January 15, 2004
|Thank you, Conover, for that kind introduction, and for inviting
me to help you mark the beginning of a celebration that will travel the
world to honor the birth of Benjamin Franklin.
Dr. Franklin is the only founding father and American patriot to have signed The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris, and the document that lay as the bedrock of our national democracy, the United States Constitution.
He strongly believed America’s coinage should be educational, that it should offer its possessor, especially the youth of the nation, something beyond the raw purchasing power of its stated value.
Dr. Franklin wanted coins to reflect the wisdom of words, to instill values, as he himself was hoping to do with his work as a pioneering colonial printer.
His creation of the American farmer known throughout the colonies as Poor Richard often reminded his readers “a penny saved is two pence clear,” an expression we know today as “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
As early as 1729 his printing press began issuing colonial paper money
that circulated throughout both Pennsylvania and Delaware, carrying messages
in support of both independence and education.
If you have not looked at the coins in your pocket lately, every United States coin has the word “liberty” struck upon it, honoring the freedom won by our founding fathers and still cherished by all of us today.
Every coin has “E Pluribus Unum,” out of many; one, and every United States coin says “In God We Trust.”
As the elder statesman of the revolutionary generation, Franklin was a gifted diplomat. He was an accomplished speaker and both sides of many contested issues often sought his counsel. One such debate involved the establishment of a unified system of national currency.
Throughout the 1780’s, rival plans supported by Robert Morris and Thomas Jefferson were being discussed. Morris favored an English system, arguing it was already established and known by most Americans. Jefferson advocated something new, a decimal based system that used the dollar as its base unit.
In 1787, with the establishment of an official United States Mint still undecided, Congress purchased 300 tons of copper and contracted with a private mint in Connecticut to produce pennies. Not ready to show favoritism towards one system over another, Congress turned to Franklin, asking him to design a coin everyone could accept.
The resulting coin, sometimes referred to as the Franklin Cent, or the Fugio (few-gee-oh), features a design already used by Franklin on some of his paper currency. One side of this coin features the slogan “Mind Your Business” and the word “Fugio,” which in Latin means, “I fly.” Around the image of a sundial, the implication is that “Time Flies.” On the other side of the coin, thirteen linked rings, representing the original colonies, form a circle around the phrase “We Are One.”
There were 100 cents to the dollar, and the penny was known throughout the colonies as an English coin, thus allowing each system to claim some measure of satisfaction from the Franklin Cent.
Together, the wisdom and imagery depicted on this coin are a fine representation of Franklin’s unmatched diplomacy.
Unfortunately, Franklin did not get to see the founding of the United
States Mint. Our first production facility was in a tavern here in Philadelphia
and opened two years after his death, in 1792. That year we minted 11,178
copper one-cent coins, a figure we now mint in less than one minute.
We also operate Mints in Denver, San Francisco and West Point. We oversee the United States gold reserves stored at our Fort Knox facility and we currently employ more than 2,000 women and men from coast to coast.
I am here today on their behalf, to add our thanks and our gratitude
to the Franklin Institute for preserving and protecting the legacy of
this great man. I am sure a few of us remember the time when Franklin’s
portrait graced our nation’s fifty-cent coin, from 1948 through
As the United States Mint looks to the future, we will celebrate the release of the Michigan Quarter, the 26th quarter in our 50 State Quarters® program later this month. More than 130 million Americans collect the State Quarters, nearly one in every household.
Each quarter is unique. Each is historic. Through these quarters we are all learning the story of our nation. We are very proud of that. We are carrying history in our pockets. I think Dr. Franklin would be delighted.
Looking ahead let me give you an update on some pending legislation. House Resolution 3204, authored by Delaware Congressman and Franklin Tercentenary Commission member Mike Castle, calls for two different Ben Franklin commemorative coins to be issued in 2006. This bill currently has 171 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and, if approved, will help raise funds to support the commission and help educate Americans on the legacy of Benjamin Franklin.
We are fortunate to be on-hand to celebrate the creation of this important exhibit. With this project, we will reach into the not-too-distant past and revisit the birth of our great nation. Ben Franklin once said, “The doors of wisdom are never shut.” This exhibit ensures those doors are clearly marked, and beckon all of us to enter.
Congratulations to all those involved in creating such a remarkable public-private partnership. The legacy of Benjamin Franklin is a national treasure. He was the indispensable Patriot to whom every American in indebted, and it is right to celebrate a life so full of curiosity and accomplishment.
I am pleased at this time to turn the program over to the man we are here to honor, Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin. Happy Birthday, Dr. Franklin.