Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the most popular and well-respected of all United States presidents. He was consistently ranked by Americans as one of the country’s greatest leaders. His 1945 death was considered a devastatingly tragic event that was immediately followed by countless memorials, remembrances and tributes. One such example is the Roosevelt dime.
Soon after the death of FDR in 1945, Congress approved redesigning the dime with the late president’s portrait. The ten-cent denomination was chosen due to Roosevelt’s efforts in the founding of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. This organization, later renamed the March of Dimes, raised money to combat polio (with which the president was stricken).
Typically, coinage redesigns were drawn-out sagas that included artistic competitions, an extended selection process and many revisions. Due to the limited amount of time available to design the new coin, the Roosevelt dime was designed by a US Mint staff engraver instead of an outside artist. The task of designing the dime went to US Mint Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock, who had already submitted a prototype for a Franklin D. Roosevelt medal.
Sinnock’s design featured a portrait of Roosevelt on the obverse. It was modeled after a plaque of Roosevelt installed in a Washington DC government building. His reverse design displayed a torch, olive branch, and oak branch to symbolize liberty, peace, and strength. It reflected America’s postwar sentiment and, in some ways, actually has design parallels with the 1916-1945 Mercury dime reverse.
The coin was released to the public on January 30, 1946, which would have been Roosevelt's 64th birthday. While most Americans reacted positively to the new coin, some (incredibly) believed that the “JS” engraved on the coin stood for Joseph Stalin and not engraver John Sinnock. Amazingly, the United States Mint was forced to release a statement confirming that the initials were the engraver’s.
The Roosevelt dime has remained essentially unchanged since its release in 1946; only two modifications of note have taken place. In 1965, the composition of the dime (along with the quarter and half dollar) was switched from 90% silver to a copper-nickel alloy. Then, in 2000, some extremely minor aesthetic changes were made to the Roosevelt dime’s obverse. The portrait was shrunk slightly while the date, LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST were moved away from the rim. These changes were subtle but helped protect the design details from wear.