As our 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest person to ever be elected as President and the first Roman Catholic. At 43, Kennedy was the promise of a new future; a new vision that would have the United States leading the world in fighting the “common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” In his inaugural address, he called the nation to arm when he said, “ Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
From standing up to the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev, to the success of the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the failures of the Bay of Pigs, the starting of the Peace Corps, and challenging the United States’ resolve using the space program by proclaiming, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” In over two years, Kennedy made an impact on this country in such a short period of time that one can wonder what would had happened if….
A few days after Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, US Mint Director Eva Adams, Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts reported that there was discussions about putting Kennedy’s portrait on a silver coin. Since Jacqueline Kennedy did not want to replace Washington’s portrait on the quarter, it was decided to use the half-dollar. Roberts used models from the inaugural medal for the obverse design and Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro prepared the reverse design using the Presidential Seal.
Since the law stated that coinage design could not be changed more often than 25 years, and that the Franklin Half was only 15 years old, it required Congress to authorize the change. The Act of December 30, 1963 allowed the design to be changed.
When the coin was released in 1964, the 90-percent silver coin was saved by a grieving nation wanting something that represented the fallen President. Over 273 million coins were struck in Philadelphia and 156 million in Denver. The composition was changed in 1965 with the introduction of clad coinage. Half dollars consisted of 40-percent silver that included a core made from 79-percent copper and 21-percent silver. In 1971, the composition was changed to current copper-nickel clad that is in use today.
There has been one design change to the coin and that occurred in 1975 and 1976 in honor of the American Revolution Bicentennial. A special reverse depicting Independence Hall in Philadelphia was designed by Seth G. Huntington. For both years, the obverse featured the dual date 1776-1976 in celebration.
On what would have been Kennedy’s 90th birthday, we salute this great president with the coin minted in his honor. Happy Birthday, Mr. President from a grateful nation.