The Who2 Blog

States to Heroes: Drop Dead

What a biographical bust the 50 State Quarters program turned out to be!

The final batch of five quarters was just announced, and only Hawaii came through, with a salute to the great unifier, King Kamehameha.

Otherwise it was bird, bear, cactus, map. Wha–? Can so few states be proud of their native sons and daughters?

Things started out well enough in 1999, with the first five coins featuring both George Washington crossing the Delaware and Caesar Rodney riding heroically (and with a mangled face) to cast the deciding vote for the Declaration of Independence. Yeah!

But in a whole decade between that heady start and Hawaii’s King K, only five other states stepped up with famous people: North Carolina with The Wright Brothers, Alabama with Helen Keller, Illinois with Abraham Lincoln, Missouri with Lewis and Clark (and a random third guy), and California with John Muir.

(We’re not counting Mount Rushmore on South Dakota — it’s a sculpture, after all — and we’re not counting wimpy Ohio, which somehow couldn’t bring itself to identify the anonymous spaceman on its quarter as the great Neil Armstrong.)

Granted, the U.S. Mint didn’t make it easy. Their design criteria call for no living persons and “no head-and-shoulders portrait or bust” of anyone, apparently to avoid a two-headed coin clash with President Washington.

Still, that left plenty of creative room for salutes to the nation’s great patriots, pioneers and playas.

Come on, Oklahoma — the scissortail flycatcher? You wouldn’t rather claim a true native son like Jim Thorpe? Or Woody Guthrie, the guy who wrote “This Land Is Your Land” — not good enough?

Even Tulsa boy Tony Randall might have been fun.

Pennsylvania, how about Ben Franklin? No? You’d prefer an “allegorical female figure“? C’mon!

Maryland, how about a little love for Benjamin Banneker, Harriet Tubman or Thurgood Marshall? Or even Babe Ruth? Mississippi, what about an innovative Jim Henson quarter? Wyoming, how about Dick Cheney shooting somebody in the face?

The shortage of inventors, peacemakers, and captains of industry wouldn’t be so bad if their replacements weren’t so weak. A quick review of all 50 designs shows this count:

Horses: 4
Cows, oxen, buffalo: 5
Boats: 7
Boring state outlines: 12
Dead animals: 2 (Montana’s skull and Alaska’s unlucky salmon)

More livestock than luminaries? It’s enough to make a biographer cry.

We’re reduced to hoping that Leland Stanford is hiding behind one of the locomotives on the Utah quarter. Let’s just pretend that’s true and hope for better results with the next historic quarters program.

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