two Basic Steps to Put Your Own Face on U.S. Money


Want to be legit famous? Forget a massive following on YouTube or SnapChat. Your snaps won't immortalize you, but your shining face on U.S. currency sure could.

As our BrainStuff host Cristen Conger explains in the video above, there are a few rules to having your visage selected for a bill, and several prominent figures in U.S. history have met them all.

In April 2016, abolitionist Harriet Tubman became the future face of the $20 bill. In doing so, she became the first woman in more than a century — and the first black woman ever — to be so prominently featured on a paper note in the U.S.

The backs of the $5 and $10 bills are up next for redesign, and will feature alternating images of women and activists including opera singer Marian Anderson, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  

So that's all well and good for people who've made massive contributions to American culture, but how do you get your face on the dollar or any other U.S. currency?  

Two words: You. Can't.

At least ... not yet.

As Cristen explains in the video above, only five living people have ever appeared on U.S. currency, but that was before Spencer Clark came along and mucked it up for everyone. In 1862, Clark was named superintendent of the National Currency Bureau. In 1864, he started printing controversial fractional currency featuring his own face on the 5-cent note. When Congress found out, it immediately retired the note and implemented a “non-living people” rule.

This hard and fast rule means that no living person can be depicted on currency. If you're watching this video, you are out of the running, unless you're doing so from beyond the grave.

In 1929, a treasury committee considering new faces for U.S. bills selected a few notable people — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton — for their “permanent familiarity in the minds of the public.”

Few changes have taken place in the years since, and the changes that did take place were limited to overall redesigns that kept the same ol' faces front and center. Until 2015, that is.

That's when the current U.S. Treasury secretary suggested putting a new face on the $20 bill, one that would be selected from public suggestions. These suggestions, however, had to follow three criteria: The new image on the $20 bill should be a woman, her life should have impacted democracy, and she has to be dead. Underground Railroad advocate Harriett Tubman fit the bill — literally.

And for you, well, you've just got to do two things, barring any law changes. First, contribute to American society in a meaningful, lasting way that future generations will appreciate. Second — at some point after that, or maybe even in doing so — you're going to have to die. The rest is out of your hands.



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